The holidays are a terrific time for all of us who love to indulge in savory foods, special beverages, and downright decadent desserts. We often spend the next six months trying to lose some of the pounds we packed on during October, November, and December. Unfortunately, many of these holiday favorites can be harmful for your dog – and not just because they are fattening. Ingredients like spices, chocolate and some nuts, and alcohol, to name just a few, can send your dog to the emergency clinic. Learn which ingredients your dog needs to avoid this holiday season in our guide.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and other seasonal holidays are often celebrated with alcoholic beverages. Eggnog, wine, spiced rum, hot toddies, punch, and cocktails abound during the holidays, especially during parties. Alcohol is also added to many recipes such as mince pies, pecan pies, and fruit cake. Rum, brandy and other liquors can often be out in the open when your dog is around, not to mention a cup of eggnog or a piece of pie containing alcohol that might be appealing to your dog. But dogs and alcohol definitely don’t mix!
Diet drinks and mixers that contain alcohol can be especially problematic since they may contain the artificial sweetener xylitol which is toxic to dogs. It can even be fatal to dogs.
Alcohol toxicity is a real thing in dogs. Your dog’s response may be similar to your own response. Warning signs can include:
- Depression or lethargy
- Loss of coordination
- Vomiting or retching
- Decreased respiratory rate
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature)
If your dog eats or drinks more than a small amount of a food or beverage that contains alcohol, call your veterinarian for advice… more
Coffee drinks are extremely popular during cold weather months. Pumpkin spice, peppermint, mint, mocha, dark chocolate, cinnamon, caramel, and Irish coffee are all popular flavors but there are many others. These drinks tend to be high in caffeine which most of us can use to keep us going as we shop or visit family and friends. However, while a little caffeine doesn’t do most of us much harm, it’s very bad for your dog.
While most dogs can be trusted around regular coffee with its bitter taste (unless you use milk and sugar), when it comes to flavored coffees, which may contain added sugar, milk, or whipped cream, many dogs will help themselves.
What’s more, the cocoa in chocolate also contains caffeine. In general, the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine is included. Some products, such as energy bars, add extra caffeine.
For chocolate in general, according to the United States Department of Agriculture
- Dark chocolate contains 12 milligrams of caffeine per ounce.
- Milk chocolate contains 9 milligrams of caffeine per 1.55 ounces.
- White chocolate contains zero caffeine.
If your dog does consume caffeine, you can start to see symptoms in just 30 minutes.
Symptoms of caffeine toxicity:
- Heart racing
- Very rapid or irregular heartbeat which could lead to death
Clinical signs can last for 6-12 hours depending on the dose of caffeine
The bottom line for caffeine and dogs is that it can be harmful If your dog ingests more than a sip of caffeine, contact your veterinarian for advice.
Candy can be made from lots of different ingredients but its primary ingredient is usually sugar. For this reason alone it’s not a good idea to share it with your dog. Sugar isn’t toxic to dogs but letting your dog eat too much sugar can certainly be harmful. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can result in the following symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
Some candies are more dangerous than others. Chocolate is dangerous to dogs (see below). Candies that contain the artificial sweetener xylitol can be deadly to dogs. Any candy that contains raisins, such as chocolate-covered raisins, could be poisonous to your dog.
Eating one piece of sweet candy (without one of the toxic ingredients) is unlikely to harm your dog. However, if your dog makes a pig of himself eating a bag of sugary candy, call your veterinarian for advice.
Chocolate is bad for dogs for a several reasons. We’ve already mentioned that it contains caffeine which can be harmful to dogs. It also contains a substance called theobromine. Both caffeine and theobromine are substances called methylxanthines. Dogs are much more sensitive to these substances than humans are. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous to your dog.
For example, 8 ounces of milk chocolate might make a 50-pound dog sick; but the same dog could be poisoned by just one ounce of Baker’s (dark) chocolate.
In addition, most forms of chocolate comes with sugar which isn’t good for your dog.
Symptoms of concern include:
- Increased body temperature
- Increased reflex responses
- Muscle rigidity
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Advanced signs (cardiac failure, weakness, and coma)
If your dog eats chocolate or you notice these symptoms, contact your veterinarian right away… more
Dairy foods are not toxic to dogs but some dogs are lactose-intolerant. It’s important to know if your dog is sensitive or intolerant to dairy before you allow him to eat any foods that contain dairy products such as cheese, milk, or cream.
For dogs that are lactose-intolerant, they lack the necessary enzyme to digest the sugar lactose in dairy products. Other dogs have this enzyme so they can digest lactose.
Different dairy products contain different amounts of lactose. This is why your dog may have a negative reaction to some dairy foods but can eat others without a problem.
For example, one cup of whole milk contains 11 grams of lactose. This makes it difficult for some dogs to digest. But one cup of low fat yogurt only contains 5 grams of lactose. Many dogs are able to eat yogurt without any difficulty.
With cheeses, American and Swiss cheese contain 1 gram of lactose per ounce of cheese. And Cheddar cheese contains zero lactose. Almost all dogs can eat these cheeses.
You may not know if your dog is lactose-intolerant until you try giving him a food that contains dairy. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Loose stools
- Abdominal pain
If your dog is lactose-intolerant, avoid giving him foods that contain higher amounts of lactose. If you are concerned about the lactose in a food such as a Puppuccino, for instance, anything made with heavy cream contains very little lactose. Even whipped cream added to pies is safe for the lactose-intolerant if it is made from heavy cream… more
Made from milk and eggs, eggnog is often appealing to dogs but it’s not something you should allow your dog to drink. There are key ingredients that can be toxic to your dog such as nutmeg and alcohol.
Nutmeg, a traditional ingredient in eggnog, contains substances that can act as neurotoxins to dogs. No one is quite sure why nutmeg is harmful to dogs but the more your dog ingests, the more serious the problem can be. Symptoms to look for include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal pain
Eggnog is often spiked with rum, brandy, or another liquor, too, so that makes it even worse for dogs.
Your dog is unlikely to be harmed by taking one sip of eggnog but if he manages to consumer a lot of eggnog, especially containing alcohol, contact your veterinarian… more
Garlic & Onions
Garlic, onions, scallions, chives, and similar foods are members of the Allium family. They contain a compound that damages red cells in dogs. When this happens, the red cells can rupture and your dog can produce a dark urine (red or brown) to get them out of the body. At this point your dog can be anemic. This can lead to internal organ damage, organ failure, and even death.
For other dogs, eating onions or garlic can provoke gastrointestinal irritation.
Even eating just a small amount of onions or garlic can make some dogs sick. Fresh, cooked, or dried powdered onions/garlic can all be dangerous. This is also true if you give them to your dog over a long period of time.
Symptoms of toxicity from onions and garlic can appear within one day or eating them if your dog has eaten a lot but it usually takes several days for signs to appear.
Signs to look for include:
- Ataxia (lack of coordination)
- Pale gums
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Increased heart and/or respiratory rate
- Red or brown discolored urine
If your dog consumes onion or garlic in stuffing or dressing (or in any other foods), contact your veterinarian for advice on how to proceed… more
Mince pie is chock full of fruits, spices, and (sometimes) a meat such as beef. The reason why it can be very dangerous for dogs is because it often contains nutmeg and alcohol (such as brandy or rum), not to mention raisins and currants.
Raisins and currants are two of the foods that can be most toxic to dogs. It doesn’t matter if they are organic, seedless, or how they are produced.
There is not specific toxic dose in dogs. Some dogs seem to be more sensitive than others to these ingredients.
Early symptoms of raisin toxicity
- Vomiting (usually within 24 hours of ingestion)
- Lack of appetite
- Possibly diarrhea within the next 12-24 hours
Signs of acute kidney failure if not treated early
- Lack of appetite
- Uremic breath (ammonia odor)
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Kidneys stop functioning
If you suspect that your dog has eaten mince pie or raisins or currants – even a few – take him to the veterinarian right away. The faster your dog can be treated, the better the prognosis.
Nutmeg is perhaps the most toxic spice for dogs. It’s widely used in all kinds of baked goods during the holiday season and many people are unaware that it’s dangerous to dogs. A small amount is unlikely to cause a problem but if your dog should happen to wolf down an entire shaker of nutmeg, you need to call your veterinarian immediately.
As little as two teaspoons can cause signs of toxicity in a dog. Fortunately, most recipes call for far less nutmeg. A recipe for a cake or pie, for instance, might use ½ teaspoon. So, even if your dog ate an entire cake he might not feel the effects of the nutmeg. But you would probably be wise to contact your veterinarian just to be safe. The sugar and other ingredients in a cake or pie could cause problems.
The toxic substance in nutmeg is myristicin. Myristicin acts as a neurotoxin.
Symptoms to look for include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal pain
If you enjoy a dash of nutmeg in your coffee or your eggnog, you shouldn’t worry about having it around your dog. It’s used in pumpkin pies and other baked goods. Just make sure to keep it away from your dog, especially in large amounts… more
Macadamia nuts are genuinely toxic to dogs. They seem to be the only species affected by macadamias and the reason isn’t known.
Symptoms of macadamia nut toxicosis
- Hyperthermia (fever)
- Central nervous system depression
- Ataxia (loss of coordination)
Some dogs have become sick after eating less than 1/10 of an ounce per two pounds of the dog’s body weight (2.4 grams per kg of body weight). That’s only two macadamia nuts per pound of body weight. It doesn’t take much to affect a dog.
Fortunately, dogs usually get sick before this condition can become fatal. Most symptoms are mild and dogs recover within 12-48 hours. However, there will often be some vomiting and weakness before the symptoms pass.
If your dogs shows these symptoms and you think he has eaten macadamia nuts, contact your vet, especially if you believe he has eaten a lot of macadamias. If your dog is constantly vomiting and he has a high fever, or if he has tremors or severe weakness in his hind legs, go to the veterinarian right away. This is also true if your dog ate macadamia nuts that were coated in chocolate or mixed with raisins.
Because macadamia nuts are also very high in fat, some dogs that eat them can also experience pancreatitis, another serious health problem.
Symptoms of pancreatitis
- Loss of appetite
- Belly pain
- Fever or low body temperature
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
If your dog displays these symptoms, with or without signs of toxicity from the macadamia nuts, contact your veterinarian. Sometimes the symptoms can overlap but if you are in doubt, call your vet… more
Like many other holiday favorites, fruit cake is chock full of fruits, nuts, and sugars. This alone could make it a problem if your dog snagged a piece. It often contains a number of ingredients that can be toxic for dogs such as nutmeg, raisins, currants, and alcohol such as rum or brandy. Some people even add cocoa to fruit cake which is dangerous to dogs.
One of the biggest worries with fruit cake is the fact that you can never be sure what’s in one. There are all kinds of recipes and each fruit cake seems to be different. Even if a fruit cake doesn’t contain raisins or alcohol, you can’t really be sure that it doesn’t contain other ingredients that could be toxic to dogs. It’s best to avoid letting your dog have any fruit cake unless you make it yourself and you know that it’s safe for dogs… more
Turkey becomes a favorite food during the autumn months. That often means that there are plenty of leftovers, including turkey bones. You might be tempted to let your dog eat the turkey bones from your Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t do it! Cooked bones from turkey, chicken, or other animals, can be very dangerous for your dog.
People often think that bones are always a good treat for their dogs but cooked bones have had the moisture cooked out of them, leaving them brittle. When a dog crunches on a cooked bone it will often splinter, leaving jagged edges that can puncture the mouth, throat, or stomach as your dog swallows them. They can even become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract and cause an obstruction that could require surgery to remove.
No cooked bones for your dog during the holiday, including turkey bones. Raw bones are usually safer since they are softer and don’t break and splinter, but you need to take some precautions with them, too…. more
Fresh, homemade bread is one of the pleasures of the holiday season. Whether you make bread from scratch or you’re popping open a can of biscuits, the scent of bread cooking in the oven is something that appeals to nearly everyone. It appeals to your dog, too. For this reason, it’s important to keep bread dough well away from your dog. Counter surfing dogs are notorious for stealing bread and bread dough off counters.
Bread dough that rises is dangerous to dogs because the yeast in the dough will continue to ferment and produce carbon dioxide in your dog’s stomach. It will go right on expanding. The yeast and the sugar will produce ethanol (an alcohol) that are toxic when they enter your dog’s bloodstream. In your dog’s bloodstream this can lead to the following symptoms:
- Depressed central nervous system
- Unsteady, drunken gait
- Weakness and possible collapse
Dogs that eat raw bread dough can also develop bloat or gastria dilatation volvulus (GDV). With GDV the stomach can fill with air or gas and sometimes twist, cutting off the blood supply.
Symptoms of bloat or GDV include
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Heavy panting or shallow breathing
- Trying to vomit
- Bloating of the abdomen – the stomach will feel hard
Even if you don’t make bread, you might have raw pizza dough in your home sometimes. It’s also a yeast bread. If your dog eats some of it, he could have the same problems as eating bread dough.
You might not have bread dough in your home but it’s possible you have raw pizza dough at times. Raw pizza dough is the same as bread dough. It’s also a yeast bread that rises. If your dog eats a large amount of raw pizza dough, he could experience similar problems.
If your dog eats any kind of dough that rises, contact your veterinarian… more
Chicken or Turkey Stuffing
There are lots of ingredients in stuffing and dressing that will attract your dog but these foods can be bad for them. They usually depend on onions as a primary ingredient, for example, to provide a savory taste. They sometimes contain garlic as well. Some cooks add various nuts which can be a problem for some dogs. As with fruit cakes and some other traditional recipes, individual cooks often add whatever they feel like adding so you can’t e sure what’s in the dressing or stuffing.
Even if the stuffing or dressing doesn’t contain onions or any other ingredients that are obviously harmful, stuffing and dressing are both loaded with fats and carbohydrates. If you allow your dog to eat more than a small taste of this food it could lead to pancreatitis.
It’s best not to let your dog have any chicken or turkey stuffing. If your dog manages to help himself to large amount, keep an eye on him and contact your veterinarian…. more
Delicious food is part of the holiday season but you have to be cautious about what you share with your dog. Don’t leave foods and beverages where your dog can reach them. Make sure your family and friends are aware that they shouldn’t share any food items with your dog without consulting you. If you are having a party or get-together, put your dogs in a quiet area where they won’t be tempted to steal food and drinks; or make sure your friends know that they can’t share with your dogs. The holidays are a great time for foods but it’s usually best if you give your dog items that are especially made for him.