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Pets’ Festive Season Woes

With the Festive Season around the corner, relaxation begins to set in. And, with that, our dietary willpower seems to waiver. Not only for ourselves, but often for our beloved pets as well. Before you toss your pet a tasty Festive treat, consider the health risks associated with feeding your pet ‘human food’.

“Often, the foods that us humans eat, contain salt, spices and preservatives that our pets are unable to digest, as well as excess fat (especially in leftovers)” says Barry Hundley, Executive Director for the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI). “This can cause a number of digestive ailments including pancreatitis, the symptoms of which include refusal to eat, vomiting, dehydration and possibly bloody diarrhea, often requiring veterinary intervention.” Hundley goes on to say that effects can vary, from milder cases that can be treated with medication, to more severe cases requiring hospitalisation. Even with treatment, ingestion of human foods can be fatal, so it is safest to avoid table scraps all together, keeping dangerous food stuffs out of reach because pets conjure up ingenious ways to access desirable item.

Foods that are known to be toxic to pets are abundant over the Festive Season and our desire to share the celebratory foods with our pets should be restrained. Hundley advises pet owners to be particularly strict with raw foods, bones and chocolate.

“A common misconception amongst pet owners is that pets have a higher tolerance for raw or spoiled food,” says Hundley, who explains that this is not the case because pets are not immune to the potential bacterial contamination. Pets can also shed and pass on the bacteria to humans – especially vulnerable are immune compromised individuals, like young children and the aged. “Another misconception is that bones are beneficial to pets, but the risk of intestinal, bowel, tooth or gum damage is far too high. Bones can easily break teeth, cause an obstruction or splinter and penetrate the gums or walls of the gastro intestinal tract, causing septic lesions and may even damage their teeth. Often surgery will be required and, if left untreated, these injuries may be fatal.”

Toxicity levels vary by type of chocolate (dark chocolate being the worst), but the natural stimulant, theobromine, found in cocoa beans, can be lethal to pets, who do not have the required enzymes in their system to metabolise it. Symptoms include increased urination, tremors and seizures and a racing heart which may ultimately result in a “heart attack.” Pet chocolates or treats have been especially formulated for pet consumption and offer a safe alternative.

Other foods to avoid, due to their inherent harmful enzymes, include onion, onion powder, garlic, grapes and raisins. These enzymes cause gastrointestinal upset, seizures, neurological problems, kidney failure and death.

Prevention really is better than cure – save your pet from unnecessary discomfort, and yourself from unnecessary veterinary bills, by only feeding your pet scientifically formulated commercial pet food that will provide balanced nutrition. “Feeding a pet food brand that is a member of the PFI will give you the peace of mind that the manufacturers have made a commitment to ensure all nutritional needs are being met, and you can rest assured that you do not need to supplement this food with additional treats or scraps. And try not to misinterpret begging as a need for food; rather use time over the Festive Season to engage in interactive games, grooming and loving attention.,” concludes Hundley.


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