By Dr. Brad Cotter
As Christmas approaches, an awareness of some common toxins and other hazards can help to keep your pet safe.
During the holidays, veterinary emergency hospitals see an increase in accidental poisonings. Chocolate may be the most well-known toxin, but is still one of the most common.
The active ingredient, theobromine, is a powerful, long-acting toxin that causes signs ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to heart arrhythmias and seizures. Dark chocolate is significantly more dangerous because it contains higher levels of theobromine, but any type of chocolate can cause a serious or even fatal illness if eaten in high enough quantities.
Cats usually have less interest in eating chocolate but are equally, if not more, sensitive to its toxic potential.
Other common food items that are toxic to pets include raisin or fruit bread (any raisin or grape product in dogs), macadamia nuts and sugar-free products containing xylitol (in dogs). Keep pets away from potential exposure to alcohol and other recreational or prescription drugs.
Even common over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or Tylenol (in cats) can be lethal for your pet.
Aside from the potential for poisoning, some food items pose other hazards for dogs and cats.
The Christmas turkey carcass or other bones, corn cobs, large nuts and any garbage your pet might get into will frequently cause intestinal obstruction. As well, keep in mind that festive season foods are generally rich and your pet is not accustomed to eating them.
Sharing treats with your pet is tempting but could put them at risk of pancreatitis.
This serious and potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas often requires intensive treatment in the hospital.
Non-food items also pose dangers for animals.
Liquid potpourri is a little-known toxin that is potentially quite serious if swallowed by your pet. Components of potpourri can be extremely caustic and cause mouth, tongue or esophageal burns.
Cats appear to be more at risk because potpourri containers are often kept on countertops or other areas that cats can get to easily.
Child or pet toys, socks, underwear, dish towels, blankets and balls are other common causes of intestinal obstruction, particularly in dogs. It is important to remind house guests, who may not have animals of their own, to keep these items off the floor and away from your pet. Tinsel, ribbons, hair elastics and all types of string, including thread or dental floss, are common causes of intestinal obstruction in cats.
If you ever see string coming out of the back end of your cat or dog – never pull. String can cause serious damage to the intestine. Call your veterinarian for advice.
Many popular seasonal plants such as poinsettias, holly and mistletoe can be poisonous to dogs and cats.
Poinsettias and Christmas cacti are mildly toxic with vomiting, diarrhea and mouth pain being the most likely symptoms. Holly, mistletoe and amaryllis poisoning are potentially quite serious and treatment by a veterinarian is recommended. Cats can become seriously ill after eating any part of lily plants or flowers.
With all poisonings, early treatment is often key to survival. While not all toxic exposure requires a trip to the hospital, do not wait for symptoms to develop. Contact your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic immediately if you suspect your pet has eaten a hazardous substance.
Keeping your pet safe and out of the hospital during the holidays is easy to do with a little knowledge of the potential dangers. If you have any concerns about something your pet may have eaten, or would like more information about dangers listed above, call your veterinarian.
Dr. Brad Cotter is a graduate of Western College of Veterinary Medicine. He completed a small animal medicine and surgery internship in Rochester, N.Y. Following completion of this, he remained at the Veterinary Specialists of Rochester as an emergency veterinarian for five years where he was able to develop his skills and foster a true love for emergency medicine. In 2007, he returned to Canada and has spent his time working at two emergency and referral hospitals in Toronto. In 2010, he moved full time to the Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital. Visit us at www.tveh.ca or 416-247-VETS (8387, twitter.com/#!/TorontoVetEmerge.