Seasonal Toxicities

Written on January 26, 2011 by Sylvia Reiser, DVM Hospital: Muddy Creek Animal Care Center

The winter months bring seasonal holidays and activities that we all cherish here in New England. During these joyous times pet owners must be aware of the potential hazards to which our companion animals may be exposed. Seasonal plants, decorations, and cold weather and winter products may all be hazardous to both dogs and cats. Below are several items and environmental hazards that pet owners must consider during the holidays and winter months. If you have any questions regarding the products or hazards listed below, please contact Bulger.  If you suspect your pet has ingested any of these items, consider seeking veterinary care.

Some innocuous seeming plants can be toxic to our pets.

Plants: Seasonal plants such as Holly, Mistletoe, Poinsettias and Lilies can cause various clinical symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting, to cardiovascular abnormalities. Lilies are specifically toxic to cats and may cause life-threatening kidney disease. All questionable plants should be kept out of reach of your pets.

People Food, Bones & Leftovers: Pets should be fed appropriate meals. Commercial or home cooked meals are acceptable, but foods prepared for your personal consumption may be too fatty, spicy or contain products harmful to pets. Bones may splinter or chip and cause additional gastrointestinal problems. Some ingredients that may be harmful include onions and onion powder, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, cookie or bread dough, and alcohol.

Candy & Gum: Many of these products contain a new artificial sweetener called Xylitol. This sweetener is particularly harmful to pets. Xylitol toxicity is a relative newcomer to veterinary medicine, symptoms include rapid changes in blood sugar levels and acute liver disease. Early signs of ingestion include lethargy, depression, weakness, lack of coordination and seizures.

Chocolate: Contains a caffeine-like substance, theobromine, that is toxic and can be fatal if ingested in large amounts.  Levels of theobromine vary with types of chocolate (dark chocolates are higher in theobromine, white chocolates, lower), but any type of chocolate, even at small doses, may be hazardous. Clinical signs of theobromine toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, coma and possibly death.

Most antifreeze products contain up to 95% ethylene glycol, an extremely toxic chemical to dogs, cats, and people. The smell and taste of this product is enticing to pets and children and even a few licks (or a teaspoon sized amount) can cause life threatening kidney damage. Please be aware that even the smallest antifreeze spills from your car or storage site should be cleaned immediately. Seasonal snow globes also contain small amounts of ethylene glycol in the liquid. If one of these displays should break, please clean the liquid immediately and keep away from pets and children.

Removing the ice, snow and melting material from your pet's feet keep the pads from getting irritated and reduce the likelihood of ingestion of toxins.

Ice Melts: Pets may be exposed to ice melt products that have been applied outdoors. These products contain ingredients that may be irritating to the skin, and if ingested can cause severe gastrointestinal and electrolyte abnormalities. Ice melt products containing active ingredients such as Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate and Urea should be used cautiously in households with pets. When pets come in from outdoors, wipe their feet with a warm damp towel. Removing the ice, snow and melting material will keep the pads from getting irritated and reduce the likelihood of ingestion of any toxin.  Consider using a pet safe ice melt like “Safe Paw” around your own house.

Freezing temperature: Limiting your pet’s outdoor activity is recommended when the temperatures drop well below freezing. Short haired pets have less protection than longer haired animals. Smaller animals also have greater cold exposure in deep snow than taller breeds. Any geriatric animal or animal with a chronic disease will be less tolerant of cold temperatures. If your pet must be outdoors for extended periods of time ensure that they have access to a 3-sided shelter (to keep them safe from the elements), bedding and a fresh non-frozen water supply.

Outdoor Cats: Cats will seek warm shelter during the cold winter months. Car engine compartments offer protection from the elements and engine warmth. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously injured or killed. Banging on the hood or honking the horn prior to starting your car on a cold day may save an outdoor cat’s life.

These are just some of the potential hazards your pet faces during the winter months. If you have any questions regarding anything discussed here, or other seasonal concerns please contact Bulger Veterinary Hospital.

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