Holiday season can turn tragic quickly for pets with dangerous foods, decorations
Published 11:16 pm Sunday, November 19, 2023
The holidays are best spent with family and friends, not taking a trip to the animal hospital. With the trifecta of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve coming up, the toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline want to warn pet lovers about the many dangers that face pets during this festive season.
“We receive more potential poisoning calls in November and December than any other time of the year,” said Dr. Renee Schmid, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline. “Some of the biggest threats during the holidays are toxins that are prevalent throughout the entire year, like lilies, chocolate, xylitol and medication, but there are many toxic items that are specific to the holidays, such as eggnog.”
David Meinke of Odessa, Florida, had a frightening experience last Christmas when one of his two cats, Radar and Rocco, nibbled on a lily that was part of a holiday bouquet. Meinke found vomit on the floor, but was not sure which cat had gotten sick, so he took both of them to BluePearl Pet Hospital in Tampa, Florida. Meinke also contacted Pet Poison Helpline, who then worked with the medical team at BluePearl to identify the lily, diagnose and treat his pets. Common signs of lily poisoning include vomiting, lethargy and acute kidney failure.
“Cats are particularly sensitive to true lilies, and need quick access to veterinary care when exposed,” Dr. Schmid said. “If they receive proper care within a few hours after ingestion, their chances of survival are extremely high. If they do not receive proper care, or care is delayed, the chances of survival drop significantly, with some studies reporting a 100 percent fatality rate.”
“Many holiday treats include chocolate, and are often left sitting out on counters and dinner tables,” said Dr. Schmid. “Chocolate contains chemicals called methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine, which when ingested in toxic amounts can result in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tachycardia, arrhythmias, tremors, seizures and possibly even death. Interestingly, dogs make up 95 percent of our chocolate calls.”
Hidden within some of that chocolate may be xylitol, a natural, sugar-free sweetener. If enough xylitol is ingested, it can cause life-threatening low blood sugar and acute liver failure in dogs. Another dangerous toxin being blended with chocolate is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. With many states now allowing marijuana use, Pet Poison Helpline is seeing a significant increase in the number of cannabis-related calls. Although THC’s toxicity level is considered mild for dogs and cats, it can still have significant effects.
“Classic signs of THC poisoning include a dazed expression, glassy eyes, incoordination, slow response times and dribbling urine,” Dr. Schmid explained. “Vomiting and drooling are also common, despite marijuana’s anti-nausea effects. Other signs include changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and hypothermia. In certain cases, the opposite may occur with signs including vocalization, neurological stimulation, hyperactivity or coma.”
Another major toxic threat throughout the year, medications, can be made even more dangerous if you have holiday visitors who bring their unknown medication into your home. A few days before last New Years Eve, an Alaskan Malamute puppy named Makita ingested one Percocet, a pain reliever that contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone. A relative visiting Makita’s family dropped the pill on the floor, but couldn’t find it. Makita did.
“Of all the calls we receive at Pet Poison Helpline, animals ingesting human medications is one of our most common,” added Dr. Schmid. “In Makita’s case, the hospital team was concerned about CNS and cardiovascular signs. Fortunately, she was treated quickly and made a full recovery, but it could have been a very negative outcome. If you have guests staying with you during the holidays, we encourage you to remind them to keep their medications out of reach from the family pets and children.”
While many of us will be dreaming of a white Christmas, those of us who must drive to our holiday destinations or shovel driveways may have nightmares about those winter storms.
“In many parts of the country, that winter wonderland can turn into dangerous, icy roads and sidewalks,” Dr. Schmid explained. “Many people use ice melt products to keep their walkways clear, and some of those products can be poisonous to pets.”
In Indianapolis last winter, a Golden Retriever puppy named Maui was poisoned when she ingested a half cup of ice melt. According to her owner, she began excessively salivating, became lethargic, was having tremors and was acting like something was stuck in her mouth. When the owner called Pet Poison Helpline, the toxicology experts explained that significant toxic effects are possible with this level of ingestion, and that Maui should be taken to the veterinarian immediately. The primary concern for the medical team was the sodium chloride, which can cause severe gastrointestinal upset and central nervous system signs. Because of the owner’s fast action, Maui was treated and returned home healthy.
Perhaps nothing says holidays more than a tasty glass of eggnog. Last year, a partying pooch named Kona ingested an entire 1.75L bottle of Kirkland Traditional Holiday Eggnog. The problem wasn’t the eggs and milk, but the liqueur.
“Many holiday eggnogs are spiked with liquor,” explained Dr. Schmid. “Kona’s ingestion posed a risk for ethanol poisoning with signs including sedation, ataxia (difficulty walking), hypoglycemia, hypothermia, gastrointestinal upset, metabolic acidosis (causing low serum bicarbonate), respiratory depression and failure. Given the volume of ethanol Kona consumed, we recommended immediate evaluation and treatment.”
Kona was monitored closely in the hospital and treatments included intravenous fluids, an anti-emetic and monitoring of labwork. He received symptomatic and supportive care and made a full recovery.
“Holidays create more opportunities for pets to come in contact with various toxins,” added Dr. Schmid. “Pet lovers need to be extra vigilant, especially when around new people or environments. This year, we want pet lovers to remember the holidays for all the joy and happiness, not an emergency room visit.”
Pet Poison Helpline®, your trusted source for toxicology and pet health advice in times of potential emergency, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. We are an independent, nationally recognized animal poison control center triple licensed by the Boards of Veterinary Medicine, Medicine and Pharmacy providing unmatched professional leadership and expertise. Our veterinarians and board-certified toxicologists provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $85 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the case. Based in Minneapolis, Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.