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No bones about it! Holiday meals can kill pets

Which table foods are dangerous to cats and dogs? “Today” pet contributor Tamar Geller discusses what you shouldn't feed your four-legged friends.
/ Source: TODAY

The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of loved ones, including your pets. Inform your guests about all pet rules: no feeding bones or other table scraps; candy and alcoholic beverages should be kept out of reach; keep gates and outside doors securely closed.  Many of us will indulge ourselves with a big holiday meal, but we must remember to be very careful about what we feed our pets. 

Rich fatty foods can be a cause for concernMost veterinarians will tell you that they see a lot of stomach problems and pancreatitis cases around the holidays.  So keep your pets away from the rich foods on your holiday table — turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams and stuffing. Typical holiday foods are rich, fatty comfort foods for people that can cause discomfort for their pet. The classic problem is that the dog gets into the turkey or ham, gorges on it, and then gets very sick. The signs of pancreatitis include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Chocolate can actually poison your petThe toxicity depends on the type of chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more harmful), the amount ingested and your pet’s weight. The caffeine and theobromine in chocolate can cause a dog to vomit, have diarrhea, experience rapid heartbeat, increased urination, muscle tremors and seizures.  The effects can be serious, and chocolate toxicity can occur within 24 hours. The same can be true of coffee, tea and cola, as they also contain caffeine. A few traditional treats are also surprisingly bad for petsMany cat owners don’t realize that milk isn’t well tolerated by most cats. Dairy products are often overly fatty, so it’s best to avoid giving dairy to dogs as well. 

The traditional ‘give a dog a bone’ idea isn’t really a good one eitherThe bone can splinter and puncture the stomach or intestines.  Poultry bones are particularly dangerous, as they become brittle when cooked.  It’s much safer to give your dog a bone designed for pets.  Giving your pet alcoholic beverages truly isn’t funny
Most people are aware that too much alcohol can poison humans. Remember that your pet is a lot smaller than you are, so even small amounts of alcohol (even beer) can be toxic.  Some other tasty treats your pet shouldn’t eatOnions and garlic contain thiosulphate, which damages red blood cells and can cause anemia in cats and dogs. Be careful when preparing the holiday stuffing or side dishes, and particularly when disposing of leftovers that contain onion and garlic. The onion actually presents the highest risk of toxicity — a single generous serving can cause anemia for dogs and cats.  Whether garlic contains enough thiosulphate and can be fed in high enough amounts to harm dogs is a matter of controversy — garlic is less toxic than onion, and large amounts would need to be eaten to cause illness.  And, in small amounts (such as in canine nutritional supplements), the benefits of garlic outweigh their possible risks. 

Grapes and raisins can lead to kidney failureSo far, vets haven’t been able to determine exactly what it is about them that make them so dangerous. The type or brand of grapes or raisins doesn’t matter, nor does the amount the dog eats.

Bread dough can be dangerousYeast dough, like the kind used in making breads or desserts, is designed to expand.  If swallowed by an unsuspecting pet, it can expand and produce gas in the digestive system, causing pain and possibly rupture of the stomach and intestines. 

Store those leftovers immediately!
Both cats and dogs often enjoy the challenge of getting into the garbage and seeing what leftovers they can find.  Spoiled and moldy food can make them sick. Always consult with your veterinarian immediately if your pet is vomiting, has diarrhea, has a fever, is quiet and lethargic with signs of abdominal pain, or is restless, hyperactive or irritable with a rapid heart beat or tremors.

Pets sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the increases in family activity around the holidays. They may not handle the stress of houseguests well.  Keep your pets as close to their daily routine as possible.  Often, just scheduling a few minutes at approximately the same time each day to play with your dog can make the holidays a lot easier for an anxious pet. 

Don’t forget about holiday decorations.  There are several precautions you can take to ensure the safety of your pets during the holidays.

Keep lit candles out of reachExtinguish candles and use a screen around the fireplace before you leave a room your pet may visit on its own. 

Keep potpourri and electrical cords out of reach
Potpourri, if swallowed, can be harmful to your pet, and electrical cords can cause strangulation or even electrocution.

Clean up wrapping paper as soon as gifts are opened.Pets can create quite a mess, and possibly harm themselves, eating paper, bows, packaging and ribbon.

Walking on sharp ornaments
Put decorations, especially breakable glass ornaments and hooks, tempting tinsel, edible garlands and plants (such as holly, mistletoe and poinsettia) out of pets' reach.  Sharp or broken decorations can be harmful to your pet — and remember, the shinier the ornament, the more attractive it is. Tinsel is particularly alluring to cats and can cause severe problems, often requiring surgical removal, if ingested.  Many holiday plants can be toxic to pets, particularly poinsettia, holly and mistletoe (just a few mistletoe berries can even be fatal).   

Remember to take a moment to count your blessings this holiday season and appreciate the unconditional love and yearlong friendship your pet gives you!

Tamar Geller is an animal behaviorist and founder of Southern California's first cage-free boarding and daycare center, the Loved Dog Company.