8 Christmas favourites that can make your pet sick

The parties and chaos over summer are a lot of fun, but also include tempting toxic foods for your pets.

Words Nadene Hall

The summer break can be a blur of food platters, parties, and holiday guests, but it’s also a busy time for emergency vets treating pets that have eaten something tempting, but toxic. Some delicious foods for humans can cause illness, permanent damage, or even death to cats and dogs.

How much: 0.5% of an animal’s body weight, eg 50g for a 10kg dog, cats are more sensitive than dogs
Why: onions and garlic belong to the Allium family and contain thiosulphate. It can damage red blood cells, causing anaemia and oxygen starvation.
Symptoms: weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing issues, pale or blue gums, increased heart rate, collapse

Symptoms may take several days to become apparent. If you see your pet eat something containing garlic or onion, talk to your vet. Immediate steps include making the animal vomit.

How much: any amount
Why: cooked bones are far more likely to splinter than raw ones, causing choking, damage to the throat and perforation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Symptoms if stuck in throat: choking, coughing, gagging, drooling, retching, struggling to breathe
Symptoms if stuck/perforated intestines: vomiting, constipation/straining, bloating, lethargy, blood in stools

Keep cooked bones away from pets. Even raw bones can be an issue which is why many vets don’t recommend them. Raw bones can cause damage to teeth, intestinal blockages, and bacterial infections. If you do choose to give your dog a bone, supervise them.

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Alternatives: dental sticks; raw, fresh or frozen carrots

eg seawater, stock cubes, home-made play-doh, gravy powder, bath products, pretzels, popcorn, chips
How much: 4g per kg of body weight (dogs)
Why: sodium toxicity
Symptoms: excessive thirst, vomiting within several hours, confusion, weakness, high temperature, diarrhoea, muscle tremors, seizures, death

Always make sure dogs are well hydrated if you’re at the beach and offer them fresh water throughout your visit.


How much: 20 milligrams of theobromine per kg of body weight (cats and dogs) – 100g of dark chocolate contains approximately 800mg of theobromine
Why: theobromine toxicity
Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhoea, panting, hyperactivity, excessive thirst and urination, heart issues, tremors, seizures, death

Chocolate often contains caffeine, which can also cause toxicity in pets. Dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate, and cocoa powder is the most toxic so home baking can also be a risk.

Why: alcohol toxicity
How much: small amounts, especially spirits and alcohol mixed with milk or chocolate
Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of coordination, breathing difficulties, tremors, coma

unknown, only affects dogs
How much: 2g per kg of body weight
Symptoms: weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors


eg Christmas mince pie filling, Christmas cake, fruit cake
Why: unknown, possibly a mycotoxin
How much: not known, but signs may be seen after 3g per kg of body weight
Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, increased drinking, abdominal pain, kidney failure

Dogs with pre-existing health conditions are more at risk.

Why: blocked gut, alcohol toxicity
How much: unknown
Symptoms: bloating, retching, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination and other strange behaviours, depression, weakness, coma, seizures

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Raw dough made from yeast will continue to rise in a pet’s warm stomach, causing their gut to become blocked. It also produces alcohol which is toxic. Dogs are usually most at risk. Small amounts of baked bread are not toxic.

If your dog eats anything suspicious contact a vet or emergency vet immediately. 


Further information on pets and poison at poisons.co.nz

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