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Pet talk - Aug. 1, 2012

Human treats, poison to pets

Posted: July 31, 2012 5:54 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2012 5:00 a.m.

There are a number of things around your house that can be deadly to your cats and dogs, some you may know, and some may be surprising. Some are even in your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Dr. Dorothy Black, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, shares some enlightening information about common food items that may be toxic to your pet.

According to Dr. Black, the following foods can be particularly dangerous to cats and dogs.

“These foods may not necessarily cause toxic reactions in every case of ingestion, but it’s just a good ‘rule of thumb’ to keep these items off your kitchen counters and under no circumstances feed these foods to your pet,” Black said.

Grapes and raisins possess an unknown toxic substance that can lead to renal failure by an unknown mechanism. Toxic doses have been reported after ingesting just one to two grapes or raisins. Not all animals suffer kidney failure after grape/raisin ingestion and it appears to be an idiosyncratic reaction. Nevertheless, it is best to avoid this food for your dogs and cats. There is no known antidote, only supportive care and renal dialysis to support kidney recovery.

“Grapes can be particularly tricky for dogs, because many actually like to eat grapes, so you have to be especially aware,” Black said. “Our pets are amazing creatures, but they can really get into dangerous situations with human food very quickly.”

Chocolate is commonly known to be bad for pets. It contains two ingredients known to be toxic to dogs and cats: caffeine and theobromine. Dark chocolate is particularly harmful because it has a higher concentration of toxic metabolites than milk or white chocolate. Clinical signs of distress seen after chocolate ingestion include: anxiety/anxiousness, hyperactivity, urination, elevated body temperature, seizures, and irregular heart rhythms. There is no antidote, but supportive care is usually successful for recovery.

Xylitol is a common sugar substitute now used in many home kitchens. It is associated with a severe decline in blood sugar levels and liver failure if ingested by pets. The exact mechanism of the toxicity is unknown and there is no antidote. Supportive care is typically successful for treatment of hypoglycemia, however, liver failure may still occur and prognosis is guarded.

“It is important to remember that if you cook or use xylitol in your foods, that those foods should not be fed to pets,” Black said. “It is still toxic if used in cooking or baking.”

Onions, garlic, and chives are also toxic to pets. They contain the toxin allicin, which is released upon crushing or chewing the plant. Allicin damages the hemoglobin in red blood cells leading to anemia (such as Heinz body anemia and methemoglobinemia). Cats are especially susceptible to this toxin. There is no antidote, however, supportive care is typically successful.

While cats are particularly affected by onions and garlic, dogs are especially susceptible to macadamia nut toxicity. An unknown toxin in the nut leads to difficulty walking, high body temperatures, depression, and vomiting within one to two hours after ingestion. While no deaths have been reported to date, supportive care in the hospital is often required.

“Supportive care, which is the usual treatment for food toxicity, often works to recover pets who ingest these foods,” Black said. “But these supportive treatments to get pets back on their feet are often very costly for the owner, and difficult for the patient. In cases that require dialysis, pets have a difficult road to recovery.”

The foods mentioned here should be kept off countertops and out of reach of pets, and under no circumstances fed to dogs and cats. Preventing your pet from ingesting these items is the best way to keep them safe. But if they do ingest these foods, Dr. Black recommends contacting your veterinarian immediately.

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