Obviously these are not only poisonous at Christmas, but it is the time of year when there are more of these things around, and as a vet I definitely see more poisonings around Christmas. Something about having the house full of people, more food, treats left out, excited children, presents all seem to lead to carelessness compared to normal. Common poisons you need to make sure your pet avoids include:
The most common reason we vets see dogs for poisonings. The problem chemical in chocolate is called theobromine. White chocolate contains virtually no theobromine and will not cause poisoning, however the very high sugar and fat content cause vomiting and hyperactivity and it is definitely not to be recommended. The higher the cocoa content of the chocolate, the less of it the dog has to eat to become intoxicated. Therefore dark chocolate is the most dangerous. Dog specific chocolate drops do not have any cacao beans in them and are therefore safe.
What are the symptoms of chocolate poisoning?
Onset of symptoms is within 24 hours, but often much sooner. Vomiting and diarrhoea, stomach pains, panting, twitching, wobbly walking, rapid breathing and heart rate, agitation, drinking and urinating more, seizures and death.
My dog has eaten chocolate, what should I do?
Ring your vet, even if your dog seems well. If you tell your vet how much of what chocolate your dog has eaten then they will be able to tell you if you need to be concerned, and if any treatment is needed. Your vet will have 24 hour access to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service so if they are not sure, they can get advice from this service. There will be a charge for them to do this.
What treatment is there?
There is no specific treatment or antidote for chocolate poisoning. If your dog has only just eaten the chocolate then your vet may induce vomiting to try and limit the amount of toxin that gets absorbed. This should not be attempted at home. If it is too late to induce vomiting, then symptomatic and supportive treatment as necessary will be provided. This may be anti-sickness drugs if your dog is vomiting, an intravenous drip, sedatives and anti-seizure medication, drugs to control a racing heart rate and maybe some activated charcoal to mop up any toxins left in the gastrointestinal system.
Is chocolate poisoning dangerous?
Yes. It can cause death if severe and untreated. However most dogs only have a mild case and go on to make a full recovery with no lasting effects.
Any other problems with chocolate?
Yes, many have raisins or sultanas in them which are toxic. And wrappers which are also often eaten can cause obstructions.
Vine fruits – raisins, sultanas, currants, grapes
These may be highly toxic and can cause kidney failure and death in many animals. It is not known what the toxic element is, and some dogs can eat handfuls of raisins with no issues; others can eat a couple and have life threatening symptoms. Therefore as there is no way of predicting which animals will be affected it is recommended that no dog is fed any of these fruits. It is not known if cats are affected.
What are the symptoms of eating vine fruits?
All animals seem to vomit. They may have stomach pains, be lethargic, have diarrhoea and poor appetite.
What is the treatment?
Again there is no specific antidote. Treatment is aimed at protecting and supporting the kidneys. Intravenous fluids are given and blood samples should be taken to assess kidney function. These should be repeated every 48 hours to check for any changes. Activated charcoal will be given orally to mop up any toxin still in the gastrointestinal tract.
What is the prognosis?
If there are no signs of kidney failure then the prognosis is very good. If kidney failure exists, then the extent and path that this takes determines the prognosis. Some dogs will be unlucky and go into irreversible kidney failure, in which case euthansia is the only option.
This is very dangerous to dogs. Personally I have treated cases where owners have given their puppy a child’s homeopathic teething remedy to try and ease the discomfort of new teeth coming through, only to find that they have poisoned their dog. Another example of why human medicines (even if for babies and herbal/homeopathic/natural/organic) are not for dogs. We have different metabolisms and toxins to us may be fine for dogs, and vice versa.
Xylitol causes the dog’s blood sugar levels to plummet dangerously low. This can cause weakness, lethargy, depression, coma and death. Liver failure may also result from xylitol ingestion and is non-dose dependent i.e. your dog could eat a tiny amount and still get liver failure. Symptoms of this may not show for up to 3 days after ingestion.All animals that have eaten xylitol should be treated aggressively.
Treatment may involve a drip, treatment for liver failure and to protect liver function. Sugars to keep blood glucose level steady will also be given.
With prompt treatment your dog should make a full recovery. However if you have delayed going to the vet and liver failure has become established, then the chances of recovery are much more slim and euthanasia may be required.
All members of the Allium family are toxic to dogs, regardless of how many times you will read and hear people advising the use of garlic to repel fleas. Do not do this. It doesn’t work and you are poisoning your dog. These foods cause vomiting and diarrhoea, and with high level or chronic exposure damage red blood cells leading to anaemia. I have worked with a nurse who used to religiously crumble an OXO cube onto her dog’s dinner every night to make it more palatable. Apart from a high salt and MSG content, she was also giving her dog a dose of powdered onion every day. The result? A blood transfusion to save her severely anaemic dog’s life. Watch out for stuffing and human gravies which often contain onion powder.
May cause gastrointestinal upset, as well as affect the nervous system and muscles. Nuts are also often covered in chocolate – a lethal combination.
I have seen the effects of this as well. Mouldy bread and other foods contain toxins that affect the nervous system and can cause seizures and death. The case I saw was utterly confusing as the owner did not give any history of exposure to toxins or substances likely to cause seizures. Eventually after much questioning it was revealed the dog had eaten a loaf of mouldy bread form under the teenage son’s bed! Problem solved.
If eaten these can cause damage to or obstruction of the intestinal tract. They are also damaging to paws if they are trodden on.
There are obviously far more substances your pet can have a problem with at any time of year, so be careful. If in doubt, ask your vet.