Festive foods are one of the things that make Christmas so special. However, although our dogs love to share in anything we enjoy, there are a number of foods that, for their own good, we should keep to ourselves! Some of them you probably know about, but there are others that are less well known…
A perennial favourite, chocolate is a well known poison in dogs. The toxic ingredient is theobromine (a chemical very similar to caffeine, which has similar clinical effects). In small amounts, this just causes vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive thirst and abdominal pain; however, larger doses can cause excessive salivation, muscular tremors, excitement, wobbliness and heart rhythm abnormalities. Sometimes, this leads to kidney failure, seizures or convulsions, and may be fatal.
Different types of chocolate contain different quantities of theobromine. White chocolate has the least, then milk chocolate, while dark chocolate and cocoa powder are the most dangerous.
Raisins, currants and sultanas are all potentially toxic to dogs, as are foods made from them – such as mincemeat and Christmas puddings! The exact toxic component isn’t known, and the effects are very variable – a dog may eat handfuls of them and be unaffected, but on another occasion, as few as two or three currants can be fatal.
The effects of raisin poisoning include vomiting and diarrhoea, which become progressively bloodstained. Wobbliness and muscle weakness follow, and then finally kidney failure occurs. Once the kidneys start to shut down, the prognosis is quite poor.
Onions, garlic and leeks all contain chemicals called organosulphides. These cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but can also damage red blood cells, causing anaemia (pale gums, shortness of breath, lethargy, and collapse). The symptoms can occur within hours of eating them (for example, sage and onion stuffing!) but is more likely to be delayed for a day or more.
These usually turn up in festive nut assortments at this time of year; however, they are genuinely toxic to dogs. Poisoning may result from ingestion of the whole nuts or nut products (such as macadamia butter). Symptoms usually occur within twelve hours, and include lethargy, weakness and wobbliness; vomiting, diarrhoea, bloat and abdominal pain; depression and joint pain. Fortunately, most poisoned dogs will survive with appropriate veterinary care.
Peanuts are mildly toxic in themselves, usually causing vomiting and possibly diarrhoea. However, peanuts are often served heavily salted, and ingestion may result in salt poisoning. This additionally leads to thirst, lethargy and depression, muscle tremors and abnormal heartbeats. In severe cases, wobbliness, seizures and death follow. Fortunately, most dogs won’t eat enough (about 4g of salt per kg bodyweight) to be fatal, but it can occur.
The artificial sweetener xylitol is found in a wide range of “low sugar” and “low calorie” products, and is fatally toxic to dogs. It causes abnormally low blood sugar levels, resulting in abnormal behaviour, seizures, coma and death. Urgent treatment is required!
Humans actually cope with alcohol very well. Dogs, however, lack the metabolic pathways to process alcohol effectively, and tend to become very drunk, very fast. They become dangerously dehydrated and may even die of alcohol poisoning. Most will, however, survive – with what appears to be a terrible hangover!
Dogs are evolved to crunch up fresh bone (although remember that even fresh bones can still cause an intestinal blockage). However, cooked bones (especially birds, like turkey) can be really quite dangerous – cooked bone splinters when chewed, and the resulting sharp splinters can injure the mouth or penetrate the gut.
At Christmas we eat a range of very rich and unusual foods. Humans cope with this pretty well, but even we need mountains of antacid treatments over the festive season! Dogs, on the other hand, are not well adapted to rapid variations in diet, and sudden and dramatic changes (like the leftovers of your Christmas dinner) aren’t good for them. The most common outcome is violent vomiting and diarrhoea!
If you have any concerns about something your dog may have eaten, call us immediately – we’ll have a vet on the end of the phone 24/7 able to advise you or treat your dog if needed.