Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and with this holiday of love comes gifts, many of which include candies and flowers. The veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline share some of the most common culprits of pet poisonings related to these well-intentioned gifts.
“Unfortunately, some well-intentioned gifts of love can be toxic to your pets,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, and assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “Certain flowers, candy and sweeteners can be hazardous, so keeping those things out of their reach is one of the most loving things you can do for your pets this Valentine’s Day.”
Flowers Lilies (Lilium spp. and Hemerocallis spp.) are frequently sold in fresh bouquets and make a beautiful but deadly alternative to Valentine’s roses. The most common potentially dangerous lilies are the Stargazer lily, Tiger lily, other Asiatic lilies, and some species of day lilies. They contain a toxin in the petals, leaves, pollen and even the water in the vase.
Threat to pets: These lilies are extremely toxic to cats and cause acute kidney failure within a day or two of exposure. If untreated, the exposure will likely result in death. The ingestion of just one or two leaves or petals can cause sudden kidney failure. Even ingesting small amounts of pollen from a cat’s fur is considered poisonous. Thankfully, these plants don’t cause serious harm in dogs – only in cats. When ingested by dogs, they will result only in mild gastrointestinal upset. Signs: Within a few hours of exposure cats may develop drooling, inappetance, and lethargy. These signs progress to increased thirst and urination and severe kidney failure. Without treatment, lily poisoning is fatal in cats.
Treatment: Your veterinarian may decontaminate the cat by inducing vomiting and giving activated charcoal to prevent further absorption of the toxin. Most cats need to be hospitalized on IV fluids for three days to help protect the kidneys, and frequent blood tests are necessary to monitor progress. In rare cases, hemodialysis may be needed, however, the availability of hemodialysis is limited to only a few places within North America. Prognosis: Rapid treatment is imperative for a good outcome. Without it, the prognosis is poor.
Roses are red, violets are blue, but biting a thorn can do damage to you… and your pets. Threat to pets: Although roses do not often cause serious poisoning beyond gastrointestinal upset, there is risk for trauma to the mouth and paws from the thorns. If a large amount is ingested, a bowel obstruction may result. Signs: Drooling, pawing at the mouth, inappetance, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and abdominal pain or discomfort.
Therapy: Check the mouth and paws for signs of trauma from thorns. Veterinary treatment may be necessary, including a thorough oral exam under sedation, pain medication, antibiotics, or even anti-vomiting medication. Prognosis: Excellent with supportive care.
A classic Valentine’s Day treat, chocolate, 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. Remember this fact: dark = dangerous! The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, meaning that baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and gourmet dark chocolates are the most dangerous. Foods covered/dipped in chocolate can also be dangerous, as in addition to the chocolate, the food inside can be toxic to pets. The most dangerous are chocolate covered raisins, espresso beans and macadamia nuts. In general, white chocolate has very little theobromine, but all types of chocolate contain large amounts of sugar and fat, which can potentially result in pancreatitis.
Threat to pets: It’s the dose that makes the poison! Pets that ingest a few M&Ms or 1-2 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. Ingestions of more than 0.1 ounces per pound of dark or semi-sweet chocolate may cause poisoning. Almost all ingestions of baker’s chocolate can result in poisoning and are considered emergencies.
Signs: Ingestions of small amounts of chocolate may cause mild vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and increased urination. Larger ingestions can cause severe agitation, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures and collapse.
Treatment: Depending on the amount of time since ingestion, treatment includes inducing vomiting and treating with activated charcoal to bind the toxin. Treatment may also include anti-vomiting medication, IV fluids, sedatives and heart medications.
Prognosis: Excellent in pets with mild signs of poisoning, such as slight stomach upset or restlessness. Poor in those with severe signs symptoms such as heart arrhythmias, severe hypertension, collapse and seizures.
Commonly used as a sugar substitute, xylitol is dangerous to pets. For Valentine’s Day, beware of sugar-free gum, candy, baked goods, and breath mints containing xylitol.
Threat to pets: Xylitol may cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar as well as liver failure in dogs. Typically, the dose required to cause poisoning is at least 0.05 grams per pound of body weight (0.1 grams per kilogram of body weight). Chewing gums and breath mints can contain as much 100% xylitol per piece, so a 10 pound dog would only have to eat as little as one piece of gum to experience a potentially toxic dose!
Signs: Within 10 to 15 minutes of ingestion, dogs may develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Signs of hypoglycemia include vomiting, walking drunk, acting weak, collapsing, and even seizures. With large ingestions causing liver failure, signs may not be seen for several days after ingestion. Treatment: Inducing vomiting should only be performed in asymptomatic animals that have a normal blood sugar level. Treatment for poisonous amounts of xylitol may include intravenous dextrose (sugar) and fluids, along with monitoring blood sugar levels and liver values. Prognosis: Excellent when the ingestion is caught early. Show your pets lots of love this Valentine’s Day and throughout the year by protecting them from harm. If you think your pet may have ingested something harmful, take action immediately. Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680. Pet Poison Helpline is the most cost-effective animal poison control center in North America charging only $39 per call; this includes unlimited follow-up consultations.