BAD EATS: Holiday Pet Food Safety Tips

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With the holidays come holiday dinners, which can spell disaster for your pet if they ingest something that can be toxic or harmful to them.

For dogs, rich, fatty foods, such as scraps of fat from the Thanksgiving turkey, gravy or grease, can cause a sudden onset of pancreatitis, which occurs when the pancreas floods the body with digestive enzymes that begin to inflame and deteriorate surrounding organs.  This can result in pain, vomiting, and dehydration, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.  Often hospitalization is required for treatment.  A dog who is suffering from pancreatitis may adopt a “praying” position to help them relieve their abdominal pain.

dog in praying position

Looks like my morning stretchzzzzzzz, but could be a sign of pancreatitis.

Bones from your holiday turkey, chicken, lamb or ham should also be avoided, as bones may splinter and lacerate or obstruct your pet’s digestive tract.  Your safest option is to avoid feeding table scraps altogether.  Caution should also be observed when cooking your holiday meals.  Bread dough containing yeast can also be toxic to both dogs and cats, with dogs developing a dangerous condition called Bloat, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

illustration of dog bloat

Alcohol can also be fatal if your dog or cat imbibes in drinks that are left out during holiday parties, especially sweet tasting drinks like eggnog and crème liquors.  Dogs do not process alcohol in the same way as humans do, so ingesting it may result in harmful drops in blood sugar, leading to seizures and respiratory distress.  Cats will be affected by alcohol in much the same way that humans are, but their brain and liver will suffer damage a lot faster.  Just two teaspoons of whiskey can put a 5-lb cat into a coma, and three could prove fatal.  Pay due diligence when hosting parties and instruct your guests not to give your pets any alcohol, and quickly clean up any spills or drinks that have been left out.

Both cats and dogs cannot tolerate the chemical Theobromine, so chocolate should continue to be avoided, as ingesting it could be fatal.  Another chemical to avoid that is found in most sweet treats is Xylitol.  This substance can be found in holiday candy, baked goods, diet foods and gum, and ingesting it can send your pet into liver failure within a few days, so keep it far out of your pet’s reach.

Raw or undercooked meat and eggs should never be offered to your pet for several reasons.  First, food poisoning can affect our pets just as easily as it can affect you from bacteria like E.coli or salmonella.  And second, raw egg whites also contain a protein called Avidin which interferes with the absorption of Vitamin B and cause skin disorders.

If you happened to catch your pet in the act of eating a forbidden food item, or you are fairly certain of what they may have eaten, you have a few options of what you can do next.

If the food item is still in your pets mouth, you can go “mouth surfing” and retrieve the forbidden item.  Be sure not to push the item further into your pet’s throat though, as you may lodge the item and cause your pet to choke.   After you have retrieved the item, immediately discard it and continue to observe your pet over the next 24 hours for any signs of distress, such as panting, pacing, vomiting, diarrhea, dry heaving, retching, inability to settle down or get comfortable, or seizures.  If your veterinary office is open, call and ask if you should bring your pet in.

grabbing food from a dog's mouth

It’s not pretty, but we’ve all done this.

Is there strong evidence to support that a missing food item was eaten, but you didn’t see it happen?  For example, if you came home only to find an empty box of chocolates on the ground and Fido moaning nearby wearing a chocolate moustache, there is a very good chance that your pet has ingested something bad.  In this case, you may want to consider inducing your pet to vomit up the forbidden food.

However, there are some situations in which you should NOT induce vomiting.  These include

  • If the ingested item was a toxin that may be caustic, like drain opener, acidic, or petroleum based. If you are not sure of what kind of toxin was ingested or if you should induce vomiting, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 (fees apply).
  • If the animal is having trouble breathing, is lethargic, in shock, or actively having seizures/convulsions.
  • If the animal has a slow heart rate.
  • If the item that was ingested is sharp or may damage the esophagus.

If the forbidden food meets none of these criteria, then you may induce vomiting.  This is easily done at home with common household items, mainly 3% Hydrogen Peroxide or table salt. To induce vomiting in dogs using Hydrogen Peroxide, administer 1 teaspoon per 10 lbs orally and stand back.  Vomiting may occur within seconds, so you should induce vomiting outside or in an area that can be cleaned easily.  This may be repeated every 15-20 minutes up to 3 times, until the animal vomits.  With cats, this method must be done with care, as they are more prone to developing pneumonia from foam aspirating into the lungs.  Don’t have Hydrogen Peroxide on hand?  A teaspoon of table salt administered to the back of the throat also works.

Remember: Hydrogen peroxide has a shorter shelf life than other products and will flatten like soda, so always keep a small un-opened bottle in your pet first aid kit and check the expiration dates regularly.

Inducing vomiting is not a replacement for taking your pet to the vet, it is meant to get the bad stuff out and buy you time to get to your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian may need to administer further care to your pet, such as IV fluids, medications or activated charcoal to absorb any lingering toxins.

And lets not forget about other dangerous items that are present during the holidays too, such as toxic Pointsettias, tinsel from the tree and Christmas light wires, Oh My!

From all of us at Found Animals Foundation, have a happy, and SAFE holiday season!

4 Responses

  1. Alan Smith says:

    Great Post!!
    I enjoyed reading, the section that includes what situations we should NOT induce vomiting was particularly helpful, thanks!

  2. TRACEY says:


  3. Nickie Colvin says:

    Great article, thanks for the info…