Dog Talk: ’Tis the season to be merry but watch what festive food you give your dog

  • Animals
  • Monday, 24 Dec 2018

It is tempting to want to share festive treats, such as biscuits, with your pet. But read the labels carefully. Some biscuits are rich in xylitol, a sweetener which is bad for animals. Photo:

Dogs adore food, and the pets in our street are no exception. As we’re having parties and loading up on Christmas shopping, all the dogs are excited because the holidays mean lots of opportunity for extras. The question is, is it good for them?

When you feel your pet is part of the family, it’s a small step to treat them as if they are smaller, hairier “humans”. However, there are certain biological differences that can make holiday time dangerous.

Lethal meaty treats

At face value, ham, chicken, bacon, and other savoury treats appear ideal because they are meat, and dogs are carnivores. However, processed meats are typically laden with salt because we crave such tastes.

Salt contains sodium, which is essential to health. However, too much is poisonous. Sodium poisoning can cause diarrhoea and vomiting as well as seizures, coma and death.

While doctors warn that we people need to be careful not to over-indulge, vets point out that pets – with their smaller bodies – have to be extra careful.

Innocuous-looking food with high levels of salt includes any dishes made with soya sauce, bacon, ikan bilis, tinned ham, potted meat, tinned soup, and any dishes made with instant broth, stock or soup cubes. Funnily enough, some sweet-tasting treats like instant pudding mixes can be high in salt, too.

Sweet poison

Sugar is another common additive that makes food super-attractive. Sugary treats for pets have the same kinds of issues as for us: too much of a good thing leads to being overweight and diabetes.

Today, many manufacturers use xylitol, a sweetener that has 40% fewer calories than sugar and also offers benefits to diabetics. It’s made from corncobs, birch wood, and the stalk residue from sugar cane, so it’s lovely and natural.

But for dogs, xylitol is big trouble. When ingested by dogs, xylitol causes a huge insulin release. The immediate reaction is weakness and vomiting. It can be followed by coma and liver failure.

While there are no local figures available, emergency vet services in the United States and Britain have noted a rise in xylitol poisoning and put out extra warnings over the holiday period.

Sometimes, labels like “sugar free” and “lite” can hint at the presence of xylitol. However, the only real way to spot it is to read the label. Be especially careful with cakes, biscuits, mints, peanut butter, jam, yoghurt, tomato sauce, chili sauce and protein bars.

Also, never give your pet toothpaste made for humans as many dental products are xylitol-rich.

Turkey stuffing

Surprisingly, one of the most common foods around the world, the onion, is toxic to dogs. In fact, all the Allium family – that’s onions, garlic, leeks and chives – contain n-propyl disulfide, a chemical dogs just can’t process.

This chemical damages red blood cells, causing anaemia, organ failure and death. Amazingly, even 50g of onion can seriously hurt a 10kg dog.

So, avoid stuffing, garlic dips, onion soups, vichyssoise, onion rings, gravy and also garlic pills and supplements.

Soft drinks, chocolate, coffee and tea

These everyday treats appear innocuous but they can be lethal for our furry friends because they contain methylxanthines, a chemical family that includes caffeine and theobromine.

Our bodies process these just fine. In fact, methylxanthines are used in various medicines, and so are super amazingly useful for us.

But dogs’ bodies can’t deal with these chemicals. Symptoms include hyperactivity, heart flutters, seizures and death. Levels between products vary greatly but studies have shown that less than 100g of plain chocolate can be fatal for a 10kg dog.

So watch your pets very closely and be especially careful when kids want to share their choccy presents with their favourite pet.


There are loads of memes of pets with beers, but alcohol is a no-no. Thankfully, most dogs don’t like the smell of alcohol and will stay away from it. However, liqueurs that have heavy “disguises” like milk, cream and chocolate flavours and scents, can trick a pet into having a quiet session.

A tiny bit will produce drunkenness, vomiting and an upset stomach – just like for us humans. But as dogs are small, a relatively insignificant amount of booze can hit them hard, causing breathing difficulties and even death.

Nuts and grapes

Although dogs have been Man’s Best Friend since before recorded history, there’s still a lot we don’t know about them. Two of the mysteries are the canine reaction to macadamia nuts and grapes (including raisins).

Even a small amount of macadamia nuts can lead to trembling, weakness and staggering. Vomiting and fever are common, too. Thankfully, most reports suggest that the effects can be managed but it does mean a vet bill – and that’s no fun for anyone.

Raisins and grapes, however, can be fatal and in surprisingly small amounts. So be very careful, especially when tempted to share festive treats like Christmas cake and fruit cake.

A safe way to celebrate is to stick to what you know works or specially formulated treats made by quality manufacturers. However, if you want to add a little extra, check out the sidebar for suggestions.

Have a pawsome Christmas!

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