Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holiday Hazards For Dogs and Cats

While the holidays can be joyful, they can also be stressful for you and your pets.  Knowing what can be dangerous for your pet and eliminating it from the environment or being cautious might help relieve some of that anxiety. 

Christmas trees, Poinsettias, Christmas Cactus, and Christmas tree preservative are all fairly benign:

The most common clinical signs after ingestion of the needles are vomiting, anorexia, abdominal pain and depression.  The toxicity of poinsettias is generally overrated.  Most pets just experience mild, self-limiting vomiting that resolves with little to no treatment.  The Christmas cactus is considered to be non-toxic.  Ingestion may cause mild gastrointestinal upset.  Most pets will not require care for vomiting.  Most pets that drink water containing Christmas tree preservative develop no signs. Occasionally we can see mild GI signs, rarely, bacterial/fungal contamination of the water may lead to more severe signs.



Most ingestion of mistletoe cause just a mild gastritis. If purchased in a store, the berries frequently have been removed and replaced with plastic "berries" which can be a foreign body. Large ingestions may require decontamination and cardiovascular (heart, blood pressure) monitoring.


The Oxalis plant family can cause irreversible kidney damage and possibly kidney failure since it contains oxalates.  Vomiting is common.


Amaryllis are common ornamental bulb plants, forced to bloom at Christmas time.  All parts of the plant are toxic, however the bulbs contain the highest concentration of alkaloids. The quantity ingested or the portion ingested can make a tremendous difference in toxicity. Ingesting foliage generally only results in drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. Large ingestions, or ingestion of the bulb can cause hypotension, weakness, ataxia (difficulty walking), tremors and seizures. In general, prognosis is good. Large ingestions or cases with severe signs do require aggressive treatment.


 Cringing when I saw this picture of a cat so close to a lily!

Members of the Lilium and Hemerocallis genera (Easter lilies, tiger lilies, day lilies, etc.) cause acute renal (kidney) failure in cats. The toxic principle is unknown. Even minor exposures (bite on a leaf, ingestion of pollen) may result in toxicosis, so all feline exposures to lilies should be considered potentially life-threatening. It should be noted that not all plants with “lily” in the name are members of Liliaceae.  The lily flowers tend to be star shaped, with a deep throat, and they may have speckles.  When in doubt, bring the plant with you to the veterinarian’s office.
Delaying treatment beyond 18 hours frequently results in death or euthanasia.  In severe cases, peritoneal dialysis may aid in managing kidney failure until tubular regeneration occurs (10-14 days or longer). In severe cases, death or euthanasia due to acute renal failure generally occurs within 3 to 6 days of ingestion.


Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa beans and cocoa butter. It contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both classified as methylxanthines. Unfortunately, pets are sensitive to the effects of methylxanthines. Depending on the dose, methylxanthines can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate, tremors, and potentially death. Other effects seen with chocolate overdose include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, increased urination, and lethargy.  

The amount of methylxanthines present in chocolate depends varies with the type. The general rule is the more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it could be. In fact, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine as milk chocolate while white chocolate (a combination of cocoa butter, sugar, butterfat, milk solids, and flavorings without cocoa beans) contains negligible amounts of methylxanthines. Cocoa hull mulch, which smells intoxicating, is also TOXIC if your dog eats that as well. 

Early treatment, including decontamination procedures such as emesis (inducing vomiting) and activated charcoal, cardiovascular monitoring, and supportive care, is extremely helpful with chocolate poisoning. In addition, fluid diuresis may help enhance elimination.


Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute. Use of xylitol has recently expanded in popularity, and xylitol is found in many sugar-free gums, candies, and other foods. Dogs appear sensitive to xylitol, and ingestion can result in rapid, life-threatening hypoglycemia and with higher doses, have been associated with liver failure.
Treatment before symptoms includes inducing emesis, and when signs develop treatment is directed at managing the hypoglycemia with IV fluids containing sugars, plasma transfusions, and supportive treatment for liver failure. 


Onions and other members of this genus include garlic, leek, shallot, and chive. Pieces of onion, onion powder, or even cooked onion, can cause damage to red blood cells which could result in anemia in both dogs and cats. Clinical signs associated with onion poisoning include hemolytic anemia, hemoglobin in the urine (which can cause kidney damage), vomiting, weakness, and pallor. 

Treatment consists of decontamination procedures such as inducing emesis and administering activated charcoal, which should be considered with recent ingestions. Whole-blood transfusions, fluid therapy, and supportive care should be administered until patient recovery.

Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia nuts may cause problems if ingested by dogs.  Clinical signs commonly reported in dogs ingesting macadamia nuts include weakness, depression, vomiting, ataxia, tremors, and hyperthermia.   The cause for their sensitivity is unknown.  These nuts are often in cookies, chocolates, and other treats.

Treatment includes decontamination procedures such as inducing emesis, administering activated charcoal, and administering enemas. Additional supportive care should be given as needed. The prognosis in most cases is extremely good. Most dogs return to normal within 48 hours.

Rising Bread Dough

Ingestion of rising bread dough can be life-threatening to dogs. The animal's body heat will cause the dough to rise in the stomach.  Ethanol (alcohol) is produced during the rising process; high levels of salt in the dough can cause imbalances of body fluids and minerals in the bloodstream; and the dough may expand several times its original size. Signs seen with bread dough ingestion are associated with ethanol toxicosis, salt toxicosis, and foreign body obstruction may include severe abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, incoordination, and depression.
Treatment in cases of recent ingestion in asymptomatic dogs, involves inducing emesis. In some cases, dough removal may necessitate surgery. 

Grapes and Raisins

Some types of grapes and raisins have been shown to cause kidney failure in dogs.  The basis for kidney failure following consumption of grapes or raisins is unclear, but is currently being studied in the veterinary community. The amount of grapes or raisins that may cause renal failure is not exactly known, so any amount could potentially be dangerous.
Treatment of recent ingestion:  inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal is recommended.  This should be followed with IV fluids for 48 hours.  During this time the patient should be monitored for kidney damage.  If the animal shows evidence of renal failure, fluids and supportive care should be continued.


Moldy Foods, Trash, and Bones

Moldy foods may contain certain tremorgenic mycotoxins.  Tremorgenic mycotoxins can induce muscle tremors, ataxia, and convulsions that can last for several days.  Intoxications have been reported in many species; however, dogs that roam or have access to spoiled foods are more at risk.
Treatment goals following tremorgenic mycotoxin ingestion include minimizing absorption through decontamination procedures, such as emesis, lavage (flushing the stomach), and activated charcoal, controlling tremors and seizures with methocarbamol, and providing supportive care.  With early aggressive treatment, prognosis is good. 

Trash ingestion can cause intestinal blockage and perforation as well.

Bones are not good for your pet.  They can break the pet’s teeth, they are choking hazards, they can obstruct and perforate the intestines, they can have nasty bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella on them.  Don’t give them intentionally, and don’t let them fish them out of the trash.


Due to their small size, cats and dogs are far more sensitive to ethanol than humans are. Even ingesting a small amount of a product containing alcohol can cause significant intoxication. Cats are particularly attracted to mixed drinks that contain milk, cream or ice cream (e.g. White Russian, alcoholic eggnog, Brandy Alexander). Ethanol is rapidly absorbed orally and signs can develop within 30-60 minutes. Alcohol intoxication commonly causes vomiting, loss of coordination, disorientation and stupor. In severe cases, coma, seizures and death may occur. Pets who are inebriated should be monitored and given supportive care by a veterinarian until they recover.

 Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog on...


Blog by:
Dr. Dana Lewis
Dr. Dana assists families with Pet Hospice and Euthanasia in the Raleigh North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle, as well as Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.)

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