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Is it safe to feed cats and dogs foods that we eat?

It’s always tempting to give your pet a few little leftovers from your plate – after all what harm can it do? Well, the truth is rather a lot! Many foods that humans eat quite happily are able to produce toxic effects in animals and the nutritional make up can also matter – for instance high fat table scraps can result in pancreatitis in pets  – a painful and life threatening condition.
We took a look at a few foods you should avoid giving to your pet. Much of the time we refer to dogs as they are much less choosy about what they eat compared to cats and therefore more likely to have problems caused by eating something they shouldn’t have but a cat that’s not too fussy about what it eats might well experience similar problems.
Sweet sensations can be harmful to pets

Chocolate is by far the most common foodstuff to cause toxic effects in dogs.  Good quality chocolate that is high in cocoa solids tends to be the most dangerous to dogs and unsweetened baking chocolate and cocoa powder is also more toxic to dogs than normal milk chocolate.
Signs occur within 6-12 hours of eating and range from excessive thirst, vomiting, raised temperature and slowed heart rate, with the pet even possibly falling into a coma. Caffeine can produce signs similar to chocolate poisoning, with the most likely source being coffee grounds. Always seek veterinary advice if your pet has eaten chocolate.

If you have a sweet tooth then you might want to be careful where you store liquorice.  The liquorice root is used in confectionery, some cakes, soft drinks and herbal teas. A one-off bout of eating liquorice is most likely to just cause diarrhoea in pets though eating liquorice repeatedly over a longer period of time can cause various metabolic problems.
Xylitol (E967) is an artificial sweetener that can be used in baking, in sugar free gums and breath freshening mints. Within an hour of swallowing xylitol a dog (or ferret) can suffer from low blood sugar, vomiting, incoordination, coma or convulsions. Just one stick of chewing gum containing xylitol can be enough to make a small dog ill. Remember, however, just like any toxin it is dose-dependent, so miniscule amounts of xylitol are sometimes used in veterinary products for its dental benefits with no ill effects.
The dangers of bread dough

Cooking your own bread and waiting for the dough to rise? Keep it out of reach of pets, as uncooked bread dough can result in the production of alcohol during the fermentation process. Dogs that eat uncooked bread dough may suffer from swelling of the stomach and breathing difficulties as the dough expands, as well as metabolic problems as alcohol is absorbed into the circulation. In some cases surgery may be needed to remove the dough. Of course alcohol on its own can cause a pretty toxic reaction and should never be given to pets unless under veterinary supervision (it is sometimes given very carefully as an antidote to anti-freeze poisoning).
Fruit and nuts to avoid feeding pets

Grapes, raisins (dried red grapes) and sultanas (dried white grapes) are all poisonous to dogs. Even if eaten in fruit cake these ingredients can cause problems. There seems to be some variation between dogs as to how many grapes need to be eaten for a toxic response and in some cases just seven grapes could be enough to cause illness. Vomiting and diarrhoea develop within a few hours and within 48 hours kidney failure is possible. Contact your vet as early as possible if your dog has eaten grapes.
Nutmeg and macademia nuts have also been reported to cause illness in pets and nutmeg oil can be lethal to cats. Marrow seeds are said to be toxic although poisoning is rare, with diarrhoea and agitation that main signs.  The stem and leaves of the tomato plant and unripe green tomatoes should also be avoided as they can also be toxic to dogs and cats.

Know your onions (are toxic to pets)

Raw, cooked and dehydrated onions are toxic to dogs and cats. Cats have been reported to experience toxic reactions when fed baby food containing small amounts of onion powder. A toxic dose in dogs is easily reached –  around one onion for an average sized  Labrador – but the amount can vary depending on the format of the onion (whether dried or raw) and the growing conditions. Anaemia is the classic sign of onion toxicity but sometimes simply preventing access to onions and keeping the animal stress free will result in a gradual improvement within 2-4 weeks in many cases.
Garlic and leeks are often included in the list of pet-toxic plants by virtue of the fact that they are members of the onion family. There is some debate as to whether this is actually correct as garlic based medicines have also been given to dogs for many years.
The take home messages are two-fold. If your pet has eaten something it shouldn’t have, be alert to any signs of illness and if in doubt, get advice from your vet as soon as possible. The other is that table-scraps sometimes are not the best option for pets (even this list doesn’t include everything that’s risky or unhealthy). These days complete diets are nutritionally balanced and more importantly, safe.