Today is National Garlic Day. Garlic is one of my favorite foods, and I'm often of the opinion that if it pairs well with garlic, it pairs better with more garlic.
Garlic, however, is one of the foods that are toxic to cats. Garlic and onions are often paired together as things to stay away from since they are often found together in human foods and because they are both members of the Allium family which include onions, shallots, and chives.
These plants are healthy for humans. They help prevent heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Cats can not digest these plants as humans do because they lack the digestive enzymes that humans have. To cats these plants are toxic. It causes hemolytic anemia, a condition where red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan is over. Red blood cells are vital for bringing oxygen to the organs of the body.
Consuming Alliums can also lead to gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
But how much is too much?
Garlic is about five times as potent as onions and as little as 23 grams of onions can be toxic to an average 10lb cat. This means just 4 grams of garlic can be a problem. A lick or two of your spaghetti sauce on your lasagna isn't going to be an issue, but it actually might be over time; it is believed that chronic consumption of small amounts can be harmful.
I heard garlic is good for fighting fleas, isn't that true?
Garlic has actually been debunked as a treatment for preventing fleas, and since there is a risk of anemia why would you want to try it?
If you think your cat has ingested more Alliums than they should, be on the lookout for symptoms of toxicity. These include breathlessness, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, pale gums, an elevated heart rate, an increased respiratory rate, red or brown urine, and weakness. I deal with anemia every year with Fleurp who for some reason becomes anemic every year in the late spring. It is not something that is fun to deal with, and it can be quite scary.
Hemolytic anemia is treated with supportive care of fluids and oxygen therapy. In serious cases, a blood transfusion might be necessary. The longer you wait for treatment, the harder it is to treat.
So enjoy your Garlic Day celebrations, but leave your cats out of it.