By: Cynthia Quezada, DVM
The holidays are a time of family, friends, sharing, giving, and joy. The holidays can also be a very stressful time especially with our busy schedules. In all the excitement and rush to greet the New Year, we may not think about potential dangers that our pets may be exposed to during this time. To help keep your pets safe during the holiday season, here are the most common toxins to be aware of.
Toxic plants that are commonly around during this time of year include lilies, daffodils, holly berries, mistletoe, and Christmas trees. Lilies are the most toxic on the list, causing sudden kidney failure in dogs and cats if eaten. This can result in death, especially in cats. If your dog or cat ingests even a small amount of lily or daffodil plant material, it is important to take them for immediate veterinary care. Mistletoe and holly berries are considered moderately toxic. Ingestion of these plants can cause gastrointestinal upset and possibly cardiac arrhythmias if enough of the plant is eaten. The fir tree oils found in Christmas trees can also cause gastrointestinal upset, as well as excessive drooling when the needles are chewed on or swallowed.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many “sugar free” human food items including gum, mints, candy, and other sweets. Dogs metabolize xylitol differently than humans. In dogs, xylitol triggers a large release of insulin causing a dog’s blood sugar to drop to very low levels. This drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause lethargy, unsteadiness, vomiting, and in severe cases seizures. Grapes, raisins, and currants used in many sweets, deserts, trail mixes, bagels, grape juice, and other holiday recipes are also considered highly toxic. If ingested, these foods can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats. Even grape seed oil is considered toxic. The reason why these fruits are poisonous is not known and their toxicity does not appear to be dose dependent. In some pets a single grape can be toxic and others have to ingest many before they are affected. Macadamia nuts are another food toxic to pets in which the mechanism of toxicity is unknown. Ingestion of these nuts can cause incoordination, lethargy, vomiting, muscle tremors, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), weakness, and tachycardia (elevated heart rate).
Other Toxins and Hazards:
Ethylene-glycol is another toxin potentially fatal to both dogs and cats. Ethylene glycol is not only what makes up anti-freeze, but can also be found in some imported snow globes. Spills must be cleaned up immediately as ingestion of even the smallest amount by dogs or cats can cause acute severe kidney failure. It is important to seek veterinary care immediately if exposure to ethylene glycol is suspected. Liquid potpourri is another unsuspecting danger for pets, especially cats. Contact with liquid potpourri can cause serious injuries such as chemical burns to the mouth, skin, and eyes. It is best not to have any of these oils in the house if you have pets. Other hazards that are not necessarily toxic but that can pose serious health risks are tinsel, string, and ribbon. If swallowed, they can literally “saw” right through the gastrointestinal tract. This is what is referred to as a linear foreign body. So it is best to keep these materials out of your pet’s reach.
If you have any questions or think that your pet has been exposed to any poisonous substances please call our office at (310) 478-5915. Another good resource is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Their call center is available 24 hours a day , 365 days a year at (888) 426-4435.
We hope that this information was helpful. West LA Veterinary Group wishes you and your pet a safe and joyous holiday. Happy New Year!