Hidden Dangers of Holiday Table Scraps: Twelve Human Foods Your Pet Should Not Eat

You know the LOOK: those sweet, longing eyes pleading for something that must be tasty, because you’re eating it. Maybe it’s the gentle prodding of a cat’s paw on your knee at the dinner table, or maybe just the puddle of drool under the kitchen cutting board. Our pets would like some of our food, and they’re very good at telling us so! With the holidays approaching, pets have ample opportunity to convey this message, and many of us will be moved to share the bounty of our tables with our canine or feline companions.

Whether you’re the indulgent table-scrap feeder who lets the dog “do the dishes,” or a no-begging, no human food die-hard, you should know that some human foods are harmful to pets. Many of them are holiday staples, so PugetPets has compiled a list of 12 of the most common human foods that are harmful to pets as well as a few nutritional concerns associated with human food.

  1. Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine. Most of us are aware that chocolate is harmful to dogs and cats, but coffee and caffeine in general also contain methylxanthines, stimulants which when ingested by pets can cause a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, hyperactivity, abnormal heartbeat, seizures and possibly death. The darker the chocolate, the more methylxanthines, and the more dangerous the food.
  1. Grapes and raisins. While perfectly fine for human consumption, fresh or dried grapes contain an unknown substance which is highly toxic to dogs. Grapes can cause acute and sudden kidney failure. Never allow your dog to eat grapes.
  1. Tree nuts. Several tree nuts are highly toxic to dogs. Macadamia nuts inhibit locomotory function, causing weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors, swollen limbs, hyperthermia and possible damage to a dog’s nervous system. Signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and can last approximately 12 to 48 hours. Pecans and walnuts are also toxic. Almonds, while not toxic to your dog or cat, are not easily chewed by carnivores and can be a choking hazard.
  1. Onions and garlic. The onion family (including garlic, shallots, leeks, chives and the like) is poisonous to most pets, and especially to cats. Onions can cause damage to your pet’s red blood cells, and can also cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Beware of “hidden” onion such as onion or garlic powder often used in broths, hotdogs, baby food, and maybe even your holiday Tofurky!
  1. Avocado. Avocado can cause diarrhea and vomiting in dogs. It is highly toxic to birds, causing cardiovascular damage and death. Avocado is likewise toxic to large herbivores. (Yes, that means, you, back yard goat!)
  1. Mushrooms. It is not known whether the mushrooms that are non-toxic for humans have any toxicity to pets. It’s recommended that you avoid giving mushrooms of any kind to pets.
  1. Alcohol. The effect of alcohol is greatly accelerated in small mammals with fast metabolisms like our pets, making it dangerous for them even in small quantities. In addition, hops, a main ingredient in beer, is not good for dogs, so best to relegate sharing a cold one with Rover to your college days!
  1. Xylitol. This is a sweetener used in many products, including gum, candy, baked goods and toothpaste. It can cause insulin spikes, hypoglycemia (lowered blood sugar) and liver failure in pets.
  1. Pits and seeds. Apples, pears, plums and peaches all have seeds that contain trace amounts of cyanide and/or arsenic. They shouldn’t be consumed by pets or humans. In addition, the pits and seeds of many fruits (notably peaches, plums and persimmons) can cause intestinal obstruction and enteritis.
  1. Yeast dough. Raw yeast dough will rise and cause gas to accumulate in your pet’s digestive system, resulting in stomach pain, bloating, and potentially an obstruction, becoming a life threatening emergency. Fermenting yeast also produces ethanol, and a dog ingesting raw bread dough can become drunk.
  1. Salt. Salt in large amounts can produce excessive thirst and urination and possibly sodium ion poisoning in pets. Overdosing on salt can cause diarrhea, vomiting, depression, elevated body temperature, tremors, seizures and possible death. So avoid sharing your favorite salty snacks with your pet.
  1. Nutmeg and cinnamon. These favorite holiday spices are frequently cited in lists of foods toxic to pets. Nutmeg has a toxicity level for humans as well (it has been used for its psychoactive properties), and cinnamon in large quantities has hypoglycemic effects on both humans and our pets. While both would have to be ingested in very large quantities to have health consequences for pets, it is worth noting that quantities harmless to humans could result in poisoning, so best to use judgment if indulging your dog or cat in a tidbit of gingerbread or pumpkin pie.

If treating your pet to some holiday human-chow, it’s worth keeping a few things in mind. Dogs are susceptible to pancreatitis from ingesting too much fat. Resist the urge to give your dog a lot of fat scraps. Be mindful of the fat content when treating with peanut butter, and avoid peanut butter with added sugar and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, as these are not good for your pet or for you. Both dogs and cats do not metabolize dairy well. If your pet seems gassy or uncomfortable, then cheese may not be the best treat. If s/he tolerates cheese, a lower-fat variety is a better option, especially for dogs. In general, the types of things that we know we should exercise moderation with when feeding ourselves (sugar, fat, salt) are worse for our pets than for us, so use extra restraint when sharing. Finally, avoid giving cooked bones and any pork and poultry bones to your dog or cat, as they are small and brittle. Splintered bones are a serious choking hazard.

Remembering the special nutritional needs of your dog, cat, bird, bunny, or back yard goat when sharing human treats will ensure their immediate and long-term well-being. If you think your animal companion has been poisoned, contact your emergency vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. Your dog walkers and pet sitters at PugetPets wish safe and happy holiday feasting to your whole famenagerie!