The holiday seasons can be busy, and sometimes stressful, for many of us including our dogs. This stress can lead to accidental, and potentially dangerous, exposures for our pets. Here at Pet Poison Helpline, we experience a significant increase in our call volume over the holiday season. Many of these exposures are the same from year to year, so here are some helpful tips for avoiding these repeat exposures, along with the real truth on what is a concern for your dog and what isn't.
- Chocolate - Chocolate is likely our most prominent exposure for every holiday. The darker the chocolate, the more likely the risk of chocolate toxicity. Dose is another important factor in determining risk of toxicity, meaning one or two milk chocolate M&M’s are not generally a concern, but a bag full is a whole different story. Clinical signs of toxicity can include vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, increased heart rate, and blood pressure and even seizures. Chocolate can sit in the stomach and we may not see signs immediately and sometimes there can be a delay of up to 18 hours before there is clear evidence of concern.
- Raisins and grapes – Fruit cakes and all of the extra goodies and food gifts increase the risk of our pets ingesting raisins or grapes. Unfortunately, these can result in a risk of acute renal failure in dogs. Even very small ingestions can result in damaging the kidneys. We many times get calls about exposures to fruitcake when it is gift wrapped under the tree and the pets open it first. This is also the case with chocolates and many other food-related gifts that we are given. They sniff them out and ingest the contents.
- Xylitol – Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is appearing more frequently than ever in sugar-free gums, mints, candies, dental products, vitamins, and even some home-baked goods. There are many more items on the market containing this ingredient, so regardless of the exposure, make sure to check the label for this dangerous ingredient. Xylitol ingestions in dogs can result in a dangerous drop in blood sugar, and in high doses, can result in liver damage or even liver failure.
- Ornaments – Ornaments on the tree can cause injury and a potential gastrointestinal obstruction risk but are not usually toxic unless they are the homemade salt-type ornaments. These homemade ornaments are very appealing to dogs for some odd reason and result in serious salt toxicosis with signs of vomiting, diarrhea, and serious electrolyte changes.
- Christmas trees – Christmas trees are not generally a concern, but we get a lot of calls regarding pets drinking from the water reservoir in the tree stand, more specifically with the freshness additive mixed into the water. These additives are typically some type of fertilizer, sugar, and potentially a fungicide. These ingredients, when diluted in the water, are not particularly toxic but can result in gastrointestinal distress such as vomiting or diarrhea.
- Poinsettias – We get lots of calls on poinsettias but in reality, they are not going to poison your pets. They have been hybridized greatly over the years and for the most part, we only see drooling and potential vomiting or diarrhea when they are ingested.
- Decorations – Decorations, such as candles, can result in burn injury. Battery-powered candles or battery-operated ornaments or electronics, can be chewed and can result in corrosive injuries to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract when ingested.
- Medications or Supplements – Almost any medication or supplement has the risk to result in toxicity when ingested in a high enough dose. We see the exposure risk increase over the holidays with guests in our home that may have medications or supplements in their pocket, purse, backpack, or luggage and a dog gets a hold of it. Not everyone understands what dogs are capable of ingesting and well-meaning guests may leave these set out unintentionally. This can also be an issue if owners leave a baggie of vitamins or prescription medication in a suitcase waiting to pack or unpack.
- Yeast bread doughs – Holiday baking is very tempting for dogs and can result in abdominal distention and bloating along with a drop in blood sugar, retching, vomiting, diarrhea, and a drunken appearance.
- Macadamia Nuts – Macadamia nuts can result in a risk of pancreatitis, along with weakness and difficulty in walking when ingested by your dog. Signs occur within 12 to 24 hours of ingestion of these rich little nuts.
- Garlic and Onions – Onions and garlic can result in vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and anemia with ingestion of both cooked and raw onions and garlic.
Hopefully these timely tips will help you enjoy the holiday season and prevent any disasters with your pets. As always, our experienced veterinary staff is available 24/7 to assist you if the worst happens. Click here for a full list of foods that dogs can and cannot eat.
If you think that your pet has ingested something poisonous or harmful, it is always easier, less expensive, and safer for your pet to be treated earlier, rather than waiting for severe clinical signs to occur. Pet Poison Helpline will be available 24/7 during the holidays to provide support to you, your pet, and your veterinarian.
Pet Poison Helpline is the most cost-effective animal poison control center in North America. It that provides treatment advice and recommendations relating to exposures to potential dangerous plants, products, medications, and substances, to veterinarians, veterinary staff, and pet owners 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through a helpline number 800-213-6680 and an iPhone application. Please be aware there is a $49.00/per case consultation fee. For further information regarding services, visit www.petpoisonhelpline.com.