Vet Talk: Holidays and Pet Safety

The holidays are a hectic time when our pets, active participants in our lives, are exposed to both additional foods and toxic substances. During this busy time of year, we need to be aware of how these things may affect our pets. The most common emergency veterinary visits I see during the holiday season are related to ingestion of toxic substances and stomach upset due to table foods.{{more}}

There are many foods and seasonal items that are toxic to your pet. It is important to call your veterinarian right away if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic substance or food item. Time is of the essence as oftentimes the initial course of treatment is to induce vomiting either at home or in a hospital setting. Your veterinarian may also instruct you to call a poison control center to seek advice. Here is a brief synopsis of the more common toxins:

Chocolate: It’s probably the food toxin pet owners are most aware and familiar with. What is in chocolate that makes it so toxic to dogs and cats? Chocolate contains methylxanthines (caffeine like drugs) which affect the heart, nervous system, and intestinal tract. Baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain the highest concentrations and are the most toxic. Symptoms may vary but severe reactions can cause dangerous elevations in heart rate as well as seizures and respiratory failure. Chocolate itself can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Antifreeze: Although there are now many pet-safe antifreeze products, it is still a common toxicity. It is important to clean up even small antifreeze spills, as dogs and cats can be attracted to its “sweet” taste. When dogs and cats metabolize antifreeze, it causes irreversible damage to the kidneys, and in severe cases neurologic signs.

Poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe: If these plants ingested they are unlikely to cause life-threatening symptoms. They can cause general signs of stomach upset like vomiting and diarrhea and may necessitate a trip to your vet. Poinsettias are not as toxic as once thought.

Sugar free products: Some sugar free products like baked goods, candy and gum contain Xylitol, which is a very potent toxin in dogs. It causes a rapid drop in blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar can be fatal if not treated.

Feeding our pets food from the table can cause harm despite our good intentions of spoiling pets for the holidays. Oftentimes it is our friends, kids, and relatives who do the spoiling for us (despite our telling them not to!). Although most human foods are not toxic, they can and do cause stomach upset. A simple case of diarrhea can turn into a more severe problem like pancreatitis which often will require your pet to be hospitalized for treatment. Foods high in fat and salt are especially to be avoided.

The holidays are an enjoyable but busy time, so be careful where you leave that plate of brownies on the counter. I hope you and your pets have a safe, happy holiday season!

Dr. Marc can be reached at Orange Veterinary Hospital 203-795-6091.