Can my pet eat that?

By: Dr. Megan Mackalonis, VMD, Emergency Clinician, mmackalonis@vsecvet.com, Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center, www.VSECVET.com

Everyone likes to share a snack with their four-legged friend from time to time. It's just too hard to deny those adorable puppy eyes! And sometimes, of course, our pets help themselves to a snack…and not all of those snacks are food. For those situations, it is helpful to be aware of some of the common food and even non-food items in our homes that may be toxic or harmful to our dog and cat companions.

Chocolate:

Many people have probably heard that chocolate is dangerous for dogs and this is very true. Chocolate contains a few ingredients that are harmful to dogs: methylxanthines, theobromine, and caffeine. The helpful thing to know is that the amount and type of chocolate ingested both play big roles in whether a dog is at risk for illness and what type of signs would be expected. In small doses, chocolate can lead to signs of vomiting and diarrhea followed at higher doses by hyper-excitability and potentially abnormal heart rhythms.  At even higher doses, tremors/seizures and potential death could occur.

White chocolate is least toxic while dark and baking chocolate are more toxic. If you find that your dog has eaten chocolate of any sort or amount, please contact your family veterinarian immediately. They can help calculate for you whether the amount ingested will be of concern and whether treatment is warranted. It is very helpful to have the packaging for the chocolate available for the veterinarian to see in order to help get an estimated ingested amount that is as accurate as possible.

Chocolate also contains a significant amount of fat that is outside of the norm for dogs. For this reason, ingesting any amount of any type of chocolate can lead to development of pancreatitis (or, inflammation of the pancreas). This can lead to abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and lack of appetite. If you are concerned that this has occurred, it would be a good idea to have your pup checked out right away by a veterinarian.

Grapes/Raisins:

Here is another one that a lot of people have likely heard about. Grapes and raisins are tricky in that we in the veterinary community don't quite fully understand their exact toxic properties. There does not seem to be a definitive lowest toxic dose (i.e. a specific number per pound of dog below which toxic effects will not be seen). Ingestion of any amount of grapes or raisins in any size dog is, therefore, considered dangerous and should be addressed by a veterinarian.

When side effects do occur, grape and raisin ingestion can lead to kidney failure. For this reason, prompt medical attention after ingestion is highly recommended. Initiating treatment (which consists primarily of inducing vomiting to eliminate the toxic fruit, intravenous fluid therapy and monitoring kidney blood values) as early as possible after ingestion goes a very long way toward preventing lasting kidney damage.

Xylitol:

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that can be found in a few things around the house including several types of sugar-free gum, some children's dental products (generally in the form of gum or mints, which often contain large amounts of xylitol), and most recently, even some types of peanut butter. The idea of toxic peanut butter has been a hot topic in the media recently. What dog doesn't love peanut butter! Nobody wants to think that Fido's favorite snack could be dangerous. No need to be super worried, though, as most peanut butter does not contain this ingredient, just be aware and check your labels closely. Those that do contain xylitol seem to be specialized peanut and other nut butters. Some known xylitol-containing brands include Go Nutsâ Co, Hank's Protein Plus Peanut Butterâ, Krush Nutritionâ, Nuts 'N Moreâ and P28â. 

Xylitol can be pretty dangerous, but, like chocolate, toxicity is dose-dependent and the amount of xylitol varies greatly between products. Xylitol ingestion can lead to low blood sugar and liver damage and it is best to get treatment started as soon as possible in order to avoid life-threatening concerns. If you are concerned that your pup may have eaten a product that contains xylitol, it is always best to seek the care of a veterinarian. This is another scenario during which having the packaging for the exact product that was ingested is extremely helpful.  Sometimes there is a big variation in the amount of xylitol even between different flavors of certain brands of gum!

Mold:

Perhaps you just cleaned out the fridge last night and came home to find that Fluffy raided the garbage can. A little while later, she isn't acting right and starts to have tremors all over. Unfortunately, it looks like Fluffy has eaten something moldy from the garbage. This is very scary to see, but your veterinarian can definitely help. Mold can contain what are known as tremorgenic mycotoxins (fungal toxins that cause tremors). Prompt veterinary attention is important and it is very helpful to remember to mention the garbage raid to your veterinarian.

Rodenticide:

We all know that it is not a good idea for our pets to eat rat or mouse poison (we know what it's supposed to do to rats and mice, after all), but these products sometimes find their way into or near our homes. It is a good idea to keep these products out of the home entirely as pets are pretty tricky and seem to be able to gain access to them even when we think we have placed them out of reach. If your pet happens to ingest any amount of rat/mouse poison, however, prompt veterinary care before any concerning signs arise is extremely helpful and early intervention can often avoid development of concerns all together.

There are actually several types of rat/mouse poison out these days and all can be potentially life-threatening, the oldest type is the one we think of classically and can lead to bleeding. Another type leads to severe neurologic signs and yet a third type that is characterized by an overdose of vitamin D3 and dangerously elevated calcium levels. Since each type can cause different signs and toxicity is seen with ingestion of different amounts, it is very important, again, to provide your veterinarian with the packaging from the product that your pet may have eaten as well as your very best estimate as to how much could have been ingested.

Lilies:

As spring comes upon us and the spring holidays begin to pass us by, many folks may have lilies in their homes in bouquets or even outside in their gardens. Did you know that lilies are very toxic to cats and can lead to kidney failure? All parts of the lily plant are toxic, including the flowers and even the pollen. If pollen happens to fall near the bouquet and a kitty steps in this then grooms her paws, this can even be enough to cause toxic effects. This is the case specifically of "true" lilies (those of the Lilium genera)—other plants commonly called lilies but not truly in the lily family (such as lily-of-the-valley and peace lilies) are not toxic to the kidneys. Some of these plants may be toxic in other ways, however, so caution is always recommended.  For these reasons, this is one flower that I would keep out of the home and garden entirely if there are any kitties around. If there is ever any question as to whether your kitty may have had a lily interaction, it can be helpful to have a picture of the flowers for comparison or, even better, a conversation with the florist who produced your bouquet to ask what type of lilies (if any) were involved. If your kitty has come in contact with lilies, please seek veterinary care immediately. Some signs to look for include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite or change in urination and drinking pattern.

Medications:

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our pets come in contact with our human or even their own (or other household pet) medications. There are countless types of medications, both prescription and over the counter, some of which can be pretty dangerous to dogs and cats, especially if ingested in excess. Should such a situation ever arise, please call a veterinarian. Please have the pill bottle handy to help provide the exact name and dosage of medication and try to determine the number of pills that could have been ingested to the best of your ability.

As you may imagine, there are many other possible toxins that could be found in and around the home. It is always better to be safe than sorry and to contact a veterinarian if you are concerned that your pet has eaten anything outside of the norm.

Don't be surprised if your veterinarian recommends that you contact animal poison control. Just like poison control for people, animal poison control is staffed with veterinarians who are specifically trained in veterinary toxicology-there are so many possible toxins out there that these specialists are incredibly helpful in determining whether something your pet has encountered is a concern and, if so, whether a hospital visit is needed. Poison control does come with a fee (generally about $65), however, calling these folks can potentially save you an unnecessary trip to the hospital and, if in-hospital treatment is needed, will allow the veterinarian who treats your pet the ability to consult with the toxicologist as much as necessary to make sure your beloved friend gets all of the care he needs.

*A helpful tidbit before we conclude: If you are calling the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline and mention that you have a registered Home Again microchip for your dog or cat, your consult fee will be voided! Unfortunately, this only works specifically with Home Again chips. If you have a Home Again chip but it is not currently registered, you can re-register your chip with Home Again within 24h of your consult (for $17) and call Poison Control to have your consult fee refunded.

Keep safe!

Dr. Megan Mackalonis is an Emergency Clinician at the Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center. The Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center operates state-of-the-art emergency and specialty veterinary hospitals that are open 24/7/365 in both Levittown PA and Philadelphia PA. For more information about our world-class emergency and specialty care, please visit VSEC on the web at www.VSECVET.com.