Feeding the dog scraps under the table or letting the cat sneak a nibble from the kitchen counter can put a quick end to the festivities.
“Thanksgiving is a time when a lot of people think that giving tidbits of the food to pets is thoughtful,” said Kate KuKanich, associate professor at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “But because we love our pets, we can often overdo it and ignore food safety rules.”
From cheese to chocolates, plenty of foods can make pets sick — sometimes fatally.
“Normally the day after Thanksgiving is one of the busier days, unfortunately, with sick pets,” said Dr. Erica Richards, managing veterinarian at Virginia’s Massanutten Animal Clinic.
What not to give cats or dogs
A bit of white meat from traditional roast fowl won’t hurt — but pick out any bones, of course, and trim the fat and skin.
“In addition to the typical gastrointestinal upset, rich, fatty foods can cause a potentially life-threatening and painful disease called pancreatitis,” said Dr. Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Signs of pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, stomach pain, restlessness, shaking, diarrhea, fever and weakness, while in cats the symptoms are decreased appetite and weight loss.
And tasty side dishes can prove toxic to pets, too.
Cheese will cause digestive woes since most adult cats and dogs are lactose intolerant.
The high oil and fat content in nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly pancreatitis in pets.
If eaten, raw bread dough can expand in a pet’s stomach. That could cut off blood supply and require emergency surgery. Yeast in the dough can produce alcohol, leading to seizures and respiratory failure.
When pets drink alcohol, they can develop vomiting, diarrhea, uncoordination, weakness, difficulty breathing and even coma and death from respiratory failure.
“Don’t accidentally leave your eggnog on the coffee table,” Stamper said.
When it’s time for dessert, keep chocolate well away from dogs and cats. Eating it can be life-threatening due to its caffeine content and a chemical called theobromine.
Chocolate poisoning symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Cats are as susceptible as dogs but less likely to eat sweets.
“Dogs and cats are more sensitive to theobromine and caffeine than people are, so it affects them more,” said Michael Topper, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “It can result in more nervous system stimulation, may cause them to urinate more and may cause their hearts to race.”
What not to give dogs
Now let’s focus on specific no-nos for man’s best friend.
Among appetizers and starters, too many salty chips can cause sodium poisoning in dogs.
Macadamia nuts are forbidden, as they can cause weakness, vomiting, tremors, lack of coordination, joint stiffness and hyperthermia in dogs.
Also particularly dangerous are grapes and raisins that can trigger kidney failure in dogs.
And dessert is a definite no-no. British researchers analyzing veterinary records in 2017 found “significant peaks of chocolate intoxication, most notably at Christmas.”
Dogs in their study had indulged in chocolate cake, liqueur, Santa Claus figurines, Advent calendars, Christmas tree decorations, hot chocolate, chocolate oranges, and Toblerone bars.
Also beware anything that contains the artificial sweetener Xylitol used in sugar-free candy, mints and some baked goods.
A dog eating Xylitol will experience a sudden release of insulin, leading to dangerously low blood sugar and possible liver damage. Signs of poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea within a few minutes, worsening to staggering, seizures, and collapse. If untreated, it can be fatal.
“I’ve seen a single bite, in something like banana bread, be fatal for a 40-pound dog,” said Dr. Christy Redfearn, director of North Carolina’s Cape Fear Community College Veterinary Medical Technology program.
“For dogs where it’s not fatal, I’ve seen on several occasions families spend $6,000 to $8,000 trying to nurse their dog to pull through.”
What not to give cats
Common holiday ingredients like onions, shallots, garlic, chives and leeks — whether alone, in dressing, mixed with mashed potatoes or topping a green bean casserole — can cause gastrointestinal irritation and red blood cell damage in cats. And they seem to go for chives, in particular.
They belong to the allium plant family and contain organosulfoxides, which can rupture red blood cells and cause low levels of oxygen.
And if the food on the table isn’t dangerous enough, holiday plants like poinsettias, holly, lilies, amaryllis and mistletoe are toxic if nibbled by cats and dogs.
If your dog or cat eats a dangerous food and poisoning is suspected, call a veterinarian, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 which has a $65 fee or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 which has a $59 fee.