OK for You (maybe)—Poison for Your Pet!!

Our pets often want to eat what we do and that can be unhealthy or even deadly. "Table scraps" are frequently too spicy or too fatty for them, causing vomiting and diarrhea and even life-threatening pancreatitis. Hot dogs, gravies, poultry skins, fat trimmings, and casseroles are common sources of such problems and also the accompanying obesity that seems to plague many pets and owners alike. However, there are a number of human foods which are surprisingly toxic to our good four-legged friends.

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in gum, mints, vitamins, baked goods, and beverages. Read your labels! It is much more rapidly absorbed in dogs than in people and will cause low blood sugar and sudden, severe liver disease. These can lead to vomiting, staggering, collapse, seizures, and death. Ingestion of as little as .008 oz. of the actual sweetener per pound of pet or let's say 5 cookies or 40 pieces of gum for your 25 pound dog, can kill.

Raisins and grapes can cause vomiting and diarrhea leading to rapid kidney failure within 24 hours. As few as 5 or 6 of these fruits can cause the death of some average cats or small dogs.

Onions and garlic are sometimes eaten as they are flavored with meat juices. Dogs and cats need to eat them in fairly large amounts to see problems. They can cause digestive upsets first and then, may progress to destruction of red blood cells, anemia, and in extreme cases, death. Many pets will treat themselves by vomiting anything so spicy on their own.

Chocolate and caffeine (methylxanthines) are deadly in fairly small amounts. Dark chocolate is a more concentrated source than the light milk chocolate. Your dearest dog only needs to eat .11 oz. of baker's chocolate per pound of body weight (or 2.75 oz. for that 25 pound Rover) to possibly die. It is not quite so bad with semi-sweet chocolate at .33 oz. per pound of pup (8.4 oz. for a 25 pound dog). Milk chocolate weighs in at 1 oz. per dog pound potentially lethal (25 oz. for a 25 pound dog). Symptoms of toxicity are seizures, urination, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Bread dough has yeast that ferments in the stomach and releases an alcohol (ethanol) causing alcohol poisoning. In the warm stomach environment, it also rises rapidly, causing extreme expansion of the stomach which leads to serious crowding of the lungs in the chest. The alcohol causes symptoms of drunkenness and the expansion of the dough in the stomach eventually results in unproductive attempts to vomit and difficulty breathing. Induction of vomiting must be done right away, before the bites of bread dough become too large to pass back out of the stomach.

Drugs (over the counter and prescription) cause a variety of problems when eaten accidentally or when given as a treatment. Tylenol and ibuprofen are toxic to both dogs and cats, aspirin is toxic to cats and all are commonly misused. (Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate have aspirin in them!) Always check with your veterinarian before using any drugs and realize that pet dosages may vary greatly from human ones if they are tolerated at all.

Alcoholic beverages are obviously not suited for our pets. It is not cute or intelligent to leave alcohol where pets can lap it or to offer any amounts to them. This is especially true of our very small friends. If you offer your 5 pound Yorkie an ounce of beer and you weigh 200 pounds, you will have given him a dose equivalent to your drinking 40 oz. of beer in an equal amount of time. That is binge drinking and we all know where it can lead.

Hallucinogenics (marijuana, cocaine, mushrooms, etc) can lead to rapid heart rates, confusion, incoordination, seizures, and death. Remember that body size has a lot to do with the amount necessary for a lethal dose. Yes, sadly, we occasionally see these cases.

When faced with the possibility of any of the above ingestions, involve your veterinarian in treatment decisions right away. Remember that minimizing time is extremely important and you may be asked to immediately induce vomiting by syringing or spooning hydrogen peroxide into your pet's mouth, tilting the head back slightly, and being very careful to do small portions at a time to allow normal breathing. Amounts vary and you may continue adding more until vomiting does occur. It generally takes about 1/8 to 2/3 cup in that 25 pound pooch. Unfortunately, alcohol is absorbed so quickly that by the time you know you have a problem, it may be already too late for vomiting to reduce absorption.

So, know what toxins are in your house and do not tempt fate by leaving them easily accessible by your "four-legged children". Keep some hydrogen peroxide and your veterinarian's phone number readily available. Notice any odd behaviors and investigate possible causes. Give those good buddies a big hug and know that you are doing your best to keep them safe and happy!