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Human Foods and Pets Don’t Always Mix: What’s Safe and What’s Not?

October 27, 2016

Sharing food with our pets often seems like an act of love. They might be following you around, looking at you with those big puppy-dog eyes, and begging for you to share just a bite of your meal or snack. How can you say no to that face?

Giving into their yearning, you absentmindedly toss them some scraps of human food. However, this seemingly innocent act may have severe, potentially life-threatening consequences for your four-legged companion. It is important to keep in mind that what is safe for human consumption is not always safe for animals.

Knowing which foods dogs and cats should not eat helps keep them safe from the harmful side effects that certain foods can have on animals. Here are some of the main foods you should avoid giving to your pets:

  • Alcohol — It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, difficulty breathing and coma. In extreme cases, alcohol can cause death, along with many other health complications.
  • Chocolate — Because it contains methylxanthines, chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, seizure and death in your pet. There are a variety of factors that influence chocolate toxicity, including the size of your pet, how much chocolate your pet ate, and what kind of chocolate was consumed. Baker’s and dark chocolates have high levels of methylxanthines, causing them to be the most dangerous, while white chocolate contains the lowest levels of methylxanthines. Learn what to do if your dog eats chocolate from WebMD.
  • Grapes and Raisins — Not much is known about what causes grapes to be toxic to dogs, but they can cause kidney failure in some dogs. While not all dogs are affected, owners should be aware. Is it really worth the risk?
  • Onions, Garlic and Chives — Cats are usually picky eaters, so cat owners don’t have to worry as much about their cat getting into foods they shouldn’t. However, onions, garlic and chives are quite toxic to both cats and dogs. These food items can cause gastrointestinal irritation and can lead to damage of red blood cells. Symptoms from eating garlic and onions can be delayed, so even if you don’t notice anything right away, your pet could still get sick.
  • Raw/ Uncooked Meat — Feeding your dog raw meat may seem instinctive. It is what dogs would eat if they lived in the wild, right? However, raw meat can be just as harmful to dogs as it is to humans. Salmonella and E. coli are foodborne-illness-causing bacteria that can affect your pets, as well as you. Additionally, bones can get lodged in a pet’s throat or tear up the throat and intestines.
  • Xylitol — If consumed, this sugar substitute can be life-threatening for pets. Xylitol is a sweetener commonly used in sugar-free gum and candy, mouthwash and even some varieties of peanut butter. Since peanut butter is a protein-rich snack commonly fed to dogs, double check to make sure it is xylitol-free before feeding it to your furry friends.

It is important to ensure that not only pet owners, but also family, friends and pet sitters avoid giving your furry friends these foods. And since pets can be quite curious, make sure that harmful foods are moved out of a pet’s reach when they are left to their own devices in the home (including countertops and trash cans).

If you suspect your pet has eaten a potentially hazardous food and is showing symptoms of distress, you should immediately contact your veterinarian or take your pet to an emergency animal hospital. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also offers an Animal Poison Control Center you can contact at (888) 426-4435.

Additional Resources:

About the Author

Sydney Brogden is an intern with the Food Safety Division at the Georgia Department of Agriculture. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Policy from Mercer University and is an avid pet lover herself.

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