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By Rebecca Fending
As the chaos of the holidays keeps you on your toes, so do your pets. And as you decorate and transform your home into a holiday wonderland, it can get confusing knowing what decorations or holiday cuisines may be toxic for your furry friend. Between those homemade chocolate candies, Christmas dinner ingredients and beautifully blooming poinsettias, here are a few of the most commonly present holiday toxins for both cats and dogs.
Most every pet owner knows that chocolate is extremely detrimental to the health of your dog, but what about your cat? As you might suspect, chocolate is toxic to kitties, as well. Here’s a bit about why chocolate and pets don’t mix:
The compound found in chocolate that makes it toxic for cats and dogs is named theobromine. This alkaloid is found in the cocoa plant and acts as a stimulant for humans, similar to the way caffeine in our morning coffee helps wake us up. It dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow but decreasing blood pressure. This is what makes it lethal to our pets as it affects their central nervous system and cardiovascular health.
So, which types of chocolate have the highest concentration of theobromine? Cocoa powder and bitter chocolates (including even semi sweet chocolate chips) have the highest percentages by volume of the compound, making them the most deadly for cats and dogs. Milk chocolate has a much lower percentage, but more sugar; something slightly less lethal, but just as likely to make your pet sick. White chocolate has the smallest percentage as it contains almost no product from the cocoa plant.
Be sure to keep all chocolate out of reach, including baked goods with cocoa, off of counter tops and tables. Keep your human treats sealed away in your pantry or other cabinets high off the ground to avoid any temptation it may pose to your fur baby.
If your pet appears to have consumed any of the chocolate you have laying around for the holidays, consult your veterinarian immediately. If they consumed a large amount of it, take them to an emergency vet as soon as possible.
As most people do, cooking around the holidays uses a number of different ingredients that are toxic to both dogs and cats. These might range from fruits and vegetables to seasonings, many of which may be surprising to pet owners as being lethal for their pets. For a complete list, see Humane Society’s list of common foods toxic to our cats and dogs.
- Fruit pits and seeds: If you don’t want them, neither does your pet. Things like apple seeds, apricot, cherry and avocado pits are dangerous for animals. Not only do they pose the potential choking hazard, but they can also cause internal obstructions and tearing, resulting in as much pain to your pet as to your wallet.
- Xylitol: This sweetener is found in an array of human foods, from peanut butter to toothpaste. Although this sweetener is totally safe for us, cats and dogs digest this compound differently than our bodies. It elevates the insulin levels in their bloodstreams, leading to hyperglycemic reactions such as vomiting, seizures and even a coma. If you’re using any ingredients in your holiday baking that include xylitol, be sure to keep them covered, sealed and out of reach for your pets.
- Garlic and Onion: Delicious staples in most every savory dish, especially around the holidays, garlic and onion are both toxic human ingredients for cats and dogs. Aside from contributing to stinky pet breath, when digested, both of these ingredients create conditions in our pets called hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia and methemoglobinemia. These conditions are produced from the destruction of red blood cells in an animal’s body. Be sure to keep any powdered, fresh, minced or whole garlic and onion out of reach of pets, as well as any dishes that include these as an ingredients.
- Coffee: Although we tend to have coffee year-round, coffee use can be elevated during the holidays due to baking with coffee products, or even making chocolate covered espresso bean treats for guests. Similar to theobromine in chocolate, the caffeine in coffee is a dangerous stimulant for cats and dogs. It raises blood pressure and can lead to seizures and cardiac arrhythmias.
- Walnuts: Another food that seems to make a larger appearance during the holidays, walnuts pose a huge health risk to pets. This time, it’s not so much the food itself, but the fungi that tends to collect on the nut’s surface. These fungi produce metabolites called mycotoxins, which are carcinogenic for animals and result in seizures.
Holiday Plants and Your Pets
Common holiday house plants tend to be poisonous for our cats and dogs. These range from mild symptoms like stomach ache to more severe causes like internal blockages. Below are the different plants and their level of concern. Of course, these symptoms may different from pet to pet as it depends on the amount of plant consumed and size of pet, and therefore should still be considered deadly and kept out of reach of cats and dogs.
- Mild symptoms (stomach ache, lethargy): Christmas cactus, Christmas tree
- Intermediate (vomiting, diarrhea, drooling): Christmas rose, holly, poinsettias
- Severe (seizures, blockages, internal tears, coma, death): Christmas tree needles/pine oil, lilies, mistletoe
To learn about alternatives to the above potentially toxic plants, visit Pet Central.