Ask My Vet: What items are most harmful to pets, especially during the holidays?

Ask My Vet is a series based on questions I have—and maybe you do, too—about dogs. Katniss’ veterinarian, Dr. Katharine Kennedy of Arbor Animal Clinic here in Austin, provides answers and expertise as a part of this series.

Question: What items are most harmful to pets, especially during the holidays?

Dr. K: Chocolate season—it’s the time from Halloween to Valentine’s Day full of the sounds of panicked pet owners calling vet clinics about their dogs that ate chocolate. This year has been pretty uneventful in terms of holiday toxicities thus far, but the season is young! I find myself wondering if anyone will top the record set a few years back by a golden retriever that snuck upstairs and ate the entire Halloween candy stash belonging to a couple’s two kids without anyone knowing then vomited it up on my exam room floor–wrappers included.

Let me take this opportune moment to do a little holiday safety review!

Top Ten Holiday Toxicities

  1. CHOCOLATE!
  2. Macadamia nuts
  3. Onions and garlic
  4. Plants: Lilies, Poinsettias, mistletoe, pine needles
  5. Alcohol
  6. Antifreeze
  7. Batteries
  8. Water additives for live Christmas trees
  9. Human medications (legal and illegal)
  10. Tinsel (every cat’s favorite toy!)

Think of chocolate as an overdose of coffee laced with cocaine for pets. It causes intestinal problems at low doses and heart arrhythmias, seizures and death at high doses. The general rule is the darker the chocolate, the worse the toxicity, the most toxic being bakers chocolate. Time is of the essence here, folks; if you can get your pet to a vet to induce vomiting before the toxic components have been absorbed in to the blood stream they will do infinitely better. Be prepared for your vet to recommend a dose of activated charcoal to bind to any remaining chocolate in the stomach or intestines and IV fluids for at least 24 hours to help the body flush out any absorbed toxins. A brief summary of the toxic effects of the remaining items on our list include liver and kidney toxicity, gastric ulceration, upset stomachs, seizures, coma and death. Tinsel deserves special mention for its ability to get stuck in the intestines, requiring expensive surgery to remove.

Other issues I’ve had personal experience with that get a shout out are as follows:

  • Cat stressed by your in-laws visiting? DO NOT give it Lorazepam!
  • Have a puppy and a Christmas tree? Don’t leave them together unsupervised and hang the ornaments HIGH!
  • That box of liquor-filled chocolates on the coffee table will give your dog chocolate AND alcohol toxicity.
  • And, just for you, Katniss, keep in mind that all kinds of small sparkly entertaining things (like engagement rings) can be eaten and cause problems for you and your pet!

Happy holidays, friends! Keep your loved ones close and the phone number to your emergency vet closer!

Kennedy cannot provide medical recommendations to individuals or groups that are not established clients with a current client-patient relationship. She will also not share personal information of clients with though she may discuss general medical details not associated with specific individuals.
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