Vail Pet Talk: Chocolate isn’t the only threat to pets
October 11, 2012
Question: As pet owners, what should we be concerned about over the Halloween holiday?
Answer: Veterinarians see holidays in a different light than most people. While there is the usual excitement of the upcoming holiday, there is also the constant thought of what crazy emergency will come through the door as a result. Halloween is no exception; all of the increased activity around the house can make pets nervous, and if given a chance, they may bolt, causing an increased number of animals hit by cars. Other situations arise when fearful pets bite in response to unknown, costumed figures in their territory.
Candy poses a more serious threat for dogs and cats. Dogs will gulp down candy – wrappers and all – causing a serious case of “garbage gut,” It is often believed that chocolate is the biggest threat to dogs, but actually candies and gum sweetened with Xylitol can be much more deadly. Xylitol is the sweetener often used in sugar-free gum, candy and other products like toothpaste. In dogs, xylitol is rapidly absorbed into the system, causing a profound insulin release and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). It can also cause liver failure, bleeding and death. Ingestion of as little as 0.2 mg per pound of body weight should be considered toxic. As little as 1 mg per pound puts a dog at risk for liver failure. A rough estimate is one or two pieces of chewing gum in a 20 pound dog is potentially toxic. Vomiting is often the first symptom related to xylitol ingestion, followed by hypoglycemia (weakness and lethargy), diarrhea, collapse and seizures. Immediate veterinary care is required if any ingestion of a product containing xylitol is suspected.
Chocolate can be bad for several reasons, most of the problems from chocolate ingestion are due to the fat content, which can set off a serious metabolic disease called pancreatitis, leading to vomiting, diarrhea and severe, sometimes life-threatening abdominal pain. The wrong type of chocolate, in the right dose, however can be a direct toxin. This is due to a substance in chocolate called theobromine. Theobromine levels are higher as more chocolate liquor is added to sweeten it. Baking chocolate has the highest theobromine levels, followed by dark chocolate and then milk chocolate. Theobromine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, irregular heart rhythms and death, in severe cases. Doses of theobromine of 9mg per pound of body weight may produce mild signs including gi upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. A dose of 18 mg per pound of body weight can producing severe symptoms, like a racing heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and collapse. Milk chocolate contains 44 mg per ounce of theobromine, while semi-sweet and baking chocolate contains 150 mg and 390 mg per ounce respectively. It can take four days for the effects of chocolate to leave the system and supportive hospitalization may be required during this time.
Have a great holiday season, just remember, holidays can be a traumatic and a truly frightening experience for animals. Help them by keeping them locked up when trick or treaters are out and doors are opening and closing regularly.
Have a question? Feel free to email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Veternarians Charlie Meynier and Tom Suplizio practice at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital and ER, with locations in Eagle-Vail and Edwards that offer comprehensive small animal medicine and surgery, with on-call vets available after hours and an emergency hospital in Edwards open 24 hours a day, with a doctor on the premises weekends and holidays. For more information call 970-926-3496 or visit http://www.vailvalleyanimalhospital.com.