Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means love-struck veterinary clients will be bringing home candies and flowers. Unfortunately, some of these well-intentioned gifts can be toxic for pets. Educate your clients about these seven common culprits of pet poisonings.
Roses are red, violets are blue, but biting a thorn can do damage to you—or to pets.
Threat to pets: Although roses don’t often cause serious poisoning beyond gastrointestinal upset, there’s risk for trauma to the mouth and paws from the thorns. Additionally, if a large enough portion of the rose head or stem is ingested, a bowel obstruction may result.
Signs: Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain or discomfort, drooling, and reduced appetite.
Therapy: Check the pet’s mouth and paws for signs of trauma from thorns. Depending on severity of signs, subcutaneous (SQ) or intravenous (IV) fluids or anti-emetic drugs may be needed. In cases of notable trauma, pain medications, and antibiotics may be necessary. Prognosis: Excellent with supportive care.
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Lilies (Lilium spp. and Hemerocallis spp.) are frequently sold in fresh bouquets and make a beautiful but deadly alternative to Valentine’s Day roses. The most common bouquet lilies include the Stargazer lily, Tiger lily, and other Asiatic lilies.
What’s in them: The toxin, which remains unidentified, can be found in the petals, leaves, pollen, or even the water in the vase.
Threat to pets: These lilies are extremely toxic to cats and cause acute kidney failure within one to two days of exposure. If not treated, the exposure will likely result in death. The ingestion of just one to two leaves or petals is enough to cause sudden kidney failure. Even ingesting small amounts of pollen from a cat’s fur is considered toxic. Dogs don’t develop kidney failure but may have mild gastrointestinal upset.
Signs: Within a few hours of exposure, cats may display salivation, vomiting, reduced appetite, and lethargy. These signs progress to polyuria/polydipsia and azotemia. The urine may contain protein, glucose, and tubular epithelial casts. Within 18 to 30 hours, severe and debilitating dehydration develops. Within 30 to 72 hours cats may become anuric (stop producing urine) and become gravely ill.
Treatment: Timely decontamination can include inducing emesis, giving activated charcoal, and bathing (if there’s pollen on the fur). IV fluids are the cornerstone of therapy and are used to protect the kidneys. Cats also need frequent monitoring of their blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, and electrolyte concentrations and urinalysis results. Other treatment options, such as dialysis, are available.
Prognosis: The rapid onset of treatment is imperative for a good outcome. If treatment is started after the kidneys have stopped producing urine, the prognosis is poor.
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Sure, your clients have heard that chocolate, a classic Valentine’s Day treat, can be toxic to pets. The question is, how much is too much? Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine that’s highly toxic to dogs and cats. When it comes to chocolate, tell clients, “Dark equals dangerous.” The darker or more concentrated the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. Therefore, the most dangerous chocolates are baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and gourmet dark chocolates. White chocolate has very little theobromine and won’t cause chocolate poisoning in pets.
Threat to pets: Let clients know that it’s the dose that makes the poison. Pets that ingest a few M&Ms or one to two bites of a chocolate chip cookie are unlikely to develop chocolate poisoning.
For milk chocolate, any ingestion of more than 0.5 ounces per pound of body weight may put dogs at risk for chocolate poisoning. Ingestions of more than 0.1 ounces per pound of body weight of dark or semi-sweet chocolate may cause poisoning. Almost all ingestions of baker’s chocolate can result in poisoning and are considered emergencies.
The effective toxic dose for very young or geriatric animals and those with underlying disease can be considerably lower than otherwise healthy adult patients. For this reason, it’s generally recommended to initiate treatment at lower doses in these patients.
Due to the large amount of fat in chocolate, some pets may develop pancreatitis after eating chocolate or baked goods containing chocolate.
Signs: Ingestions of small amounts of chocolate may cause mild vomiting, diarrhea, and polyuria/polydipsia. Larger amounts can cause severe agitation, tachycardia, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures, and collapse.
Treatment: Induce vomiting, and give multiple doses of activated charcoal to decontaminate. Diuretic doses of IV fluids help animals excrete theobromine. Sedatives and specific heart medications may be necessary to reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Additional treatments include anticonvulsants for seizures and antacids (such as famotidine) for stomach discomfort and diarrhea.
Theobromine may be reabsorbed across the bladder wall, so a urinary catheter or frequent walks are needed to keep the bladder empty.
Prognosis: Excellent in pets with mild signs of poisoning, such as mild stomach upset or slight restlessness. Poor in those with severe signs of poisoning, such as collapse and seizures.
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Don’t forget that grapes, currants, and sultanas also fall into this same category of toxins.
Threat to pets: These fruits cause acute kidney failure in dogs. There’s speculation that they may cause kidney failure in cats and ferrets as well.
While not all dogs will develop kidney failure after eating grapes or raisins, it’s impossible to know which pets will be sensitive to these fruits. Therefore, all pets (especially dogs) that ingest grapes, raisins, currants, or sultanas should be monitored closely and treated appropriately.
If a small dog eats just a small number of grapes or raisins, this is considered an emergency.
Signs: Vomiting within hours of ingestion. Within one to four days of ingestion: increased urination, increased thirst, lethargy, and reduced appetite.
Treatment: Induce vomiting, and administer activated charcoal to decontaminate. In most cases, other treatments such as IV fluids (to protect the kidneys), frequent monitoring of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine concentrations, anti-vomiting medication, and in-hospital care are recommended.
Prognosis: Excellent if animals are treated before signs begin. Once they have begun to go into kidney failure, the prognosis is worse.
Dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans may be a delicious Valentine’s Day treat for your coffee-loving clients, but they’re particularly problematic for dogs and cats since they contain large amounts of both theobromine and caffeine.
What it’s in: Caffeine is most commonly found in coffee, coffee beans, coffee grounds, tea, used tea bags or coffee grounds, soda, energy drinks, and diet pills. Theobromine, a cousin chemical to caffeine, is also found in chocolate (see chocolate and cocoa).
Threat to pets: Pets are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than people are. While one to two espresso beans won’t contain enough caffeine to poison most pets, the ingestion of moderate amounts of coffee beans, coffee grounds, tea bags, or one to two diet pills can easily cause death in small dogs or cats.
Signs: Within one to two hours of ingestion, the following signs may develop: mild to severe hyperactivity, restlessness, vomiting, tachycardia, hypertension, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, hyperthermia, seizures, and collapse.
Treatment: Induce vomiting, and give multiple doses of activated charcoal to decontaminate. Diuretic doses of IV fluids help animals excrete caffeine. Sedatives and specific heart medications may be necessary to reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Additional treatments include anticonvulsants for seizures and antacids for stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Caffeine may be reabsorbed across the bladder wall, so a urinary catheter or frequent walks are needed to keep the bladder empty.
Prognosis: Excellent in pets with mild signs of poisoning, such as slight restlessness or a minimally elevated heart rate. Poor in those with severe signs of poisoning, such as collapse and seizures.
Macadamia nuts come from trees indigenous to Madagascar and Australia but are now also found in Hawaii and California. The nuts, which are sold commercially and available in most grocery stores, can result in poisoning in dogs if ingested. This type of poisoning hasn’t been reported in cats.
What’s in it: The toxin in macadamia nuts hasn’t yet been identified, but the mechanism may involve motor neurons, neuromuscular junctions, and muscle fibers or neurotransmitters.
Signs: Within three to six hours, dogs exhibit lethargy, vomiting, and hyperthermia. Within six to 12 hours, hind limb weakness, ataxia, tremors, and recumbency occur. Additionally, there may be signs of abdominal pain, lameness, joint stiffness, and pale mucous membranes.
Treatment: Appropriate decontamination should be performed if the dog ingested more than 1 g/kg of nuts. As there’s no antidote, supportive measures such as in-hospital monitoring, IV fluids, and anti-vomiting medications may be necessary.
Prognosis: Good. Recovery generally occurs within 24 to 48 hours.
Xylitol is a commonly used and naturally occurring sugar substitute. It can be used alone or in combination with aspartame or other sweeteners. Around Valentine’s Day, tell clients to beware of its use in breath mints, colorful candy presents (e.g., Sparx candies), or sugar-free cake or muffin mixes.
What it’s in: Xylitol is used in many sugar-free chewing gums, breath mints, candies, and baked goods. It’s also found in some smoking-cessation products like nicotine gum. Xylitol can be purchased in bulk for cooking at home, and because of its dental-plaque-fighting properties, nontoxic amounts can be found in some pet oral-care products.
Threat to pets: Xylitol may cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar as well as liver damage in dogs. There’s speculation that ferrets may also be at risk, but people don’t experience this problem.
Typically, the dose needed to cause poisoning is at least 0.05 g per pound of body weight (0.1 g per kilogram of body weight).
Chewing gums and breath mints typically contain 0.22 to 1 gram of xylitol per piece of gum or per mint. Thus, to achieve a potentially toxic dose, a 10-lb dog would only have to eat one piece of gum.
The amount of xylitol typically found in most pet oral-care products is very small and, when used properly, isn’t expected to cause poisoning unless the dog ingests a very large amount.
Signs: Within 10 to 15 minutes of ingestion, dogs may develop hypoglycemia, lose coordination, and start vomiting. Collapse and seizures may quickly follow. In rare cases, these signs won’t appear until several hours after ingestion.
Treatment: Emesis should only be induced in asymptomatic animals. Due to the risk for rapid onset of clinical signs, it may be safest to do this in the hospital. Dogs may also require IV dextrose and fluids and frequent monitoring of their blood glucose and liver enzyme concentrations.
Prognosis: Excellent when the ingestion is caught early and blood sugars are monitored frequently. Guarded if the dog has already begun to develop liver failure.
Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals, and exotic species. Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $39 per incident includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at petpoisonhelpline.com.