The winter holiday season is here, and with it comes many family-favorite traditional gastronomic delights. Like their human companions, some dogs, including those with sensitive stomachs, are captivated by eggnog, and will happily lap up unattended glasses of the creamy cocktail. But a sensitive canine stomach may not tolerate such an indulgence. So if your dog treats himself or herself to eggnog, here’s what you’ll want to know about the specific eggnog your dog drank before calling your veterinarian, an emergency pet hospital or one of the animal poison control hotlines.
Some, but not all, eggnogs are spiked with alcohol
While some eggnog recipes call for rum, bourbon or brandy, others do not. If alcohol was present in the drink, how much was added — and was it part of the recipe or mixed to each person’s taste? The alcohol content of light or dark rum, bourbon or brandy averages 40 percent by volume, although it can range from 36 to 50 percent. However, overproof rums (greater than 57.5 percent alcohol) are available so be sure to get the brand name, proof and volume of liquor potentially consumed.
Like people, dogs that ingest alcoholic beverages can become intoxicated. Alcohol — or more accurately, ethanol — is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and can affect pets quickly, typically within 30 minutes, although it depends on the dose. Intoxicated pets can experience vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression — even dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Other potential issues are difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and seizures.
If there wasn’t any alcohol added to the eggnog, you can breathe a sigh of relief!
Other eggnog ingredients can upset a dog’s digestive system
The milk, cream, eggs and nutmeg used in eggnog could make your dog sick, depending on how the eggnog is made, how much your dog consumes and your dog’s size. Of course, for a dog with a sensitive stomach, any dietary indiscretion could upset the digestive system, triggering symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or lack of appetite.
Some eggnog recipes call for whole milk, while others use light cream, heavy whipping cream or a combination of all three. These ingredients range in fat content, from 3.25 percent for whole milk to more than 36 percent for heavy cream. High-fat foods can cause vomiting, diarrhea and potentially pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas, in dogs. In addition, whole milk contains lactose, or milk sugar, which can trigger diarrhea in dogs because they lack sufficient amounts of the enzyme needed to break it down.
Traditional homemade eggnog may be made with raw eggs; or it may be made with tempered eggs, eggs that have been carefully heated to kill any bacteria present but not cause egg “curds.” Raw eggs, including uncooked whipped egg whites used in some eggnogs, carry a risk of Salmonella contamination and potential food poisoning. In contrast, store-bought eggnog will be made with eggs and dairy ingredients that have been pasteurized, a mild heat treatment that kills potential disease-causing bacteria.
Disease associated with Salmonella infection in healthy adult dogs is uncommon. When clinical signs are seen in an adult dog, the pet often has another infection or debilitating condition at the same time. However, a study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and 11 diagnostic laboratories found only 55 percent of Salmonella-infected dogs had diarrhea, the most common sign of infection. That also means nearly half of the dogs carrying Salmonella bacteria in their digestive systems didn’t show signs of infection. The good news is that the overall prevalence of Salmonella infection is low, with less than 1 percent of cats and 2.5 percent of dogs being infected.
So why mention the risk of Salmonella infection at all? While some strains of Salmonella may not be a problem for dogs, those same strains can be a significant problem for human family members. Plus, infected dogs can shed bacteria into the environment, putting other animals and people at risk of infection.
Finally, you may have heard that nutmeg, a spice used in eggnog and as a garnish for the drink, can be poisonous to dogs. While it’s true that nutmeg contains a toxin call myristicin, the small amount of nutmeg used in eggnog recipes is very unlikely to cause serious toxicity. However, mild stomach upset — which can appear as lip-smacking, drooling, loss of appetite and decreased activity — could occur if a small amount of nutmeg is consumed. According to Charlotte Flint, DVM, DABT, a veterinarian with Pet Poison Helpline, a pet would need to ingest a very large amount of nutmeg to cause signs of myristicin toxicity, and this is very unlikely to occur if a dog eats food with nutmeg in it.
How concerned should you be if your dog drinks eggnog?
There’s an adage in toxicology that summarizes the discipline’s basic principle: “The dose makes the poison.” It means that a substance with toxic properties is harmful only if it occurs in a high enough concentration. For an eggnog-consuming dog, the factors that determine the risk for harm include the drink’s alcohol content, the amount of eggnog and/or alcohol consumed, and the dog’s size. If you’re concerned about what your dog drank, please talk with your veterinarian. If your usual clinic is closed, contact a local emergency pet hospital, Pet Poison Helpline or ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center.
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