Pet owners need to be cautious about nutrition to help keep their pets safe and well nourished. Some foods we eat and plants we enjoy can be harmful to pets, and special care must be taken with herbs and essential oils.
Nutritional needs of pets will vary with different life stages – puppy, adult, pregnant or senior – and commercial pet foods are available for all of those stages. The Association of American Feed Control Officials publishes guidelines that most pet food manufacturers adhere to, but like humans, animals are individuals with unique needs. Your pet may benefit from food formulated to assist with weight management, digestive support, joint health or allergies.
Dogs, being omnivores, can comfortably eat foods that contain grains, but cats are true carnivores. They cannot digest grains and should never be put on a vegan diet. Cats require higher quantities of fats and proteins than dogs, and they need a few additional nutrients: vitamins A and B6, taurine, arginine and niacin.
Home-made diets can be comforting and reassuring to pet owners who are very concerned about what their pets eat, but nutritional problems can develop if the diet is not properly balanced. For example, a sustained diet of only hamburger and rice can lead to calcium deficiency and secondary hyperparathyroidism.
FOODS THAT CREATE PROBLEMS
Alcohol. Even seemingly small amounts of alcohol can kill an animal, including alcohol that might be contained in alcohol-based herbal extracts, fermented or rotting foods, or dental products.
Avocado. Birds, rabbits, horses and other ruminants should not be fed avocado.
Caffeine, Chocolate, Coffee. These contain methylxanthines that are metabolized more slowly by cats and dogs. As little as 20 mg per kilogram of body weight can produce mild toxicity; twice as much can produce cardiotoxic effects, and seizures can occur at 60 mg/kg. In order of greater to lesser concentration, and therefore toxicity: cocoa power, baker’s chocolate, semisweet or sweet dark chocolate and milk chocolate. White chocolate contains insignificant amounts.
Citrus. The fruit is OK, but the peels are not.
Coconut Oil and Coconut Water. Coconut water is not bad in moderation for larger animals, but it contains a high potassium content; it’s best to not give it to small animals. You should not give your pet too much of any kind of oil. Excessive fat intake can cause pancreatitis in dogs.
Fish. Cats should not be given raw freshwater fish, as it can induce thiamine deficiency.
Grapes and Raisins. Although some dogs can eat these with no problem and the toxic substance in them is unknown, there has been documented kidney failure in dogs, cats and ferrets after ingesting grapes and raisins.
Liver. Excessive feeding of liver over a long period of time can induce vitamin A toxicity.
Macadamia Nuts. Even a small amount (2.4 gm/kg) can create problems for dogs, and possibly cats. Eating these nuts can result in weakness, vomiting, tremors, depression and hyperthermia.
Onions and Garlic. These are more problematic for cats than dogs, and onion is more toxic than garlic.
Yeast Dough (raw). Dogs are more likely to eat this, and the consequences can be unpleasant to dire. The yeast grows in the incubator conditions of the animal’s stomach, which can result in stomach expansion that compromises respiratory function. Also, the fermentation can produce alcohol, which acts as a central nervous system depressant and can further compromise respiration.
ADDITIVES AND SUPPLEMENTS
Alpha Lipoic Acid. Though pet owners may take this as a supplement, it is toxic to dogs and cats. There is no safe amount. It can cause grave health problems for your pet, including anemia and hypoglycemia.
Xylitol. Dogs are the only species reported to have toxicosis from xylitol. It stimulates a rapid release of insulin, which can result in profound hypoglycemia and liver damage.
If an herb or plant is toxic to humans, it is not safe for pets either, including: fox glove, hemlock, lily of the valley and mistletoe. Salicylate-containing herbs that are safe for humans are toxic for cats, including meadowsweet, white poplar, white willow bark and wintergreen.
Teas are the safest way to ingest an herb, for people and animals, as water is not a powerful solvent, so the extract is mild. If dried herbs are to be given, make sure it is a properly dried biomass – a fungus that grows in improperly dried alfalfa is toxic to horses.
Aloe. Use the juice, not a leaf.
Berberine-containing herbs. Goldenseal, Oregon grape root and barberry root are acceptable for short-term, low-dose usage, as long as the animal is not pregnant. These plants act as an abortive in dogs.
Elderberry. The ripe berries are fine, but all other parts of this plant are toxic, and ingesting them can result in vomiting.
The safest methods for using essential oils are inhalation, diffusion or topical application. Always dilute before using topically, and avoid diffusing near fish tanks and bird cages. Do not use essential oils on cats, reptiles or birds, and NEVER give to a dog internally or apply to an open wound.
POISONOUS HOUSEPLANTS AND ORNAMENTALS
Some beautiful plants are poisonous to animals, including azalea, lilies, snake plant and spider plants. Also poisonous are Sago palm seeds.
Remember the cocoa and caffeine caution mentioned above? Cocoa bean hulls used as landscaping mulch can be very toxic – and dogs may be tempted to try to eat them by their chocolatey smell.
Caring pet owners should keep in mind that some seemingly harmless natural substances can seriously harm their animals. There are several good books available on taking good care of your pets, with more complete lists and information.
Helping your pet live a healthy life means more time to enjoy life together.