Dr Mitchener’s most recent article regarding Holiday Pet Hazards was published in the Capitola- Soquel Times this month. Read this great article full of valuable, and potentially life saving, advice for your pets here:
Holiday Health Hazards for Your Pet
By Tiffany Mitchener, DVM
The month of October marks the beginning of the holiday season when many of life’s indulgences find their way into our homes. Chocolate bars, baked goods, and holiday trim make this time of year festive and enjoyable. But it is important to be vigilant with our holiday celebrations. There are many hidden health hazards for our pets amidst the traditions. Knowing the risks will help keep you and your pet happy and healthy this holiday season.
Ghouls, goblins, and ghosts will come trick-or-treating this month. Many households will stockpile candy in anticipation of the event. There may even be a candy bowl placed out for family members to enjoy a treat a bit early. Whatever the family favorite sweet, be careful that the candy is out of the family pet’s reach.
Chocolate is particularly dangerous to our pets. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, chocolate is the #1 poison ingested by dogs. It contains a toxic chemical compound called theobromine which stimulates the nervous system. Humans can metabolize theobromine quickly; however, our canines break down the compound much more slowly, and it is responsible for many of the clinical signs seen with a chocolate toxicity. Animals that ingest a small amount may show symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Large amounts will cause muscle tremors, high blood pressure, high heart rates, seizures, respiratory failure, and even cardiac arrest. So, how much chocolate is too much? It depends upon the amount of theobromine in the chocolate bar. Baker’s unsweetened chocolate has the most, white chocolate has the least. Semi-sweet and milk chocolates are in the middle. According to the WebMD website, for a 22 pound dog, toxic doses of chocolate are approximately 20 ounces of milk chocolate, 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and a mere 2 ¼ ounces of baker’s unsweetened chocolate. But it is important to remember that clinical signs can manifest with even smaller amounts! Interestingly, chocolate is dangerous for cats as well, but they are much less likely to eat it. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to keep that candy bowl of chocolate bars somewhere that your pet cannot find it. Never feed your pet chocolate “as a treat.” Save the chocolate for the trick-or-treaters.
It is important to be aware that even healthy human snacks can be poisonous for our pets. Grapes and raisins contain an unidentified toxin which can cause kidney disease in our animals. Apricot, cherry, and peach pits are all toxic. While apple slices may be a healthy snack for an overweight dog, avoid giving apple seeds which can be dangerous. Avocados (think guacamole!) should be kept away from the family pet. Macadamia nuts are also toxic but the mechanism of action is unknown. Of course, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts would be particularly hazardous!
The holiday season is often a time when many wonderful meals are shared at home. Be careful to avoid feeding your family pet “table scraps.” Foods containing onions, onion powder, garlic, or chives contain compounds which can lead to red blood cell damage and anemia. The ingestion of fatty foods can trigger a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis, which can lead to extended vomiting and diarrhea in our pets. Please seek veterinary help if your pet exhibits these signs. Many households enjoy holiday baking. Be careful to avoid giving yeast dough to our pets as it can cause stomachs or intestines to rupture with the pressure of it still rising. Also, it is important to recognize that obesity is a common issue in our pet population, and most animals do not need the added calories they get from human food. It is often best to “treat” our companion animals with love, affection, and exercise during the holiday season, not table scraps.
One growing problem in veterinary medicine is the artificial sweetener, xylitol. According to the Pet Poison Hotline, xylitol is the eighth most common toxin ingested by dogs in the United States. Xylitol is found in a growing number of “sugar-free” products. It can commonly be found in sugar free gum, candy, baked goods, and toothpaste. Humans can digest xylitol, but in our animals, it can cause a life-threatening low blood sugar. Ultimately, many of these animals end up with liver failure in just a few days. Pet owners must be extra vigilant to protect their pets from any products sweetened with xylitol.
While not a toxin, pet owners should be careful this time of year with holiday trim. Decorations can make a household more festive, but it is important to make sure that none of the decorations are harmful to your pets. Cats, in particular, will attempt to ingest strings, ribbons, bows, fake spider webs, or tinsel. These can cause a foreign body obstruction in their stomachs or intestines and require emergency surgery. If your pet starts showing signs of vomiting or diarrhea this holiday season or if you are concerned about something he or she ate, please contact your veterinarian.
The holidays are a special time of year for humans and their animal companions. With careful planning and extra vigilance, it can be a happy, healthy holiday season for all.