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Toxic Foods for Cats and Dogs – Holiday Advice


With the holidays coming and lots of great food on it’s way, we can get pretty excited. However, not all foods are safe for our loving pets. As a matter of fact, many foods are quite toxic, and even poisonous to them. Here’s a list of toxic foods you should avoid for your cats and dogs. Every pet owner should be aware of these.

It would probably be a good idea to stick a copy of this on your fridge for reference.

Alcoholic Beverages

Potential effects of alcohol consumption in cats and dogs range from vomiting and diarrhea to coma and death, depending on the quantity ingested.

Apple Seeds and Pits from Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, and Plums

Certain fruit seeds and pits contain the poison cyanide. However, they need to be punctured to release the toxin (pets often swallow apple seeds whole and excrete them without ever puncturing them). Also, an animal has to eat quite a few of them to get sick.


Avocados contain a toxic compound called Persin. Experts disagree about how poisonous avocados (especially their pits) are to cats and dogs, with some saying the risk is minimal and others asserting that it’s potentially serious. Given the disagreement among expert sources, erring on the side of caution is recommended.

Baking Soda, Baking Powder

These leavening agents can trigger electrolyte abnormalities in cats and dogs when a sufficient quantity is ingested (the toxicity threshold varies from one pet to the next). Muscle spasms or even heart failure may result.

Caffeinated Substances

Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and certain medications, can damage the central nervous system, heart, lungs, and kidneys. Caffeine is most often consumed when pets eat coffee grounds from the garbage or human medications that contain it.


Containing both caffeine and theobromine, chocolate can adversely affect the heart and central nervous system of cats and dogs, as well as causing pancreatitis. If a pet eats enough chocolate, he can die.

Citrus Oils

Used in food additives, shampoos, fragrances, and insect repellents, citrus oils (limonene and linaloolare) are toxic, especially to cats. Although most pets recover from citrus oil poisoning with veterinary care, death has occurred in some cases.

Fatty Foods

Cats require far more fat in their diets than dogs. In households with both dogs and cats, they must be kept from eating one another’s food, because cats eating dog food can suffer nutritional deficiencies, and dogs eating cat food or other fatty foods can develop pancreatitis.

Grapes, Raisins, Some Types of Currants

Even very small quantities of grapes or raisins may cause irreversible kidney damage. Effects are quite variable from one pet to the next.

Macadamia Nuts

Consuming macadamia nuts can trigger a serious illness in cats and dogs that includes depression, staggering, weakness, vomiting, and swelling and pain in joints and muscles (usually not fatal, but quite traumatic).


Most cats and dogs are lactose-intolerance and can suffer episodes of diarrhea if they consume cow’s milk

Moldy Food

Moldy foods contain mycotoxins that can cause stomach upset in small amounts and seizures, coma, and even death in larger quantities.


Depending on the type, mushrooms can cause a variety of health problems in pets ranging from intense diarrhea and vomiting to severe neurological problems including seizures and coma. Although dogs are more likely to consume mushrooms than adult cats, curious kittens may be drawn to them.

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds contain toxic compounds that can cause severe gastroenteritis, characterized by persistent vomiting and/or diarrhea.


Cats in particular tend to be drawn to nutmeg. However, nutmeg can be toxic to pets (and people) when too much is consumed, and the threshold for toxicity varies from one animal to the next. Although a few grains will probably do no harm, if a pet laps up a sufficient quantity of nutmeg, he may suffer tremors, seizures, and other nervous system abnormalities, and the results may be fatal. To be on the safe side, keep nutmeg out of reach of cats and dogs.

Onions and Garlic

Onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, shallots, and chives can cause a serious illness in cats and dogs called Heinz Body Anemia. Onions are the most likely to trigger it, though other allium species such as garlic may also cause problems if too much is consumed (for more information on this, see Onions and Garlic Are Toxic to Cats and Dogs).


Under-ripe produce and greenery from potato plants contain a toxin called solanine that has effects ranging from stomach upset to severe neurological problems or even kidney failure, depending on the amount consumed.

Raw Eggs

In addition to the Salmonella risk associated with raw eggs, feeding raw eggs whites on a regular basis can trigger a biotin deficiency. These risks are quite low if raw egg is fed only occasionally as a treat, but still worth keeping in mind.


Rhubarb plants contain soluble calcium oxalates, which are especially prevalent in the leaves. When an animal consumes too much rhubarb, he may show symptoms of poisoning. Kidney failure is possible if a large enough quantity is consumed.


Salt can be toxic in relatively small quantities (the toxicity threshold varies from one pet to the next), and excess consumption can lead to kidney damage, seizures, coma, and death. In addition to table salt, pets may consume salt in de-icers or playdough.


A substance called tomatine, which is found in the stems and leaves of tomato plants and unripe (green) tomatoes, can trigger serious problems in large amounts, though small amounts usually only cause stomach upset.


Many products, including various gum brands, are sweetened with Xylitol, which can cause severe, permanent liver damage in cats and dogs.

Yeast Dough

Uncooked yeast dough produces toxic ethanol, as well as expanding in a pet’s stomach.

Many people feed sick pets human baby food. If you are giving a pet baby food, be sure to check the label for toxic ingredients such as onions.

Pet Poison Hotlines

If you think that your pet may have been poisoned, call a veterinarian, local animal emergency clinic, or pet poison control hotline. These hotlines, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, include:

  • Pet Poison Control Helpline: 1-800-213-6680, $35 fee
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435, $65 fee

For more on toxic substances and pets, see Non-Toxic Flea Control and Are Poinsettias Toxic to Cats?


  • ASPCA, Ask the Expert: Poison Control, “Nutmeg,” ASPCA.org, 2011.
  • Cope, R.B., BVSc, PhD, “Allium Species Poisoning in Dogs and Cats,” Veterinary Medicine, August 2005, pp. 562-566.
  • Drs. Foster & Smith, Veterinary and Aquatic Services Department, “Citrus Oil Toxicity in Dogs and Cats” and “Macadamia Nut Toxicity in Dogs and Cats,” PetEducation.com, 2011.
  • Haynes, M., Dr., “Are These Foods Toxic to Dogs?” AskaVetQuestion.com, n.d.
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, “Wild Mustard,” OMAFRA.gov.on.ca, 7 April 2011.
  • Pet Poison Helpline, “Poisons,” PetPoisonHelpline.com, 2011.
  • Ruben, D., Dr., “Dangerous Foods: Are They Harmful to Your Cat?” PetPlace.com, 2011.
  • Spielman, B., Dr., “Mushroom Poisoning in Cats,” PetPlace.com, 2011.
  • Stregoski, J., RVT, “Toxic Foods and Your Dog: People Foods That Can Poison Dogs,” About.com, 2011.
  • WebVet.com, “Toxic and Dangerous Foods for Pets,” 2010.
  • Wesley Chapel Veterinary Hospital, “What Foods Are Harmful to Your Dog?” WesleyChapelVet.com, 2009.


Jennifer Copley, Jennifer Copley Jennifer Copley – Jennifer Copley, BFA, BEd, has a diverse base of expertise that includes research, writing, education, pet care, and various other