Festive Foods That are Poisonous to Cats and Dogs

Christmas Cards

Today, I’m sharing the festive items that are poisonous to your dogs and cats.  Keep a careful eye on any of the food and drinks below and keep an make sure your dogs don’t eat them.

Chocolate

The most common poisoning at Christmas. 74% of UK small animal vets treated at least one case of chocolate poisoning during the festive period last year. I’ve treated a fair few in my time.

Most people know chocolate is poisonous to dogs yet still feed it as a treat. Small amounts of milk or white chocolate are unlikely to seriously poison your dog.  However, feeding them chocolate isn’t recommended and it won’t help their waistline.

Chocolate Bar
Theobromine in Chocolate is poisonous to dogs

The poisonous ingredient in chocolate is Theobromine. The amount of Theobromine depends on the type of chocolate with more Theobromine being in Dark chocolate.  Feeding any dark chocolate to dogs is strongly discouraged and can cause illness.

The amount of chocolate your dog can eat depends on the type and brand of chocolate and the weight of your dog.  However, some dogs are affected more than others and it’s impossible to tell which are more at risk.

Chocolate is everywhere at Christmas from boxes of chocolates to tree decorations and advent calendars.  Most cases of chocolate poisoning I’ve seen have been accidental; dogs eating their way through advent calendars is common.  The best way to prevent poisoning is not to give your dog human chocolate as treats. Keep anything containing chocolate away from your dog.  Also, remember chocolate tree decorations placed high on a tree can fall off at times so could be eaten.

Most cases of Chocolate poisoning just cause

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea.

However, in worse cases, it can cause;

  • twitching,
  • involuntary muscle movements,
  • fitting,
  • alter the heart’s rhythm
  • cause loss of consciousness which can be very serious indeed.  If these signs are seen take your dog to your vets (or the out of hours service) immediately.

Getting help before symptoms start is the most effective way to treat it.

To treat chocolate poisonings, within the first hour to 90minutes after it has been eaten, a vet will usually inject your dog with Apomorphine. Apomorphine makes your dog vomit profusely for the next twenty minutes or so, emptying the stomach.  Apomorphine also causes dogs to become drowsy, sedated and wobbly so may struggle to walk.

After your dog has stopped being sick a vet may syringe feed them a black liquid called Activated Charcoal.  Activated charcoal absorbs much of the Theobromine left in the stomach or intestines to make sure it isn’t absorbed into their bloodstream. Usually, if they are well they can go home once they have stopped vomiting.

If your dog has had a large amount or is very unwell a vet may also do an ECG to check their heart isn’t affected.   Vets may also put your dog on a drip if they’re showing signs of being poisoned to stop them becoming dehydrated and help to flush it out of their body.  In the most severe cases where an animal is having a seizure or is unconscious then treatment is based on the symptoms your dog is showing and what their blood results show.

 

Stuffing (Onion, Garlic, leeks and Chive)

Stuffing contains two poisonous ingredients, Onions and Garlic.  These both belong to the same group (which also includes leeks and chives) called Alliums and it is very dangerous for dogs or cat to eat these either raw or cooked.

Garlic and onions
Garlic, onions, leeks and chives are poisonous to dogs

Alliums are dangerous both by themselves or mixed with other foods such as stuffing or gravy, both of which are often served for Christmas dinner.  Dogs and cats tend to be poisoned by eating large amounts at once but can also be poisoned over time if eat smaller portions relatively regularly, even less often than every few days.  Eating more than 0.5% of their body weight in alliums at any one time always causes the animals to become very unwell.

Some dogs and cats are more at risk.  Medications such as Benzocaine (a local anaesthetic), Propofol (a general anaesthetic), some antibiotics (Potentiated Sulphonamides) and Paracetamol (AKA Acetaminophen in the USA) increase the risk of poisoning.  High vitamin K (possibly caused by eating rat poisons) or Zinc levels also mean they need to eat fewer onions/ garlic to be affected.  Finally, Japanese dog (Akita, Shiba Inu, Japanese Spitz) breeds need to eat fewer onions to be affected.

Chewing alliums leads to the creation of more poisonous chemicals which are easily absorbed into the body.  These chemicals damage the membrane surrounding red blood cells. Damage to the membrane surface causes the cells to become very fragile and leak which stops them transporting oxygen to the tissues and prevents them picking up oxygen as often.  As a result, the blood carries less oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.  This process can sometimes be seen hours after your animal has eaten alliums but may take days to be seen.

Signs of poisoning;

  • depression
  • red urine (caused by the presence of haemoglobin in it after leaking out of red blood cells).
  • yellowing of the gums and irises (the whites of the eye).
  • the heart beating faster.
  • breathlessness or an animal breathing faster or panting.
  • weakness.
  • not wanting to go out for walks or stopping/ slowing down when on a walk.
  • not wanting to eat.
  • diarrhoea.
  • an arched back is seen with a belly ache.

If your animal has eaten alliums then take them to a vet straight away, even if they’re not showing signs; remember it can take days before they become ill.  If taken within two hours of alliums being eaten the vet can simply give your dog or cat an injection of Apomorphine and possibly feed them activated charcoal (as described above) and the shouldn’t have any further problems.  After two hours making an animal sick will not help and other treatments are needed.

As alliums destroy red blood cells your dog or cat may need a blood transfusion to replace them.  Finally, if they have vomiting, diarrhoea, are very breathless or have a low blood pressure a vet may put them on a drip or give them vitamin E.  Some vets will also want to do blood tests over the next few days just to check the about of healthy red blood cells they have is increasing.  One thing you can do that may help is avoiding giving semi-moist foods.  Semi-moist foods may contain propylene glycol which increases the effect of the poisoning so should be avoided however this should only be done along with seeing your vet.

 

Alcohol

Alcohol is also around throughout there year but is often more prominent around Christmas.  It is illegal in the UK to give your animal alcohol to drink but you can buy alcohol-free dog beer and cat wine should you wish for your companion join you for a drink!

Wine and Beer glasses
Alcohol is poisonous to dogs and giving them it to drink is illegal in the UK

Alcohol is a poison which all animals, including humans.  A drunk person is someone affected by its poison. Drinking too much alcohol can be fatal through either you stopping breathing or choking on your own tongue.  Similar is the case with animals.

Signs of an animal having alcohol poisoning are;

  • being wobbly,
  • lethargy,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhoea,
  • shaking
  • breathing slowly
  • slow heart rate
  • falling into a coma.

If your animal drinks alcohol a vet can inject them with Apomorphine within the first two hours to reduce the amount absorbed by causing them to vomit.  Other than that they can keep them warm as alcohol drops the body temperature, put them on a drip to keep them hydrated and monitor their blood sugar levels as alcohol causes these to drop which, in itself, can be dangerous.  Usually, unless they have drunk large quantities, animals recover fine.

Make sure you don’t leave an alcoholic drink where dogs can access and clean it up if you spill any.

 

Raisins/ Sultanas

Sultanas and raisins are often in festive sweet foods.  They are poisonous both when raw or cooked and are in mince pies and Christmas Pudding so refrain from giving your dog or cat any of those products.

These affect dogs and cats but, unlike most other poisons, the effect doesn’t depend on them eating a certain amount.  Some dogs are affected by eating a small amount of them and others aren’t.  Also, your pet may eat just one or two and become severely unwell whereas others can have a large number with no problems.  As there is no way of knowing which pets are affected more severely, all of them need to be treated.  Any dogs or cats who have eaten raisins or sultanas should be taken to a vet ASAP who will give them Apomorphine to make them vomit if it is within two hours of them consuming the fruits.

Mince Pie
Raisins and sultanas damage dog’s kidneys

If the sultanas and raisins remain in the body or they were in the body for some time before the animal vomited then they can cause kidney damage and even failure.  Signs of kidney damage are;

  • having no appetite,
  • lethargy,
  • drinking loads,
  • urinating a lot,
  • bad breathe,
  • diarrhoea and
  • weightloss.
  • By the time your pet is at the stage of showing clinical signs or their blood/ urine tests reveal kidney damage they need a lot of treatment such as going on a drip and being given medications which help protect the kidneys.  They may also need to go on a special diet to help the kidneys and will need regular blood tests to check their kidney function.

Make sure you keep any raisins, sultanas or grapes and any foods containing these are kept somewhere where your pet can’t get to and don’t give them these as a treat.

Note; there are other foods that are poisonous to animals.  This is not an extensive list.  If you’re unsure about anything or think your dog may have eaten something poisonous please talk to your vet.

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Author: Kim Halford

I'm a qualified vet and animal behaviour and welfare advisor. I am dedicated to improving the welfare of animals. I also want to work with organisations to improve the education of animal welfare and behaviour as well as improve the bond between animal and owner.

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