What's not on the menu for dogs and cats

During the winter period, we are all guilty of overindulging, which can sometimes mean we allow our pets to have a sneaky piece of Christmas ham or a human snack - which is not always the most sensible choice for their tummies!

 

Take a look below and familiarise yourself with the types of food best left to humans!

Starting with a very familiar food that dogs and cats should avoid – Chocolate

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is similar to caffeine; the darker the chocolate the greater the toxicity, but all types of chocolate should be avoided. If your dog or cat has ingested chocolate they may show signs of gastrointestinal upset, hyperactivity, increased heart rate or in serious cases tremors and seizures.

 

Another less familiar ingredient that should be avoided is Xylitol (aka sweetener).

Contained in many sugar-free products, (e.g. chewing gum, some peanut butters, ‘skinny’ ice-cream) even a small amount of xylitol can be dangerous to our pets, causing a rapid release of insulin which may result in sudden life-threatening hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and acute liver failure.

 

Caffeine and alcohol

Whilst caffeine and alcohol aren’t generally things that owners would give their pets, around the festive period, in particular, there are lots of drinks around for those sneaky scavengers that may decide to have a taste.

Ingestion of coffee grounds or caffeine-containing tablets, chews or energy bars could result in toxic effects, as dogs and cats are much more sensitive to caffeine than people are. If ingested, your pet may show the following signs: hyperactivity, unable to settle, increased heart rate, blood pressure or body temperature, abnormal heart rhythm, vomiting; at high doses tremors, seizures and collapse.

Similar to caffeine, our pets are much more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than people are; your pet having a Christmas tipple could result in vomiting, drooling, lethargy, depression, incoordination, weakness, collapse, decreased body temperature.

 

Uncooked dough, excessive dairy and mouldy foods are a few other foods that are best avoided.

Keep your pets away from the dough if you are baking this winter, whilst a  small amount of cooked bread may be given as a treat; uncooked dough may continue to expand following ingestion as gas is produced during fermentation; this may result in abdominal bloat or obstruction. If your pet has eaten any uncooked dough they may have abdominal pain, abdominal distention, vomiting or unproductive retching. ** seek veterinary assistance immediately if you notice your pet showing these signs**

Excessive Dairy - Puppies and kittens can digest milk; however, following weaning they do not continue to produce significant amounts of the enzyme lactase and therefore have a limited ability to digest lactose, contained in milk-based products. Ingestion may cause tummy troubles with a gastrointestinal upset!

Mouldy Foods such as old leftovers or food scavenged from the bin may contain mycotoxins; these can be found in mouldy bread, pasta, nuts and even blue cheese. If ingested, mouldy foods can be very dangerous to dogs causing tremors, incoordination, seizures, and high body temperature, drooling and vomiting.

 

Planning on having grapes/raisins and macadamia nuts on the festive spread this winter? Make sure you keep them out of reach of your dogs and cats!

Whilst the toxic component found in grapes and raisins is still unknown, it is well established that some dogs and cats will develop acute kidney failure following ingestion of a small number of grapes or raisins. Resulting in gastrointestinal upset, abdominal discomfort, lethargy, reduced appetite, increased drinking, change to urination frequency/volume and dehydration.

 

Macadamia nuts

Similarly, the biological mechanism of macadamia nut toxicity in dogs and cats is not known; however, ingestion of a small amount can result in severe symptoms such as weakness, depression, vomiting, shaking and elevated body temperature.

 

If you are cooking up delicious food this winter be sure to keep your dog or cat away from the onions, garlic, leeks, chives and mushrooms!

Including onion and garlic powders, found in many baby foods, ready-meals and gravy, ingestion of onions, garlic, leeks or chives can cause severe damage to the red blood cells of dogs and cats, resulting in anaemia.

As with people, certain types of mushrooms can also be poisonous to dogs and cats. Ingestion of poisonous mushrooms can cause a variety of symptoms, such as drooling, gastrointestinal upset, incoordination, lethargy, depression, tremors and seizures but at worst may result in organ failure.

 

High-fat foods and excessive salt

Roast potatoes, fatty meat trimmings, gravy, cheese, butter and nuts often make a welcomed appearance on the Christmas table; whilst an indulgent treat for us humans, feeding  dogs or cats high-fat foods should be avoided. Our pets have not evolved to cope with the ingestion of high-fat foods. Sudden intake of large amounts of high-fat foods can result in pancreatitis.

Also take care with high-salt foods (including road de-icers, playdough and sea water) this winter time. We commonly use salt in our cooking, and are unlikely to consume enough for it to be toxic, but dogs (and some cats) are not always so sensible. Ingestion of salt at normal levels may just result in increased thirst; however, excessive consumption can be toxic to our pets.

 

Small, sharp bones

From all that leftover turkey there may be a few pieces of cooked turkey heading towards your pet’s food bowl. Be careful and take measures to check that there are not any small, sharp bones hiding in there! Whilst bones themselves are not toxic, they can damage or obstruct the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. Cooked bones can splinter so should certainly be avoided. If your dog or cat has eaten a small or sharp bone they may present with the following clinical signs: drooling, vomiting, unable to keep food down, abdominal pain, bloat, reduced defaecation frequency, constipation, lethargy and inappetance

 

*If you think your pet has eaten any of these foods, seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible even if your pet looks well*

 


 

Not all treats are bad! There are some tasty human foods which are safe to give your pet as a healthy treat.  Why not try treating your pets to something different this winter?

While the following are safe for dogs and cats, it is important to give them in moderation, only offering small amounts at any one time. Don’t forget to take these foods into account when calculating your pet’s daily calorie intake!

* = good for cats too

Vegetables: Try treating your dog to carrots, peppers, celery cucumber, green beans or cooked pumpkin

Carbohydrates: Boiled rice (can be white or brown, but should be plain with no sauce or seasoning) Bread (in small amounts) or boiled potatoes

Even small amounts of fruit can be given as a treat: Fruits such as bananas, oranges, sliced apple, blueberries, raspberries or strawberries can be a healthy alternative! But remember to give in moderation as they contain high amounts of natural sugars.

Cooked lean meats: Turkey*/ Chicken* off-the-bone, unseasoned, ideally boiled or baked (not roasted or fried) make the perfect treat for dogs and cats.

Your cat may already be a fan of this one - try canned tuna in spring water* (ensure not in oil as this is high fat, or brine as too salty) or cooked salmon* as an alternative treat!

 

And don’t forget to ensure fresh water is available at all times

Meet the Author

Gemma Ives

Gemma qualified from the University of Cambridge in 2013. She is passionate about evidence based medicine and is particularly interested in the role that the microbiota can play in so many diseases.

In her free time Gemma loves climbing hills and finding beaches with her terrier, Percy, and hanging out with George the cat!