With the holiday season comes a delightful variety of festive drinks, baked goods, chocolate confections, and other rich, fattening foods. However, it is not wise, and in some cases, can be quite dangerous, to share these treats with your pets.
What foods and beverages are most problematic to my pet this time of year?
Potential problems include:
- Foods containing grapes, raisins, and currants (such as fruit cakes, breads, and cookies). These can result in kidney failure in dogs.
- Alcohol. Most pet owners know not to give alcoholic drinks to their pets; however, alcohol can be found in other places such as rum soaked cake and in raw bread dough containing yeast. Ingestion of alcohol by your pet can cause signs including ataxia (difficulty walking), disorientation, changes in blood pressure, and abnormal blood sugar levels. In addition to the risks associated with alcohol ingestion, raw dough can expand in your pet’s stomach and can result in bloat, which may be life-threatening.
- Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine. Ingestion in small amounts may cause vomiting and diarrhea, with cardiovascular and neurologic changes possible with large ingestions. The amount of theobromine present in chocolate depends on the type. White chocolate and milk chocolate contain the lowest amounts of theobromine, while unsweetened and baker’s chocolates contain high amounts of theobromine. The specific risk to your pet depends on the amount ingested, type of chocolate, and size of your pet. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is a concern even in cases where poisoning is not expected.
- Many sugar-free gums, candies, and baked goods contain xylitol, a natural sweetener which is toxic to dogs. Ingestion of xylitol may result in a life-threatening decrease in blood sugar as well as liver failure. Leftover fatty meat scraps can produce severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), leading to abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea.
What about bones?
Feeding your pet bones is not without risk; several cases of fecal impaction and intestinal accidents such as bowel perforation have been reported. Feeding bones also poses the risk of breaking teeth, leading to pain and possible infection of the tooth.
“Cooked bones must NEVER be fed…”
Cooked bones must NEVER be fed, since they are brittle and prone to splintering, which can cause both obstructions and perforations of the intestinal tract.
Vitamin A Poisoning
Too much vitamin A can lead to poisoning. While somewhat uncommon in North America, vitamin A toxicity is sometimes diagnosed in cats that are fed primarily table scraps. There seems to be considerable variability in how susceptible individual cats are to this problem. It takes a long time for the clinical signs associated with vitamin A toxicity to develop; symptoms do not usually appear until the cat is at least middle-aged.
Diet Changes Can Cause Gastritis
Gastritis is defined as inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The most common clinical signs associated with gastritis are sudden vomiting and decreased appetite (anorexia). Causes of acute gastritis include the ingestion of spoiled or raw food, non-food items such as garbage, foreign objects, plants, toxins, eating inappropriate foodstuffs, such as table scraps or leftovers, or being fed large quantities of food. Treatment is based on the specific cause.
Diet Changes Can Also Upset Your Pet’s Possible Food Allergies
Food allergy is one of the most common allergies or hypersensitivities known to affect dogs. In a pet with an allergy, the immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to substances that it would normally tolerate. In an allergic reaction to a food, antibodies are produced against some part of the food, usually a protein or complex carbohydrate. Since antibody production is required for an allergy to develop, food allergies usually manifest after prolonged exposure to one brand, type, or form of food.
What are the signs of food allergy? My dog just seems to itch and occasionally has diarrhea.
In the dog, the signs of food allergy are usually itchy skin or digestive disturbances such as vomiting or diarrhea. Other more subtle changes can also occur, including hyperactivity, weight loss, lack of energy, and even aggression.
Are some ingredients more likely to cause allergies than others?
The most common food allergens in dogs are proteins, especially those from dairy products, beef, lamb, chicken, chicken eggs, soy, or gluten (from wheat). Each time a pet eats food containing these substances, the antibodies react with the antigens and symptoms occur.
Are these the only food ingredients likely to cause food hypersensitivity?
No, virtually any food ingredient can produce an allergy. Proteins are the most common cause, but other substances and additives can also be responsible.
How is the condition diagnosed?
The best and most accurate method of diagnosing food allergy is to feed a hypoallergenic diet for eight to twelve weeks as a food trial called an elimination trial.
“The elimination diet must not contain any ingredients that the pet has eaten in the past.”
To be a true elimination trial for your pet, this special diet must not contain any ingredients that the pet has eaten in the past. This also requires that no other foods, treats, or supplements be fed during the trial period, including flavored vitamins and heartworm preventives.
There are blood tests that may give an indication of whether the dog is allergic to specific foods. These are called serum IgE tests, and your veterinarian will discuss whether they would be of benefit in diagnosing your pet’s condition.
How is a food allergy treated?
Once the offending food substance has been identified, a diet is chosen that does not contain these particular substances. Today there are a number of commercially available, tasty, hypoallergenic diets that can be fed for the rest of your dog’s life. Your veterinarian can discuss the best choices for your pet, based on the results of testing.
Occasionally commercial diets containing the right constituents are not available or your pet will not eat them. If this occurs, you may have to prepare a home cooked diet.
Can the problem be cured?
The only treatment is avoidance. Some pets will require medication during severe episodes, but most pets can be successfully treated with a hypoallergenic diet.
Is it likely that my dog could develop other food allergies?
Dogs that have developed an allergy to one particular food may develop other food-related allergies in the future. In addition, many dogs with food allergies have other allergies, such as atopy (inhalant allergy) or flea allergy.
“Dogs that have developed an allergy to one particular food may develop other food-related allergies in the future.”
If you think your pet may have a food allergy, you should discuss this with your veterinarian, who can help your pet resume a healthier, itch-free life.
No matter how much your pets beg or how cute their pleading eyes may be, resist the urge to feed them anything other than their usual diet. Keeping your pet healthy is the number one priority. Opt for extra play time or a new toy instead of an upset belly. Happy holidays!
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