Dog Picnic

Cookouts: Food and Pet Safety

Cookouts can be amazing family fun, great neighborhood get-togethers, and spectacular ways to celebrate. It is natural to want to include a beloved pet as part of a picnic, barbecue, or camping trip, but cookouts can be dangerous for cats and dogs. Understanding those dangers is an essential first step to keep your four-legged friends and family members safe.

Cookout Foods Can Be Toxic to Pets

Many of our most popular cookout foods can be dangerous for pets, even in small quantities. These items should never be offered to animals, even as tiny treats.

  • Grilled Meats – The spices, rubs, marinades, and sauces used on many grilled meats include seasonings such as onion, garlic, and salt that are dangerous for pets. Furthermore, discarded fat scraps can cause digestive distress, and cooked bones are brittle and sharp, which could lead to internal injuries if pets consumed them.
  • Potato Salad – A cookout staple, potato salad is a mix of several foods that can be toxic to pets. Mayonnaise, garlic, and mustard can all hurt pets, and different ingredients such as onions can harm pets as well.
  • Fruit Salad – Different types of fruits, including raisins, cherries, rhubarb, grapes, and citrus fruits, all have compounds that are hazardous to pets. Seeds, rinds, and pits can also be choking hazards or toxic to both cats and dogs.
  • Chips and Pretzels – The excessive carbohydrates, salt, and any seasonings on these quick, easy cookout sides are dangerous to animals and can quickly upset the digestive balance of cats and dogs.
  • Drinks – Animals should only be given fresh, clean water to drink. Different chemicals in alcohol and milk, as well as the high levels of caffeine or sugar in teas and other cookout drinks, can be dangerous for pets to consume.
  • Desserts – Chocolate is deadly to many animals, and other common ingredients in desserts such as macadamia nuts, almonds, and pistachios are also hazardous. Even in healthier desserts, it is important to note that sugar substitutes can also be deadly to pets.

General Cookout Food Safety

Of course, any food that is poorly prepared or improperly handled can be dangerous not just to pets, but to all cookout guests. Raw meat and dairy products, including salads or sandwiches that have butter, mayonnaise, or sour cream, must be kept at appropriate temperatures for food safety. Use coolers and plenty of ice to keep foods refrigerated, or if possible, use a nearby kitchen to store cold foods properly until needed.

Meat should be thoroughly cooked to the proper internal temperature, and not allowed to sit and cool to low temperatures that could foster bacterial growth. Cooked meat should not be returned to the same surface, such as a platter or cutting board, where raw meat was resting.

Anyone handling food should wash their hands thoroughly before and after cooking, and everyone should wash their hands before eating. After the meal, dishes should be disposed of properly and any leftovers quickly stored in safe conditions.

Keeping Pets Safe at Cookouts

There are many easy steps pet owners can take to be sure their animals are safe at cookouts.

  • Train pets not to beg for scraps and do not feed them from the table.
  • Feed pets before the cookout or while guests are eating so they do not get inappropriate food.
  • Keep all food out of reach of pets, including ambitious counter-surfers.
  • Do not leave any food unattended or in areas where it could fall or be spilled.
  • If any food is accidentally spilled, clean it up immediately so pets cannot get it.
  • Cover serving dishes tightly or use weighted domes to protect food from inquisitive pets.
  • Have a tall, heavy trash can available for disposable plates and scraps so pets cannot get to them.

If a pet does get inappropriate food, watch the animal closely for signs of illness or distress, such as vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, dizziness, bloating, or a swollen mouth. If these or any other unusual symptoms appear, contact an emergency veterinarian right away for assistance.

Cookouts can be great fun, but it’s no fun to put a beloved pet in danger. By understanding how cookouts can be dangerous for pets, it’s easy to take steps to keep them safe.

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