Year-end holiday food can mean unwanted diet breaks and extra weight for people as well as their pets.
With Halloween starting off the celebrations, chocolate should be the first concern on the list, said Lara Sypniewski, Oklahoma State University Extension veterinarian.
Dogs enjoy chocolate for the same reason as people: its sweet taste. However, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which can be toxic to dogs, Sypniewski said. Theobromine is an alkaloid found in the cacao plant used to manufacture chocolate.
“When the chocolate is darker in color or has a lower sweetness, it is more toxic for dogs to consume,” Sypniewski said, adding that a dog’s body weight can make a difference also. “This can cause hyper-activeness with an increase of heat and respiratory rates in dogs.”
Those toxins can remain in the dog’s system for at least 17 hours. When untreated, dogs might develop severe anxiety, arrythmias, muscle tremors, seizures, coma, vomiting and diarrhea, Sypniewski said.
“The best and safest thing is for dogs not to have any chocolate,” Sypniewski said. “But if they do accidently consume any, it will help to know what kind of chocolate they got into.”
Emergency vet services can help by inducing a dog to vomit before the chemicals hit a dog’s bloodstream. Another treatment involves activated charcoal, which binds to the toxin in the animal’s stomach before absorption, Sypniewski said.
Knowing how toxicants affect a pet can help animal owners prevent accidents. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provides information on dangerous substances for pets, Sypniewski said.
Table food can have similar risks, said Rosslyn Biggs, OSU Extension veterinarian. By taking a closer look at why human food can be bad for other animals, pet owners might be able to prevent costly vet visits during the holidays.
Giving pets table food during the holidays can feel like an act of affection. However, sticking to a pet’s typical menu portions is best to maintain quality health, Biggs said.
“When you move pets away from their normal diet it can wreak havoc by causing gastrointestinal or digestive system problems,” Biggs said. “Dogs should eat dog food, and cats eat cat food.”
Commonly known as “garbage gut,” poor eating is expressed in mild symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. Allowed to carry on too long, those effects can compound and require intensive hospitalization.
Biggs said commercial pet treats and off-the-shelf pet food can cause similar problems. Too much is too much.
“Our pets are prone to obesity just like humans are,” Biggs said. “We want to help them avoid overweight issues.”
Another reason to maintain regular eating habits is that most veterinarians, like other professionals, will be harder to reach during the holidays, she said. Hospital visits are tougher to arrange and emergency rooms tend to be more expensive. Those frustrations can be prevented at the dinner table.
OSU offers 24-hour emergency services at its teaching veterinary hospital. Pets are seen by small animal specialists, Biggs said.
When friends and family are visiting, Biggs said, try to put pets farther away from tasty temptations and other disruptions. Guests can have bad pet-feeding habits, too.
“From a behavioral standpoint it can be uncomfortable for your pet to be around a louder than usual environment,” Biggs said. “Isolating them in a separate room or their crate will be a much more suitable place for them.”
Biggs suggested a clear rule in the house: no people food for pets – ever.
After finishing holiday meals, Biggs said, it is important to clean up food scraps. This can include bones, leftover food and trash that may have dropped from the table or trash can.
“If pets were to get into those leftover scraps, it can cause the same issue – or even worse – just as if you were going to feed them table food,” Biggs said. “Feeding your pets bones make more problems than they are worth.”
Bones can get wedged in a pet’s rectal area or mouth and cause pain, said Barry Whitworth, Extension food/animal quality and health specialist for eastern Oklahoma.
“People let their pets have those leftovers from Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Whitworth said. “Then the animals have to be anesthetized in order to remove bones. It is better to just not give your pets leftovers.”
It’s always best to ask a real vet any questions or concerns regarding pets instead of the internet, Biggs said.
“Have a discussion with your veterinarian on which pet foods are appropriate for your pets’ type, age, breed and any other conditions,” Biggs said. “Having a relationship with your pets’ veterinarian will help keep your pet healthy.”