Admit it, many of us treat our pets like children, but sharing sweets with them this Halloween and upcoming winter holiday season is not a good idea. Pet owners are often unaware that certain "people foods" can be dangerous say animal advocates and veterinary experts.
“While it is okay to share a few bits of chicken or beef scraps from the table, some foods like sweets are not right for pets,” said Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, Vice President and Medical Director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in New York City.
“Chocolate is among the foods that should not be given to dogs,” said Gwaltney-Brant. Speaking to the dog lover's newspaper, “Fetch the Paper”, Gwaltney-Brant explained that chocolate has caffeine and the alkaloid molecule known as theobromine. Theobromine poisoning in dogs results in vomiting, restlessness, diarrhea, and muscle tremors. Cardiac conditions and seizures can also result from eating an intense dose of chocolate.
With dogs especially, it is their inability to stop at just one piece. "Humans can feel the effect of eating an intense or high amount of chocolate," said Gwaltney-Brant. "Yet, unlike humans, dogs will not stop. Unable to switch off, dogs will consume the entire box or portion of chocolate and then look for more," she said.
“Different types of chocolate contain different amounts or levels of theobromine,” said Gwaltney-Brant. Milk chocolate for example has less amounts of theobromine than semi-sweet or unsweetened chocolate or cocoa. What humans can take in at one level is entirely different for a dog.
Dogs and horses have a metabolism that processes the theobromine in chocolate differently than in humans. Researchers have noted that theobromine metabolizes slowly in dogs and horses which leads to effects on the heart and nervous system. It can even have a negative effect upon the kidneys.
And what about the kitties?
Gwaltney-Brant pointed out that cats are finicky and are not inclined to eat chocolate or anything sweet. They simply don't taste sugar the way humans do.
"I have known some cats to eat melon and even a cookie," said Anne-Marie Benfatto, DVM at Especially Cats Veterinary Hospital and Clinic in the Parkside District of San Francisco.
"Cats are primarily carnivores and consume mostly protein in their diet," said Benfatto. "Yet", she explained, "if cats consume a bit of something sweet, it would be more likely through something natural like milk. Because milk has protein," said Benfatto. And so a cat having a bit of ice cream is not uncommon.
"But not chocolate," she stated emphatically. "Dogs, they will eat anything. Cats are smarter about food and toxins than dogs," said Benfatto.
Another danger for pets are the sweeteners used in many low-fat and low calorie products. "Dogs have a different reaction to the sweeteners than humans do,” noted Gwaltney-Brant.
She cautions that even natural sweeteners like Xylitol can be problematic for animals. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from plants and used as an 'alternative' to sugar in many sugarless gum and candy products. While it may be harmless to humans, for dogs it's drastically different.
Xylitol “causes an increase of insulin from the pancreas which causes a drop in blood sugar," she said. "Xylitol can result in the dog going into insulin shock, having a seizure and even causing liver damage," said Dr. Gwaltney-Brant.
Canines are notorious for consuming things they find in the house or on walks, so pet owners are urged to be prudent. The number of dogs poisoned by xylitol increased in recent years as the sweetener became more popular as an additive to food products.
“We must be careful when we give our pets the foods that we eat,” said Gwaltney-Brant.
When handing out treats to our pets during the holidays it's best to stick to the ones made especially for them. Consult with your veterinarian as to which brands or types best suit your animal.
"Dogs and cats have a different taste-bud palate system than humans. They do not have a sweet tooth," said Gwaltney-Brant.
If you think your pet has consumed something harmful requiring emergency care, call your vet immediately.
The San Francisco SPCA has an emergency hot line at (415)-554- 3030. For details visit: http://www.sfspca.org/veterinary-services/emergency-veterinary-services
Note this article was originaly written for Fetch-the-Paper, a publication here in the SF Bay Area. See details at: http://www.fetchthepaper.com/
Coleen Mackin helped in the editing of this story.