The end of the year has the greatest holidays. It’s a time when we eat amazing food, get together with family, and also eat more food. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas (we’ll ignore your Halloween candy binge), it’s a time to stock up on the most carbs, starches, and turkey that you can.
But, sadly, this delicious food isn’t for everyone. As anyone with a pet is well aware, our furry friends are more than eager to get whatever scraps we’ll throw their way. But while we may enjoy indulging in these treats, they aren’t always the best things to share with our pets.
Cats can be especially sneaky. They’re prone to slinking around and leaping tall countertops in a single bound, making it tricky to keep them away from certain foods. That means you have to be on guard so you know what is and isn’t safe to leave out in the open.
We asked Dr. Sarah Liff of Brooklyn Cares Veterinary Clinic to weigh in on some tasty Thanksgiving foods that you should never feed to your cat.
Halloween candy. Thanksgiving pies. Christmas candy and pies. It seems like starting in October there’s no shortage of chocolate around the house. And while we all love to indulge our sweet tooth, chocolate is one of the major no-nos when it comes to giving your cat a treat.
"This is a commonly known toxicity but also the most common ingestion we see during the holidays," said Dr. Liff. Chocolate contains a toxin called theobromine; unsweetened and dark chocolate are the most dangerous, but even milk chocolate can be harmful.
The danger of ingesting chocolate depends on the size of the cat and how much they eat. Symptoms can range from "vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain to neurologic and cardiovascular abnormalities that can be fatal with severe ingestions," Dr. Liff noted.
The one bright spot when it comes to cats and chocolate? Most cats don’t have sweet taste receptors, so they’re less likely than dogs to eat chocolate. Still, that’s no reason to be careless and put your cat at risk!
Dr. Liff also threw garlic and chives into this group. While they give our side dishes, like stuffing, a kick, in cats they "can cause GI upset" and the toxic dose is much lower for cats than it is for dogs. Some people give baby food to their sick felines, not knowing that it often contains onion powder. Cooking doesn’t destroy the harmful toxins, so don’t think you can sauté the problem away.
While relatively small doses are usually fine (keeping in mind that cats are particularly sensitive), Dr. Liff told us that severe cases can see " damage to the red blood cells in which the cells burst and lead to anemia (low red blood cell counts)."
Another classic dessert ingredient – as well as a common household item – peanut butter is bad news for cats because "many commercially available peanut butters contain xylitol," a pet-toxic artificial sweetener.
The problems with peanut butter can range from hypoglycemia (which Dr. Liff kindly translated into "low blood sugar") to something as severe and irreversible as liver damage, which can lead to liver failure.
If you feel the need to give your cat peanut butter, you still can; just check the label to make sure xylitol isn’t one of the ingredients. Other items that contain xylitol? Sugar-free gum and mints, so if your cat needs a breath freshener, go another route.
Raisins and grapes
Raisins and grapes are sort of a mystery danger for pets, because "the toxic principles of this ingestion are not well understood," Dr. Liff said. What is known is that both foods can do major damage to kidneys, and cooking doesn’t help remove the danger.
Problems caused by raisins and grapes include "anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and increased thirst and urination." If your cat ingests any volume of raisins or grapes, Dr. Liff recommend inducing vomiting and getting your cat some fluids.
I know what you’re thinking – it’s as natural for a cat to drink milk as it is for them to eat birds and be standoffish. But, as it turns out, when cats outgrow their adorable kitten stage they become lactose intolerant.
Providing milk instead of water for your cat to drink can lead to dehydration and cause diarrhea. So as cute and classic as the image of a cat lapping milk from a saucer might be, try to refrain from it.
Bonus item: miscellaneous
A bit of a copout category, but there are a number of food items that you’ll likely have lying around that are dangerous for your cat.
Do you enjoy making your own bread? Your cat might enjoy it, too, which is unfortunate because dough can expand in their digestive system, and the yeast fermentation can cause alcohol poisoning.
Raw eggs aren’t just a problem for cats – they’re dangerous to humans, too – and hopefully you have enough sense to wash your hands, dishes, and countertops that have had contact with raw eggs. Your cat probably doesn’t know much about Salmonella.
Turkey is a staple of holiday meals, but scraps should stay away from your cats. Bones are an obvious danger, as they can splinter or be choked on, but fat can cause intestinal problems and pancreatitis.
Keeping the cat away
So what do you do if you’ve got a delicious-smelling-but-hazardous kitchen and you don’t want curiosity to literally kill the cat?
First of all, clean up after yourself. It’s a good rule of thumb in general, for safety reasons as well as keeping your cookspace more manageable, but throwing away scraps and putting items away is the best way to keep your cat from sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong.
Another foolproof method is to cover dishes and ingredients. Use a bowl, towel, or other item as a barrier when you aren’t actively working with a food. It’ll keep your cat from getting at it, but you’ll be able to keep it within reach.
Looking for a more long term solution? Training is the way to go. Teaching your cat to stay off of counter surfaces and providing regular feeding times so they know when to eat can help keep them from foods that aren’t good for them.
The list of foods that are dangerous to your cat is varied and sometimes unexpected. Who would have thought that grapes could pose such a threat? That’s why it’s important to know what foods are safe for your cat and to consult your vet if you have any questions, and to make sure you have a pet-friendly environment.
If your cat does ingest something he or she shouldn’t have, take action right away. Get them to the vet before a small symptom turns into a large one. With a little knowhow and taking some precautions, you can get through the holidays without a problem and have your pet join you in the New Year!
A special thanks to Dr. Stephanie Liff for contributing to this article and adding more than a little professional expertise. If you’re looking for a vet in the New York City, check out Dr. Liff and Brooklyn Cares Veterinary Clinic. She clearly knows her stuff.