Poisonous Substances to Pets Common in Winter

The festive season can be a great time for us but there are several things associated with the holidays that can be dangerous for our pets. The most common complaints are explained below. If you suspect your pet may have any of the following conditions then call your vet as soon as possible for advice.

Chocolate:

We love it and there is a lot of it around at this time of year but it really is not good for our pets to eat. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine which is part of the xanthine group of compounds, similar to caffeine. Chocolate becomes more toxic the higher the cocoa content, for example the toxic dose of milk chocolate is 9g chocolate per kilo of the dog's weight whereas dark chocolate is nearer 1g chocolate per kilo of dogs weight, meaning they have to eat a smaller amount of dark chocolate before becoming ill.

What symptoms will I see with chocolate poisoning in my dog? Your pet may seem excitable or irritable, be breathing fast and have a fast heart rate and may have muscle tremors or even seizures in severe cases.

What should I do if I think my dog has eaten chocolate? Call your vet. Try and work out what sort of chocolate it is and how much your pet may have eaten and how long ago they ate it as this will be useful information for the vet.

What can the vet do if my pet has eaten chocolate? The vet can make your pet sick (emesis) to remove any remaining chocolate from the stomach. This is only effective if it is done within around 2 hours of your pet eating the chocolate. They can also feed your pet activated charcoal which will absorb the toxin. Your pet may also need to be put on a drip and have symptomatic treatment of symptoms such as seizures.

Antifreeze:

Most antifreeze contains a chemical called ethylene glycol, which is very toxic if ingested. Sadly it seems to be palatable to pets and they will lap it up if within reach so store sealed and out of reach of pets. Cats are affected at a lower dose, around 1.5ml ethylene glycol per kilo of bodyweight, Dogs have to ingest around 5ml per kilo bodyweight to become ill. Most solutions for use in cars are more dilute so more needs to be ingested to cause illness but can still be very dangerous.

What symptoms will I see with antifreeze poisoning? The initial symptoms relate to the central nervous system and include being unsteady as if drunk, depression, vomiting and potentially a coma leading to death. If your pet is supported through these signs then kidney damage will occur a little later.

What should I do if I suspect my pet has ingested antifreeze? You must call your vet as soon as possible and tell them that your pet may have had access to antifreeze.

What can the vet do if my pet has ingested antifreeze? They will probably put your pet on a drip to maintain hydration and help support the kidneys and they may also run blood tests to assess damage to the kidneys. They may look at a urine sample for crystals in the urine formed from ethylene glycol. There may be compounds available that can slow the metabolism of ethylene glycol, such as ethanol which helps the body to eliminate the toxin in a slower and safer way but the prognosis with antifreeze poisoning is guarded.

Grapes/Raisins: These can both be potentially poisonous to your pet in large quantities. Grapes may be ingested fresh or as raisins and at this time of year, items such as Christmas cake may contain lots of raisins.

What symptoms will I see if my pet has grape toxicity? Your pet may start to vomit and have diarrhoea and if large amounts have been ingested then kidney failure may ensue within 48 hours of your pet ingesting the grapes or raisins so the sooner they can be seen by a vet the better.

What should I do if I think my pet has eaten grapes or raisins? You should call your vet as soon as you realise and try and have a rough idea of how many they may have eaten and when.

What can the vet do for my pet if it has eaten grapes or raisins? As with chocolate ingestion, the vet can make your pet sick to remove remaining grapes/raisins from the stomach if they have eaten the grapes or raisins within the last 2 hours. They can also give activated charcoal orally to try and absorb some of the potential toxin and may place your pet on a drip to help support the kidneys and prevent kidney failure.

Seasonal Plants:

The main plants to be concerned about at this time of year are Poinsettia, Holly and Mistletoe. With Holly and Mistletoe it is ingestion of a large number of the berries that is likely to cause illness.

What signs will I see if my pet has eaten any of these plants: Poinsettia is not deadly and the sap is only mildly irritant to the gut so you may see vomiting and diarrhoea after ingestion but this is likely to be mild and self limiting. If large amounts of berries from Mistletoe or Holly are consumed then you may see excessive salivating with vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes faster breathing and an increased heart rate are also seen.

What should I do if I think my pet has ingested some of these plants? You should call your vet and tell them which plants your pet has had access to if you know.

What can the vet do for my pet after ingestion of these plants? If the plants were eaten within 2 hours then the vet can make your pet sick to remove remaining plant material. They may also put your pet on a drip to avoid dehydration and can give medications to stop further sickness and help resolve the diarrhoea if needed.

Mushrooms:

Ingestion of wild mushrooms or toadstools can cause a variety of symptoms but not all types are poisonous. They are particularly prevalent in the autumn and in damp conditions.

What symptoms will I see if my pet has eaten a poisonous mushroom? You may see lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and excessive salivation. In severe cases you may also notice jaundice (a yellow colour to the gums, skin and whites of the eyes) and potentially seizures.

What should I do if I suspect my pet has ingested wild mushrooms? You should call your vet for advice as soon as possible.  If possible, collect a sample of the mushroom you think your pet has eaten to help with identification.

What can the vet do if my pet has eaten poisonous mushrooms? The vet may make your pet sick, as with many other toxins to try and remove remaining mushroom from the stomach. There is no specific test for mushroom poisoning but the vet may want to take a blood sample to check liver and kidney function. Your pet may also go on a drip and receive medication to support the liver and kidneys if the blood tests show any damage.

Conkers:

Conkers from the Horse Chestnut tree can be poisonous to pets but they are not very palatable so animals rarely eat large quantities of them. As well as being poisonous, they may also become stuck in the intestines, causing a blockage.

What symptoms will I see with conker poisoning? Animals will often vomit and may also have muscle spasms or tremors. Vomiting is also the main sign associated with a blockage of the gut and you may also notice a reduction in production of faeces.

What should I do if my pet has eaten conkers? Telephone the vet as soon as possible for advice and keep a very close eye on your pet for signs of illness.

What can the vet do for my pet if they have eaten conkers? The vet can make your pet sick to remove the conkers from the stomach. If they suspect a blockage they may want to take an x-ray and if a blockage is confirmed then surgery is needed to remove it.

Other winter worries with pets

Pancreatitis:

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and it can be triggered by ingestion of very fatty or rich food that is not suitable for dogs such as nuts, cheese or the Christmas dinner!

Pancreatitis causes vomiting, lethargy, diarrhoea, going off their food and a painful abdomen. If you see any of these signs then call your vet as soon as possible for advice and think back to see if your pet might have scavenged any food.

Your vet may put your pet on fluids to stop dehydration and start pain relief to make your pet more comfortable. There are also blood tests the vet may want to do to confirm pancreatitis. It can be a very severe condition so you should have your pet examined as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs.

Intestinal Foreign Bodies:

There are a whole host of things that can become lodged in your pet’s intestines such as toys and decorations. Cats particularly can have linear foreign bodies such as string or ribbons which cause the intestines to bunch up and can restrict the blood supply to the intestines.

Animals with foreign bodies will vomit and go off their food and will have a painful abdomen. You may also notice a reduction in the production of faeces. If you notice any of these signs then you should contact your vet as soon as possible as if a foreign body is confirmed then surgery is needed to remove it.

Batteries:

Many toys this time of year will contain batteries as well as normal household items such as the remote control. Batteries contain corrosive alkaline fluid that can cause burns to the gums, tongue, skin, oesophagus and stomach lining. Dogs are likely to be worse affected as they will chew the battery first enabling the corrosive fluid to leak out. If you think your pet has chewed or swallowed a battery then call your vet. There are medications that can be given to protect the lining of the stomach and intestines and if the battery becomes stuck then surgery may be needed to remove it.

Arthritis:

The cold, damp winter weather makes animals stiffer just as it does with people. Animals with arthritis may appear to worsen over the winter months. If your pet has not been previously diagnosed with arthritis but seems to be getting very stiff then have them examines by a vet to see if there are any medications or supplements that they could recommend. If your pet is already on medication for arthritis and appears to be struggling then you should consult your vet to see if doses can be increased or if there are any additional medications or supplements that can be given. Regular gentle exercise is important to keep animals supple but be careful in slippery, icy conditions.


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