ANIMAL BYTES: Animal Antics

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By Stephanie Oba, DVM
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on March 29, 2012)

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It never ceases to amaze me the kinds of trouble dogs and cats can get themselves into. Here are examples of what I’ve seen as a private practice veterinarian.

Are lilies toxic?

Lilies are popular flowers in springtime bouquets. But did you know that they are especially poisonous to cats? All parts are toxic—petals, leaves, pollen and even the water in the vase. Unfortunately, the exact poison remains unidentified.

Small amounts of pollen licked from their fur while doing their normal grooming ritual can be toxic to cats. Symptoms of lily poisoning include salivation, vomiting, decreased appetite and lethargy. Later signs may be increased thirst and urination, severe debilitating dehydration and eventually death.

Acute kidney failure may result within one to two days. It doesn’t take much to cause damage. If the exposure is left untreated, death is the most likely result.

Treatment for suspected lily poisoning is to decontaminate, first, by bathing the pet, followed by IV fluids, and close monitoring of blood kidney values and urine.

Rapid treatment is essential if you want a happy outcome. Advanced cases may require dialysis and even a kidney transplant handled at specialty centers. When advanced symptoms are visible, the chances of saving your pet are not good.

Are chicken jerky treats safe?

Mochi, a white Westie living in Seattle, attended puppy and terrier specific training to stay out of trouble while coping with a lifelong pancreas problem. (Courtesy of Naomi Kimura & Don Arai)

Honestly, I avoid all jerky treats. If your dog tears into any jerky treat without chewing well, it may get stuck in their throat, stomach or intestines. Watch out for the treats made in China. They are definitely poisonous and can cause kidney failure. The actual cause of illness has not yet been identified.

Symptoms are the same as for lilies. Fortunately, most pets recover, although there have been reported deaths.

Is my coffee habit dangerous to my pet?

Caffeine in coffee, tea, sodas and coffee beans can be toxic to your pet. Caffeine toxicity causes mild to severe hyperactivity, restlessness, vomiting, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, arrhythmias, tremors, seizures, collapse and increased body temperature.

For treatment, your vet will decontaminate by inducing vomiting and giving several doses of activated charcoal. Intravenous fluids help to eliminate the toxin from their body. Blood pressure, heart abnormalities and seizures are treated symptomatically.

Is xylitol safe?

This is a tricky one because I’ve seen xylitol in many well respected products. Unfortunately, xylitol is unsafe for pets. This sugar substitute found in many sugar free products (chewing gum, breath mints, candies and baked goods) are also in pet dental products.

Xylitol will cause a sudden drop in blood sugar in pets. Signs to look for are loss of coordination, vomiting, collapse and seizures. Liver failure may result.

Treatment for xylitol toxicity is to give sugar supplementation and supportive care. Symptoms usually occur so rapidly that there is usually not enough time to induce vomiting or give activated charcoal safely.

What about chocolate?

This is the most common household poisoning I’ve observed. We all know that everyone loves chocolate, even dogs. Chocolate is toxic when eaten in a high enough quantity. However, even when a lower dose is consumed, your dog may still become ill from indulgence.

Gastrointestinal disturbances and pancreatitis may also result. White chocolate has very little theobromine, the actual poison, and usually won’t cause a problem. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it can be. Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate are the dog’s worst enemies. Signs of chocolate toxicity are vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythm, seizures and collapse.

Treatment consists of inducing vomiting and giving multiple doses of activated charcoal. The fastest method may be IV fluids to clear the theobromine from the body. Sedatives and heart medications may also be necessary if your pet is experiencing any of these problems.

Exposure to tempting foods and playful environments requires you to be aware and responsible for your pet’s overall well-being and care. Just like being a parent!

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Stephanie Oba is a contributing writer and physician for animals in  Alhambra. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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