It's the holiday season and there are all sorts of goodies to go around. Chocolate is one of the main ingredients and most of us know that our dogs can't have chocolate. But it brings up the question: why is chocolate bad for dogs?
We'll get into it a little more in-depth in a moment, but chocolate isn't the only treat during the season that dogs shouldn't have. There are a lot of other things that contain ingredients toxic to dogs.
You'll need to watch things like fruit cakes, mince pies, and puddings.
You'll want to consider ways to keep them away from your dog. Whether you place them in sealed containers or tuck them up in a cupboard on a high shelf, there are plenty of ways to keep your dog safe this Christmas season and enjoy your treats as well.
Why is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?
Chocolate contains two compounds that are easy for us humans to metabolise: caffeine and theobromine. Most of us are familiar with caffeine from either drinking coffee or tea. Theobromine is chemically similar to caffeine and has some of the same effects as caffeine.
However, where our body processes these two compounds into harmless byproducts, dog's bodies cannot metabolise them well and they turn into toxins.
Symptoms of caffeine poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive panting, and even tremors and seizures.
It's in a lot of Christmas treats and is one of the biggest offenders of illness in dogs over the holiday season. Things like cookies, cakes, candies, and even some pies can contain chocolate.
You'll want to keep anything related out of reach, just to be safe.
Other Christmas Treats Besides Chocolate That are Bad for Dogs
- Fruit Cakes
- Minced Pies
All of these Christmas treats may contain chocolate or other things that are toxic to dogs.
Puddings, breads, and other baked goods can contain chocolate, raisins, or large amounts of sugar. All of these things can make your dog incredibly ill.
For those of you who don’t know: minced pies contain raisins, nutmeg, and currants. Those are all toxic to dogs.
We've gone over why chocolate is bad for dogs? But, what about something like raisins?
Don’t forget! Raisins are dried grapes, so grapes are toxic for dogs as well.
Tartaric acid is present in high quantities in grapes. Dogs are known to be highly sensitive to this compound and it can cause kidney failure.
So, if something contains grapes or raisins, make sure your dogs can’t get to it.
Speaking of tartaric acid.. It can be an ingredient in baked goods and you wouldn’t even know it. You might even have some in your cupboards.
Cream of tartar- a common leavening agent in baked goods- is derived from tartaric acid. So, if you’ve used it in homemade cookies or cakes, it’s better to be safe than sorry and keep it away from your canine companions.
Currants are actually a type of grape and so are toxic for the same reason as both grapes and raisins.
Nutmeg is also mentioned above and actually contains a narcotic-type compound called myristicin. This compound can cause hallucinations in dogs as well as disorientation, stomach upset, and dry mouth. It can also be toxic and fatal when consumed.
This is by no means a complete list, so it’s important to check the ingredients of items and to also make sure things are kept out of reach. When in doubt, do not give your dog a piece of food.
You can check out our blog post about Christmas Leftovers for more information on things your dog can and can’t eat.
With all of these things to keep in mind, you’re probably asking yourself how you can keep your dog away from things that are bad for them, like chocolate. We’ll be getting into that next.
How to Keep Treats and Chocolate That are Bad for Your Dog Out of Reach
It can definitely be difficult to keep food out of your dog’s reach. It can be especially difficult if you have a larger or XL breed that likes to “counter surf.”
That is, their head is at the same height as the counter and they can snatch food right off of it without having to get up on the counter or stand on their hind legs.
Regardless of your dog’s size, there are some things you can do to keep food out of their reach.
Don’t Leave Food Unattended
This one can seem like a “no-brainer”, but in a rush we tend to forget. You’re cooking and preparing things for guests, but you get a phone call, the kids need something, or you have to run to the bathroom.
You’ll be out for “only a moment” and then you come back to find your canine companion helping themselves to scraps or something else in the kitchen that you’ve left unattended.
If you can, don’t leave the kitchen while prepping food. Make sure everything is packed up, in the fridge, or cooking before you leave. Put all scraps in the trash and move dishes to the sink.
If you’ve got food on the dining room table, make sure there’s at least one person in there to keep an eye on it. Most guests will naturally gather at the table until after meal time, so that along with a prompt clean up should do the trick.
We know this isn’t always possible, but the best way to keep things away from your dog is to not even give them a chance to get them in the first place.
Place a Barrier in the Kitchen Doorway
If your kitchen has a door, you can close it or get an adjustable doorstop. It will easily prevent your dog from getting into the kitchen while you're cooking or while there’s food out.
If you have a dutch door, you can leave the bottom half closed and use it as a barrier. That or a baby gate are both great options. They’ll allow for you to keep an eye on your household, but they’ll prevent any curious canines from getting into things.
A baby gate can also be great for areas that are more open like your dining room. They do make extra long baby gates that will allow you to block off spaces with large doors or archways.
Take Time to Pack up Any Leftovers
Once cooking is done and your guests have eaten, a prompt clean up is important. It will save you from finding a mess on the floor and it will save your dog from an emergency trip to the vet.
Place leftover food into closed containers, but do not leave those closed containers on the counter.
A closed container can still be knocked off the counter. The top can come loose or the container itself can crack or shatter.
Place those sealed containers in the appropriate spot whether it be in a cupboard that’s out of reach, the fridge, or the freezer.
Think of it like the bank. They don’t just leave all of the money in a drawer. They place it in a locked vault to make it more difficult to get to. This is the same idea.
You should also avoid placing food items in low cupboards that are easy for your dog to get into. Instead opt for the cupboards above your cabinets or even a closed pantry.
Train Your Dog to Leave Food Alone
Along with keeping food out of reach, you should also teach your dog that it’s not okay to snatch food or get up on the counters.
Both the “leave it” and “off” commands are good for this.
In the event you do catch your dog in the kitchen or eyeing the dining room table, you can give them the command to “leave it” and redirect them to something that’s acceptable like a toy.
Eventually, they should understand that they are to ignore whatever is on the table or the kitchen counter, though even the most well trained dogs will still occasionally exhibit unwanted behaviours.
So, even if you think your dog won’t snatch food from the table or counter, you shouldn’t leave them unsupervised with food.
Send Leftovers Home with Guests
Your dog can’t get into food that isn’t at the house. Send any extra treats or food home with your guests.
They’ll get to enjoy some extra servings of their favourite holiday foods and you don’t have to worry about your dog getting into them.
Why is chocolate bad for dogs? It contains caffeine and other compounds that dogs can’t metabolise properly. They turn into toxins and make your dog sick.
Raisins and spices are among other things to keep an eye out for this holiday season. We don’t always consider everything that goes into our Christmas treats and how they may affect our canine companions if they accidentally eat some.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure any foods are in closed containers and also out of reach. Proper storage can go a long way in keeping your dog out of harm's way. Of course, training always helps too.
Do you have any ways that you keep things like cakes, candies, and chocolate away from your dog? We’d love for you to come share with us over on our social media pages.
Why is caffeine in chocolate toxic to dogs?
Dogs are unable to metabolise caffeine and theobromine, the compounds found in chocolate, effectively. These compounds can build up to toxic levels in their system, causing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive panting, and even more severe issues like tremors and seizures.
What other common holiday treats are harmful to dogs?
Apart from chocolate, holiday treats like fruit cakes, puddings, breads, candies, cookies, and minced pies can be harmful to dogs. These often contain ingredients like raisins, currants, nutmeg, and large amounts of sugar, all of which are toxic to dogs.
How can I prevent my dog from accessing food on countertops and tables?
To prevent your dog from accessing food on countertops and tables, never leave food unattended. Use barriers like baby gates or close doors to restrict access to the kitchen or dining areas. Promptly clean up and securely store leftovers in places your dog can't reach.
What should I do with leftovers to keep my dog safe?
Store leftovers immediately in sealed containers and place them in the fridge, freezer, or high cupboards out of your dog’s reach. Avoid leaving any food items, even in closed containers, on counters where your dog might access them.
How can training help in preventing my dog from eating harmful holiday foods?
Training your dog with commands like "leave it" and "off" can be very effective in preventing them from snatching food or getting onto counters. Consistent training helps them understand that it’s not acceptable to take food from tables or counters, reducing the likelihood of them eating something harmful.