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Holiday Foods that are Harmful to Pets

The Holidays are just around the corner and we are all looking forward to indulging in our holiday favorites. We are likely to have many helpings and leftovers to share, but beware that scraps from the table can be harmful to our furry friends. With all the extra food and chaos this time of year, it’s important to be prepared to treat pets for common foods served around the holidays. Here are some helpful tips from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for diagnosis and treatment of common thanksgiving pet poisons.

Chocolate, Coffee and Caffeine:

These products all contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee, and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Note that darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest level of methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the highest.


Nuts, including almonds, pecans, and walnuts, contain high amounts of oils and fats. The fats can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and potentially pancreatitis in pets.


Alcoholic beverages and food products containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death. Under no circumstances should your pet be given any alcohol. If you suspect that your pet has ingested alcohol, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately.

Onions, Garlic and Chives:

These common vegetables are prevalent in holiday casseroles, stuffing, mashed potatoes and many other items, and can be toxic to pets. They belong to the Allium family and can cause oxidative damage to the red blood cells in cats and dogs, leading to anemia and methemoglobinemia. Cats are much more sensitive than dogs—it takes roughly half the amount of garlic to cause hemolytic anemia in a cat compared to a dog. Inducing emesis may be necessary if a patient has ingested a large amount of onions or garlic--and it’s important to be ready to give a dose of activated charcoal and monitor a CBC for five days. If the patient developshemolytic anemia, IV fluids, antioxidants and, on rare occasions, blood transfusions may be needed.

Animal bones: Cooked animal bones tend to splinter, so there is risk for esophageal damage if emesis is induced. Therefore, it is recommended to increase the fiber in the patient’s diet and monitor the passage of bones through the gastrointestinal tract. If a foreign body does develop, surgery may be required.

Bouillon: Many people use bouillon cubes when making stocks, gravy and other items.Bouillon contains a very high amount of sodium and ingestion of these cubes may lead to hypernatremia. Signs of hypernatremia include gastrointestinal upset, polydipsia, ataxia, tremors and seizures. If untreated, these patients can develop cerebral edema that can be fatal. If a patient is hypernatremic, it’s important to reduce the sodium level quickly if the hypernatremia has developed within the last 24 hours. Intravenous fluid therapy, oral water and water enemas are all helpful in bringing down the sodium level. Charcoal is contraindicated in these patients because it can cause the sodium level to rise even more. Electrolytes will need to be monitored closely and treatment should continue until the sodium level is mid-range normal.

Salt and Salty Snack Foods:

Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning in pets. Signs that your pet may have eaten too many salty foods include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death. As such, we encourage you to avoid feeding salt-heavy snacks like potato chips, pretzels, and salted popcorn to your pets.


If you've ever wondered “Can dogs eat ham?”, the answer is no. Deli hams contain a lot of salt and most baked hams are full of sugar, neither of which is good for dogs. They have a very difficult time digesting them and can lead to complications.

Yeast Dough:

Yeast dough can rise and cause gas to accumulate in your pet’s digestive system. This can be painful and can cause the stomach to bloat, and potentially twist, becoming a life threatening emergency. The yeast produce ethanol as a by-product and a dog ingesting raw bread dough can become drunk (See alcohol).

Baked goods: Pumpkin pie, pecan pie and apple pie with ice cream are all classics during this time of year! Unfortunately, these treats can lead to pancreatitis if ingested. Treatment is typically symptomatic and supportive with these patients. Baked goods made with xylitol can cause hypoglycemia, possibly resulting in liver failure. If the patient was exposed to xylitol, carefully monitoring blood glucose levels is key. If the patient ingested a hepatotoxic dose of xylitol, be sure to monitor liver values and start dextrose and liver protection. With elevated liver values, there is an increased risk for coagulopathy, so clotting times should also be monitored.

What to do if your pet has eaten a toxic food: Call your Veterinarian. Get them in to see their vet immediately if you think your pet has ingested a dangerous food.

If you cannot reach your veterinarian: In an emergency, when you cannot reach your veterinarian, immediately contact your local animal emergency clinic or call one of these hotlines to speak to a toxicology specialist and vets who are able to assist 24/7.

  1. Pet Poison Helpline 1-855-764-7661

  2. North Shore America / ASPCA Hotline 1-888-232-8870

  3. ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435

Note: They charge a small fee of $59-75 per incident and will ask for age, weight, medical history of pet, what they were exposed to, amount, when it happened and current symptoms. No matter how careful you are, your dog might find and swallow something they shouldn't. Keep the number of your local vet, the closest emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center -- (888) 426-4435 -- where you know you can find it. And, if you think your dog has eaten something toxic, call for emergency help right away.

Call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for additional assistance anytime, 24/7.

Information for this blog post was gathered from Pets and People, Saving Each Other™ HSNT’s mission is to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection; to provide for the well-being of animals who are abandoned, injured, neglected, mistreated or otherwise in need; to promote an appreciation of animals; and to instill respect for all living things.

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