Christmas has come and gone and we are already about to run into Easter so what do we need to be aware of when it comes to this festive season and our pooches? Some of you might have a mature dog and already know the dangers but for those of you new to my blogs and who have just recently acquired a puppy, you might find some tips very useful.
This blog will not just be about the Easter hazards but also other food items that can be quite harmful to your dog so read on and as always suggested, please share it around.
Okay so here are a list of food items that are toxic or dangerous to dogs and I am going to start with one common offender, chocolate as the Easter Bunny no doubt will be visiting some houses.
As much as we all love chocolate, our furry friends would love it too but their stomachs and liver just don’t. They cannot process the theobromine which is found in the cacao bean so anything made of chocolate from bars to cakes, biscuits and muffins can and will have a nasty effect. The serious offenders are dark chocolate and milk chocolate whilst white chocolate does nothing as there is no cacao in it. However white chocolate is very high in fat and sugar so I would also not recommend it.
Signs of chocolate toxicity: vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive drooling, increased thirst, fast heart rate, tremors, high blood pressure, hyperactivity, agitation, muscle twitches and even seizures. In very large does, death can also occur.
If you suspect your dog has eaten some chocolate, it will need to be taken to the vet or emergency clinic as the quicker it can be purged out of the system, the less impact and effect will have. Vets may administer a drug that will cause your dog to vomit or they may sedate your dog and do a gastric flush which is like a ‘rinse’ of the stomach and intestines to dilute and push out the remaining food.
Some dogs need to be admitted into intensive care until their heart stabilises and tremors stop but if you catch it early enough, you might stop the process from getting so bad.
Substitute for chocolate: If you feel you must give your dog a piece of ‘chocolate’ each day when you have yours, then the safe alternative is carob as there is no theobromine in it. The common dog choc are made of carob.
Onions and Garlic
These two are another common source of poison for dogs and just like chocolate, they cannot break it down. In both onions and garlic, it is thiosulphate that causes the damage and it can be fatal as it causes the red blood cells to explode so the dog becomes extremely anaemic. The most common offenders here are the classic oily BBQ onions straight off the hot plate, as well as onions in stir fry and owners often dish them out without realising the effects. Sometimes dogs will also help themselves to the BBQ so aside from a burnt tongue, they get poisoned too. With garlic a common misconception is that if you give it to your dog, it reduces fleas. This is a myth so please avoid adding it to their diet or adding garlic powder to their food.
Signs of onion or garlic toxicity: vomiting, diarrhoea, breathlessness, lethargy, increased breathing and heart rate, weakness, inability to exercise, pale gums and collapse and death and it can take a few days for the effects to be noticed.
Treatment: if you suspect your dog has eaten onions or garlic, it needs to go straight to its vet or emergency clinic. Your dog will need to be monitored very carefully in intensive care and often, blood transfusions are required.
Grapes, Raisin and Sultanas
Sadly I have first hand experience with this one, losing a 6 month old Staffordshire about 13 years ago, after he ate dried grape skins which my husband had left in the garden, after making wine. At that time, grape poisoning had not even really been discovered and the irony was that it was published in a vet journal about one month after he had died, about how toxic they found them to be.
The exact cause of the grape toxicity is still unknown but scientist do suspect it has something to do with the skin of the grape and it is believed the red grape is more toxic than the green grape. There is no necessary weight ratio with grapes as there is with other foods and this means that for some dogs one grape can make them very ill and for others, a bunch is required. I do know of a client who also lost her medium sized dog that was given a small box of sultanas by a child so you can how harmful the effects are even in the bigger dogs.
The most common offenders are grapes from the supermarket, grapes grown in the backyard, grapes eaten during a dog trip to a vineyard, boxes of sultanas, cakes and food items with sultanas or raisins in them and raisin bread.
Signs of grape, sultana and raisin toxicity: vomiting and diarrhoea within hours of eating the food, severe increase in thirst, constant urge to go to the toilet with little urine coming out, agitation, then very quiet and lethargic, abdominal pain, dehydration, weakness, loss of appetite and gradually no urinating and kidney failure. Death soon follows this stage. Grape toxicity is quick and the kidneys shut down very fast. I lost my boy within 3 days of eating the skins and there was nothing we could do to reverse the damage.
Treatment: if you suspect grape, sultana or raisin toxicity, take your dog immediately to the emergency clinic. They may try to make it vomit if you suspect it just ate the grapes. If there is no known time frame, then it will have numerous tests including kidney ultrasounds and blood tests followed by intensive care, IV fluid therapy, possibly dialysis and sometimes they need to be surgically opened up and have the stomach and intestines flushed with fluids to dilute the toxins. It is severe and prognosis is always guarded, especially if you dog has not started to urinate within 48 hours where in this case, euthanasia is recommended.
Now this one does not get a lot of publicity because it does not happen all too often, maybe because the nutty balls are too expensive to share with our dogs however we still need to take them seriously. While macadamia nuts are generally non life-threatening, they can still be quite dangerous. Macadamia nuts are the only nut known to cause toxicity in dogs (pecans, brazil nuts, peanuts, cashews are fine) and at present, dogs seem to be the only animal species known to be affected by it.
Signs of macadamia nut toxicity: within 12 hours of ingesting the early signs are vomiting, weakness, lack of co-ordination, wobbling or staggering while walking, followed by fever, muscle tremors, depression and partial temporary paralysis of the back legs.
Treatment: if you suspect your dog has macadamia toxicity, it will need to go to your local vet. Treatment is quite conservative with IV fluid therapy, pain relief and fever management, supportive protocols and good nursing. There is no antidote so it is a matter of letting it pass through the system whilst being in the hands of the vets and nurses to ensure everything else is kept under control.
Now this product has been widely used as the best stuffing for Kong toys but just recently, a new discovery was made about how bad it potentially was and yes we all know peanut butter is fattening and not really that great for us either, but for dogs it can actually be quite toxic and deadly.
The main offender here is some brands of commercial peanut butter with the sweetener Xylitol in it. This is a common filler in foods and is often found in peanut butter as well as some yoghurts. Organic peanut butter is usually free of this product but to be safe, please read the packaging and if you see Xylitol on there, pop it back on the shelf!
Signs of peanut butter toxicity: within 30 minutes of eating Xylitol you see vomiting, muscle weakness, tremors and staggering, seizures, liver failure and then death.
Treatment: if you suspect Xylitol toxicity, please take your dog immediately to the emergency vet clinic. Treatment would be the same as for any other serious poison, with blood work being done, IV fluids being administered, ultrasound of the liver done and intensive care.
Avocado is another food item that gets tossed into conversations when we discuss poisonous substances for animals and after a bit of research, you will be pleased to know that this one does NOT cause toxicity in either dogs or cats. It is only toxic to birds and cows!
So I will not go into this one at all so I don’t cause confusion but you can share with others that you now know that dogs can actually eat it! Just remember though that the stone itself is an awkward shape and can get caught inside and block the intestines, to toss that bit out.
Whilst corn cobs are not toxic as such, their main offence is getting stuck in the small intestine and not being able to move out of there. I recently had a scare when one of my clients told me he fed one to his pup without realising it was dangerous. I went home and checked my phone waiting for the owners to tell me they found it in his next poop but thankfully he had not eaten it and it was found in the garden. For a lot of dogs though, the scenario is often not so great. The main offenders are the yummy, buttery discarded cobs from KFC or BBQ’s as well as the compost heap and regular garbage. As we slather them in butter before we eat them, dogs find this extremely appealing and this is why they love to grab them.
Signs of corn cob blockage: if you suspect your dog has eaten a corn cob, the early signs may be sore belly, vomiting because nothing can go through, partial diarrhoea because nothing can go out, lack of appetite, no poops, totally blocked, not eating, lethargic, drinking more as fever starts, dehydration and then septicaemia, peritonitis and death.
Treatment: if you suspect your dog has eaten a corn cob, you need to go over the yard with a fine toothed comb, and rubber gloves and sift through all the poop to see if it possibly has passed. You would need to check poop for 48 hours after ingestion. Your dog will also need to be seen by the vet where they may do an ultrasound or x-ray (the x-ray will not show the cob but it may show a build up of gasses meaning things are not moving), it may be given medication to try to push it along. Blood tests are often done to check if there is infection present as this will indicate whether bowel has possibly already started to die. If this is the case, emergency surgery is required as not only does the septic cob need to be removed, but the parts of bowel that have died will also need to be removed and then the healthy bowel is reconnected. This surgery comes with its risks and peritonitis is often a major factor. Once repaired, recovery is slow and a special diet is put in place to give the bowel time to heal.
Stone Fruit Kernels (apricots, nectarines, peaches plums and cherries)
If you have these growing in the garden, there is no need to get your pruning saws out and chop them all down but here are some things you need to be aware of. I have all of the trees mentioned above and my Jack Russell Stanley eats the fruit regularly with no effects but I am careful about ‘how’ he eats them.
The main offender when relating to these fruit trees is the stone inside and they can cause two problems.
One is having the potential to cause a blockage, especially the uneven peach and nectarine stones and just like corn cobs, they get caught in the small intestine and struggle to pass out. Cherry pips, if eaten in large volumes, can also cause severe constipation.
The second potential issue with the stones is cyanide poisoning as they naturally contain high doses of it. This is only an issue for those dog that eat the stone and not just the fruit and this is why earlier I said ‘how’ your dog eats the fruit is more important.
The third problem is that eating fruit in excess can cause a laxative effect and we all know what happens when we eat way too many apricots! So you will need to keep an eye out on your dog’s poop to ensure it is not overindulging and getting a sore tummy or diarrhoea from it.
If you have these fruit trees, try to clean up the falling fruit as quick as you can, pick the ripe ones and discard the rotten ones. If your dog has a palate for the fruit, as my dog Stanley does as I spot him often nosing his way around my trees, selecting the ripest and most perfect one, then try to teach them to eat ‘around’ the stone and leave the stones on the ground. While there is no guarantee it will always work, if they get in the habit of just eating the flesh, then hopefully it should stick.
Signs of stone fruit pip toxicity: the signs would be similar to the corn cob blockage so again, if you suspect it, head to your vet.
Treatment: treatment is the same as corn cob blockages including all the way to surgery.
First Aid Courses for Dogs
If any of you are interested, many local vet clinics and emergency clinics often run first aid courses for dog owners. Not only do they go through some strategies on working on immediate emergencies and recognizing them, but they also show you how to do splints, bandages and more. Speak to your local vet clinic and emergency clinic to find out when their next pet first aid course is.
You might be wondering why I have put ‘gut instinct’ on here as that is not a symptom of illness or cause of one and it has nothing to do with intestines but it is something that we all have inside us and that sometimes just has to be acted on. When you get that niggling feeling inside your body that tells you something is not right, you are usually right. Call it an instinct, intuition or just exceptional observational skills but this gut instinct is often never wrong.
Why do I mention this? Because sometimes it can save your dog! Just recently, another client of mine sent me an email warning me about white tailed spiders and how dangerous they are to dogs. While they are only a problem to dogs that are sensitive to their bite, what saved her dog was her instinct to stay home and watch her young girl instead of go to work. Within an hour of her being home, Willow became violently ill and was then rushed to the emergency clinic where she immediately received treatment.
So I guess what I am trying to say is no matter what signs you see or don’t see, no matter what your dog has eaten or not eaten, if you get that feeling that something is not right, don’t wait until the next day to see if things improve. At least call you vet clinic for advice and if you still don’t feel it is right, then head in with your dog. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the wait.
With that, I wish everyone a happy Easter. Think of me while I hike the Great Ocean Walk trail to raise money for mindDog and I look forward to sharing another blog with you all next month.