Delicious foods — everything from Thanksgiving turkey to Christmas cookies and sweets — are a favorite part of the holidays for humans. And, it’s likely your pets will be just as enticed by these tasty treats as you are.
But no matter how hard it is to resist those “puppy eyes,” remember that certain human foods can lead to serious health consequences for pets.
To prevent spending your holiday cleaning up diarrhea — or at a vet visit for something more serious — keep these foods away from your pet:
1. Candy, cookies, chocolates, and other sweets
Fortunately, sugar itself isn’t toxic to pets.
But, does that mean pets can eat candy? What happens if your dog or cat eats sugar or sweets?
The short answer is your pup or kitty could be ill with vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, and other digestive discomfort.
Since pets (especially cats) don’t digest sugar as well as we do, the end result is an unhappy tummy.
Their symptoms could be mild to very severe depending on which candy or treat your pet ate, how much they ate, and how sensitive they are.
Sugar isn’t the only sweet treat you should keep your pet away from. Here are some sweets that pose a more dangerous threat to pets:
- Xylitol and other artificial sweeteners: Xylitol is commonly found in sugar-free gums and mints, but may be present in other sweets and drinks. This sweetener causes stomach upset, liver damage, a severe drop in blood sugar, and even seizures and death in dogs and cats.
- Chocolate: Chocolate is toxic to pets—and the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. Chocolate ingestion can cause stomach upset, muscle tremors, seizures, and arrhythmias (heart rate abnormalities). If severe, it can even cause death.
- Candy wrappers: Sometimes pets (especially dogs) swallow candy with the wrappers and all. In large amounts, those non-digestible materials could get stuck in their stomach or intestines.
- Raisins and grapes: These fruits and their dried counterparts can cause kidney failure in pets.
Since sweets can make your cat ill, you may be wondering “why does my cat like sweets?” The truth is, they don’t!
Cats can’t taste “sweet” at all. They don’t have the taste receptors for it. So why do they try to sneak a taste of your vanilla ice cream, gummy bears, or another candy when cats and sweets clearly don’t mix? Your furry friend may be interested in something else.
For example, cats enjoy the taste of fats, so they may be enticed by the fat content of your treat rather than the sugar. Or, cats may try to eat candy canes due to the mint smell (which is similar to catnip). Or, they may mistake a lollipop for a toy.
But what about dogs?
Like humans, dogs have taste buds for sweets. That’s probably because they’re more omnivorous than cats.
However, they have significantly less taste buds overall than humans do—1,700 taste buds compared to 9,000 in humans (and cats only have 470). So, while they enjoy their food’s taste, a dog’s incredible sense of smell probably plays a more important role in attracting them to certain foods.
When it comes to sweets, there’s a better option for your pup. Keep them away from Swedish fish, chocolate, or Skittles, which are meant for human consumption and instead give them fruits like blueberries or apple slices. Remember, though, that you should never feed your dog grapes or raisins.
So even though cats can’t taste sweetness, it’s still a good idea to keep sweets out of their reach.
SEE ALSO: What Foods Should My Dog Never Eat?
Now, back to other holiday foods:
Caffeine toxicity is very similar to chocolate toxicity in pets, as described above.
3. Yeast Dough
In addition to an upset tummy, dough ingestion can lead to dangerous stomach distension and bloating. Also, fermenting yeast releases alcohol, meaning pets can get a double whammy of stomach bloating and alcohol toxicity.
In dogs and cats, alcohol ingestion can be very dangerous, leading to drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature, and they can even experience difficulty breathing.
5. Seasonings and spices
Pets don’t tolerate spices nearly as well as we do, and spicy food can lead to digestive issues. This includes onions and garlic, which can cause red blood cell problems in sensitive pets.
Bones aren’t toxic to pets. They do, however, present other risks: Sharp fragments can puncture their mouth, esophagus, or intestines, or pieces of bone could get stuck between your pet’s teeth. So, it’s best to avoid letting your pet gnaw on that turkey wishbone.
7. Rich, creamy, or fatty foods
These decadent treats may taste good, but they can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats. Ingestion of these foods can lead to pancreatitis (especially in dogs), a severe inflammation of the pancreas that often requires hospitalization and can be fatal.
Foods that fall into this category include fatty meats, foods with sauces, flaky pastries and baked goods, and more.
Tips For Keeping Your Pet Safe
If all of this seems scary, don’t worry! Millions of pets enjoy the holidays each year without incident.
Here are some ways to keep your furry friend safe while still including them in the holiday spirit:
- Keep food out of your pet’s reach. For cats (and some dogs), this may mean you need to cover up food that’s on the table or kitchen counter.
- Inform guests that table scraps can be dangerous to your pets.
- Secure your trash cans so your pal doesn’t dive for scraps.
SEE ALSO: Pet-Friendly Holiday Decorating Tips
What You Can Feed Your Pet
Just because they can’t have some holiday foods, it doesn’t mean you have to leave your furry family member out! Offer your pup or kitty a special treat just for them. Depending on your pet’s taste preferences, medical history, and size, this may include:
- Plain, lean meat (no seasonings).
- Canned pumpkin (make sure it’s 100% pumpkin, has no added salt, spices, or sugar, and that it’s not canned pumpkin pie).
- Plain sweet potato.
- Something you’ve baked or frozen just for your pet (you can find pet treat recipes online).
- A special treat from a local pet shop or boutique.
Remember, most pets are much smaller than you are. A treat that looks “small” to us may actually be large to them. Keep proportions in mind when offering treats.
So what should you do if your dog or cat ate sugar, chocolate, or anything else unusual?
Have numbers available for the Pet Poison Helpline or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Helpful experts on these lines will listen as you describe what your pet ate and how much. Then, they can either let you know it’s not a big deal, or they can tell you what symptoms to watch for and whether you should seek veterinary care.
As long as you follow the above precautions, you and your furry BFF can have a fun, safe holiday season.
SEE ALSO: Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Parents