The revenue of the pet care industry is testament to the lengths people will go to ensure their pets are comfortable and receiving a high level of care. Well-meaning pet owners may pamper their pets, and many believe giving treats of human food is the ultimate indulgence for their animals. However, these individuals may be unwittingly exposing their beloved pets to health problems by feeding them the wrong foods.
The Humane Society of the United States warns that even foods that are considered good for people can be very dangerous for pets. This may even include common fruits and vegetables. In 2010, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center received more than 167,000 calls related to pet exposure to toxic substances. The top three reasons for pet poisoning included consumption of prescription and over-the-counter drugs (45,616 calls); ingestion of insecticides (29,020 calls); and eating human food (17,453 calls). Many people are unaware that certain foods present a hazard to their pets' health.
Although any food not specifically designed for cats and dogs can affect the digestive system, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea or intestinal distress, the following foods are particularly problematic for companion animals.
- Alcoholic beverages can cause liver and brain damage because they have the same effects on pets as they do on people – it just takes far less alcohol to negatively affect pets than it does humans. Just a little alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system depression, problems with coordination, difficulty breathing, coma and even death.
- The toxic component of chocolate is theobromine. It's present in all types of chocolate, but more so in dark varieties and baking chocolate. At its worst, chocolate can cause an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures and death.
- Dairy products. Cats pictured lapping up bowls of milk are a misrepresentation of what they should be consuming. Many cats and even some dogs are lactose intolerant. Eating dairy products can cause digestive upset and may lead to food allergies and discomfort.
- Fat trimmings, raw meat, raw eggs and raw fish. Each of these can cause vomiting, diarrhea or a painful condition called pancreatitis – from excessive fat. Plus, there is a risk of salmonella or E. coli associated with these foods.
- Grapes and raisins. Cats may shy away from them, but dogs can suffer acute kidney failure from these fruits.
- Macadamia nuts. According to WebMD, dogs shouldn't eat macadamia nuts or foods that contain them because they can be fatal. As few as six raw or roasted macadamias can make dogs seriously ill. Symptoms of poisoning include muscle tremors, weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters, vomiting, elevated body temperature and rapid heart rate.
- Sweetened candy. Candies, gums, toothpaste, and any product containing "xylitol" can cause more insulin to circulate through a pet's body, making blood sugar drop. That can result in liver failure and loss of coordination.
Foods that people consume should not be shared with pets unless they have been recommended by a veterinarian. Even then, human food should be shared sparingly.