Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Some bugs carry dangerous diseases or have venomous stings. But what about insects that our pets catch and swallow? Most are harmless, but a few are unsafe for pets. As warm weather arrives, keep an eye out for insects that can cause trouble if they’re eaten.
Pesticides and insecticides can also be toxic to pets. Keep these products out of your pets’ reach and use them only according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Dogs and cats are most likely to get a toxic dose if they’re sprayed with the product or eat a significant amount. A pet that eats a single pesticide-covered insect would ingest a little bit of the product, but the amount would probably be too small to cause a problem (call your veterinarian if you’re unsure or if your pet shows any symptoms).
Caterpillar hairs can be irritating to the touch, and some types of hairs release a toxin. Fur typically protects dogs’ and cats’ skin from the stings of caterpillar hairs. If a pet eats a caterpillar, though, the hairs can irritate the mouth and throat. Symptoms include drooling, pawing at the mouth, shaking the head, vomiting, and trouble swallowing. Processionary caterpillars (found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia) produce a toxin that causes an especially severe reaction.[1,2]
Fireflies are highly toxic to lizards, amphibians, and birds. Ingestion of a single firefly can kill a bearded dragon. Fireflies contain lucibufagins, which are chemicals that cause heart damage in susceptible species.
Asian Lady Beetles
Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) look a lot like ladybugs, but unlike ladybugs they gather in large numbers and come inside houses in cold weather. As a defense mechanism, they secrete an irritating chemical compound. One published report describes a dog with oral trauma similar to chemical burns caused by 16 Asian lady beetles stuck to the roof of the mouth.
Blister beetles (family Meloidae) produce a toxin called cantharidin, an irritant that causes blistering on contact with the skin, mouth, or digestive tract. Cantharidin poisoning is most common in horses that eat alfalfa hay contaminated with blister beetles. Exposure can be fatal to horses. Other species, including dogs, cats, rabbits, and people, are also susceptible to cantharidin poisoning.
The insects known as walking sticks (order Phasmatodea) use camouflage as their main defense mechanism, but some of them also secrete a chemical that can burn the eyes or mouth. Anisomorpha buprestoides, a stick insect found in the southern United States, can aim this secretion directly at the face of a predator. Severe eye damage has been reported in humans and a dog.
Brachinus beetles are called bombardier beetles because they secrete a toxic chemical that they aim at predators in what is usually described as “explosive discharge.” This chemical irritant is released at a boiling temperature. Although I did not find any research reports of bombardier beetle poisoning in dogs or cats, I can’t imagine that eating one would be a comfortable experience.
1. Bad bugs, bad bugs: what you should do to keep your pets safe. ASPCA. August 1, 2018. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.aspca.org/news/bad-bugs-bad-bugs-what-you-should-do-keep-your-pets-safe
2. Fuzzy green poisoners: caterpillar toxicosis in pets. ASPCA Pro. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/fuzzy-green-poisoners-caterpillar-toxicosis-pets
3. Treating firefly toxicosis in lizards. ASPCA Pro. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/treating-firefly-toxicosis-lizards
4. Stocks IC, Lindsey DE. Acute corrosion of the oral mucosa in a dog due to ingestion of multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis: Coccinellidae). Toxicon. 2008;52(2):389-391. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2008.05.010
5. Schmitz DG. Overview of cantharidin poisoning. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated June 2013. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/cantharidin-poisoning/overview-of-cantharidin-poisoning
6. Thomas MC. Featured creatures: twostriped walkingstick. University of Florida Entomology & Nematology. Publication No. EENY-314. November 2003. Accessed March 5, 2021. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/walkingstick.htm
7. Schaller JC, Davidowitz G, Papaj DR, Smith RL, Carrière Y, Moore W. Molecular phylogeny, ecology and multispecies aggregation behaviour of bombardier beetles in Arizona. PLoS One. 2018;13(10):e0205192. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0205192
Photo by Kazuky Akayashi
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
On January 11, 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert about certain Sportmix pet foods recalled because of high levels of aflatoxin. At the time of the alert, 70 dogs had died and more than 80 were sick (not all of them officially confirmed as having aflatoxin poisoning).
Other pet foods have been recalled in the past because of aflatoxin. For a list of foods included in the current recall, see the FDA alert: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alert-certain-lots-sportmix-pet-food-recalled-potentially-fatal-levels-aflatoxin
Aflatoxins are produced by molds (Aspergillus species) that grow on grains like corn. Animals are exposed by eating contaminated animal diets or moldy corn, peanuts, or other foods. Food doesn’t have to look moldy to be contaminated with aflatoxins.
Because commercial dog food is typically the main component of a dog’s diet and dogs usually eat from a single bag of food until it’s finished, even low levels of aflatoxin in the food can accumulate in the body and cause symptoms.
The liver is the main organ affected. Liver damage causes nonspecific digestive tract symptoms. Severe liver damage reduces the ability of the blood to clot and can lead to central nervous system problems. Death occurs quickly in some animals with aflatoxin poisoning. Symptoms include the following:
The symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning aren’t specific and could have a number of causes. Diagnosis begins with history, physical examination, and blood and urine tests. If test results show liver damage and a toxin is suspected, the next step is obtaining a complete history of everything the animal has been exposed to, including all foods and treats. Food samples and possibly tissue samples from the body can be sent to a laboratory to test for aflatoxin.
Treatment consists of supportive care and management of problems (like blood clotting disorders) caused by liver failure. Specific treatment depends on the individual patient’s needs.
What You Should Do
The FDA recommends that pet owners take these steps:
See this FDA page for information about reporting possible problems with pet food: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/report-problem/how-report-pet-food-complaint
Watch for pet food recall alerts in the news and on social media. The FDA posts recalls on the FDA Recalls Twitter account: https://twitter.com/FDArecalls
1. FDA alert: certain lots of Sportmix pet food recalled for potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin. US Food and Drug Administration. Updated January 11, 2021. Accessed January 22, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alert-certain-lots-sportmix-pet-food-recalled-potentially-fatal-levels-aflatoxin
2. Martínez-Martínez L, Valdivia-Flores AG, Guerrero-Barrera AL, Quezada-Tristán T, Rangel-Muñoz EJ, Ortiz-Martínez R. Toxic effect of aflatoxins in dogs fed contaminated commercial dry feed: a review. Toxins (Basel). 2021;13(1):E65. doi:10.3390/toxins13010065
3. Aflatoxin poisoning in pets. US Food and Drug Administration. Updated January 8, 2021. Accessed January 22, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/aflatoxin-poisoning-pets
Photo by Jornada Produtora
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Many over-the-counter (nonprescription) cold and flu medications contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs and cats. Keep all medications out of reach of your pets, and check with your veterinarian before giving a pet any medication—even remedies that are safe for children.
Cold medications are often sold as combination or multisymptom products containing more than 1 active ingredient. If your veterinarian recommends giving your pet a nonprescription medication, read the product label carefully to be sure it contains only the medication your veterinarian has approved.
Ingestion of some cold and flu products (especially oral decongestants, nasal sprays, eye drops, and pain relievers) is a medical emergency in animals. If your pet is exposed, contact a veterinary clinic or pet poison hotline:
Decongestants are often added to allergy medications and combination cold and cough remedies. If your veterinarian has recommended a nonprescription antihistamine for your pet, be sure that the product you use does not contain a decongestant. Look for label wording like congestion, stuffy nose, runny nose, multisymptom, or sinus pressure; these probably mean that the product includes a decongestant. Names of products containing decongestants might end in D (for example, Claritin-D and Mucinex D) or PE (as in Sudafed PE).
Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are the most common oral (by-mouth) decongestants. Both are dangerous for animals. In the United States, pseudoephedrine is sold without a prescription but with restrictions: it’s sold only in limited quantities, is usually kept behind the pharmacy counter or in a locked cabinet, and requires that the buyer show identification. If you’re not sure of the ingredients of your cold medication, knowing whether you took it from an open shelf or had to ask the pharmacist for it will help you figure out whether it is likely to contain pseudoephedrine.
Pseudoephedrine stimulates the cardiovascular system and certain nervous system pathways. It reduces nasal congestion by shrinking tiny blood vessels in the nose. It has a very narrow margin of safety in animals, meaning that a small dose can have serious consequences for a dog or cat. Symptoms of pseudoephedrine toxicity include the following:
The time of symptom onset depends on the formulation. With immediate-release products, symptoms can begin within minutes of ingestion. With extended-release products, symptoms might not appear for several hours.
Phenylephrine is an ingredient in oral cold remedies, hemorrhoid creams, nasal sprays, and some eye drops. Animals are exposed by swallowing the product. The most common symptom is vomiting; other symptoms are similar to those of pseudoephedrine toxicity. Phenylephrine is not as toxic as pseudoephedrine at low doses.
Nasal Sprays and Eye Drops
Oxymetazoline, tetrahydrozoline, naphazoline, and xylometazoline are imidazolines, a class of decongestant used in nasal sprays and eye drops (examples are Afrin and Visine). Animals—usually dogs—who chew the bottle and ingest the liquid can develop vomiting, lethargy, incoordination, slow heart rate, tremors, and coma. Imidazoline ingestion can be fatal.
Some nasal sprays contain xylitol, a sweetener that is safe for humans but toxic to pets. Plain saline nasal rinses with no ingredients other than water and salt should be safe if accidentally ingested, but don’t squirt them up your pet’s nose.
Combination cold and flu products commonly contain pain relievers, most of which are unsafe for dogs and cats. Acetaminophen is extremely toxic to cats even at low doses. It causes liver failure, damage to hemoglobin in red blood cells, and death. It can also cause liver damage in dogs. Ibuprofen and naproxen are in a class of pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In dogs and cats, these medications can cause stomach ulcers, digestive tract bleeding, kidney damage, and liver damage.
Cough Suppressants and Cough Drops
Dextromethorphan is an antitussive, or cough suppressant, included in many cough remedies and combination cold and flu products. Animals who ingest dextromethorphan can develop vomiting, lethargy, rapid heart rate, and seizures.
Potentially toxic ingredients in cough drops include xylitol, which causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar in dogs, and benzocaine, which can cause upset stomach and possibly damage to red blood cells.
In high enough doses, zinc can damage red blood cells. Essential oils like menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil can cause skin reactions if applied topically. If swallowed or absorbed through the skin, these oils can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting to nervous system problems.
1. Pseudoephedrine toxicity in pets. ASPCApro. Accessed January 9, 2021. https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/pseudoephedrine-toxicity-pets
2. Wegenast C. Toxicology brief: phenylephrine ingestion in dogs: what's the harm? DVM360. November 1, 2012. Accessed January 9, 2021. https://www.dvm360.com/view/toxicology-brief-phenylephrine-ingestion-dogs-whats-harm
3. Imidazoline. Pet Poison Helpline. Accessed January 9, 2021. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/imidazoline/
4. Dextromethorphan ingestion in pets. ASPCApro. Accessed January 9, 2021. https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/dextromethorphan-ingestion-pets
Photo by Shlomi Platzman
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Happy holidays! Keep your cat safe from these common household dangers when you’re preparing for the season.
Ribbons, tinsel, yarn, twine, fishing line, thread, garland, and other long strings are hazardous if swallowed. A string in the digestive tract can cause a linear foreign body obstruction. Cats with digestive tract obstruction need surgery to prevent serious damage to the intestines. Keep this danger in mind when choosing holiday decorations. Wide ribbons might be less of a swallowing hazard than narrow ribbons.
Tinsel is especially attractive to cats because it’s sparkly, so a long string of tinsel is an intestinal obstruction waiting to happen. Watch out for glass ornaments that can cut paws if they mysteriously land on the floor and break. Expect that your cats will treat all glittery and shiny items as cat toys and decorate accordingly. Wood and fabric ornaments are safer than glass ornaments in a household with cats.
With Christmas trees, the goal is to prevent damage to your cat and damage to property. Christmas tree dangers to cats include tree water (might contain preservatives or pesticides), swallowed pine needles, broken or swallowed ornaments, electrical wires, and being hit by a falling tree.
If your cat ignores the tree, you might not need to do anything more than keep breakable ornaments on high branches, cat-safe (or no) ornaments on low branches, and a close eye on your cat when he’s in the room with the tree. But if your cat is young, curious, adventurous, or new to your home, assume he’ll want to climb the Christmas tree.
The safest approach is to either not have a tree or to close the door and keep the cat out of the room. If your cat has access to the tree, use a sturdy base and secure the tree to the ceiling or walls so it can’t tip over. Don’t use any breakable ornaments if your cat is a climber. To prevent electrocution, keep the tree lights unplugged when you’re not watching your cat.
Try giving your cat a more attractive alternative, like a high perch and new toys or a cat Christmas tree (maybe made from a cardboard box). You could try bitter orange spray or an unappealing floor covering around the tree (aluminum foil, adhesive paper with the sticky side up, or a nonslip rug gripper with the pointy side up), but don’t count on deterrents like these to keep your cat out of the tree.
Lilies are among the most dangerous plants for cats; don’t bring them in your house at all if you have a cat. Holly, mistletoe, and amaryllis are toxic to cats to some degree. Poinsettias are mildly toxic to cats.
Flames and Electrical Wires
Cats like to push things off tables and are curious about new items in their living space. Don’t leave a cat alone with lit candles, which are a fire hazard if knocked over. Cats will also chew on electrical cords, so cover the cords and keep lights and other electrical decor unplugged when not in use.
Onions, leeks, chives, and garlic are toxic to cats. Chocolate, alcohol, raw bread dough, fatty food, raw eggs, raw meat, and bones are also dangerous for cats. See the blog post on human foods that are toxic to pets for more information. If you’d like to share some of your holiday meal with your cat, see the post on Thanksgiving foods that are safe for dogs and cats.
Photo by Jessica Lewis
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is safe for humans but toxic to dogs. It is an ingredient in sugar-free gum and a variety of foods, especially products for people who have diabetes or need food with a low glycemic index. Xylitol is added to some oral care products because it slows the growth of bacteria that cause dental cavities.
Products that contain xylitol might or might not be labeled as being sugar free or low in sugar. Xylitol is found in products like these:
Effects in Dogs
Xylitol is safe for most animals, but dogs don’t metabolize xylitol the same way as other species. Compared with humans, dogs absorb more of the xylitol they ingest and process it more quickly. Xylitol causes dogs’ insulin levels to surge, resulting in rapid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level).[1,2] Ingestion of larger amounts of xylitol can damage the liver and interfere with blood clotting.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs can appear as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion but might be delayed for several hours. These are some of the common symptoms:
Other sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners (sorbitol, aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin) should be safe for dogs. Xylitol does not seem to be toxic to cats.
What to Do
If your dog eats sugarless gum or another product that might contain xylitol, call a veterinary clinic or an animal poison control hotline right away. Keep the packaging if possible so the amount of xylitol your dog ingested can be estimated. Do not try to make your dog vomit. Induced (forced) vomiting can be dangerous for a dog whose blood glucose level is already dropping.
Treatment usually involves hospitalization, intravenous medications to correct hypoglycemia, and continued monitoring of laboratory values. Dogs with liver involvement and more serious symptoms need more intensive treatment.
Dogs that ingest small amounts of xylitol and are treated promptly tend to recover well. The prognosis is poorer for dogs that develop liver damage and blood clotting problems.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe
Keep candy, baked goods, and other products that might contain xylitol away from your dog (watch out for counter surfers!). If you keep gum or mints in your purse, don’t leave your purse where your dog can reach it. Don’t brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste meant for humans. Read product labels to check for artificial sweeteners; sorbitol should be OK but xylitol is not.
1. DuHadway MR, Sharp CR, Meyers KE, Koenigshof AM. Retrospective evaluation of xylitol ingestion in dogs: 192 cases (2007-2012). J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2015;25(5):646-654. doi:10.1111/vec.12350
2. Dunayer EK. New findings on the effects of xylitol ingestion in dogs. Vet Med. 2006;101(12):791-797.
3. Dunayer EK, Gwaltney-Brant SM. Acute hepatic failure and coagulopathy associated with xylitol ingestion in eight dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;229(7):1113-1117. doi:10.2460/javma.229.7.1113
4. Jerzsele Á, Karancsi Z, Pászti-Gere E, et al. Effects of p.o. administered xylitol in cats. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2018;41(3):409-414. doi:10.1111/jvp.12479
Photo by regipen
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Most wild mushrooms aren’t dangerous, but some are fatal if eaten. Keep your pets safe by removing wild mushrooms from their environment.
Because it’s not easy to know if a wild mushroom is poisonous, treat any wild mushroom ingestion as a medical emergency. If your dog or cat eats wild mushrooms, call an emergency animal clinic, your veterinary clinic, or a pet poison hotline right away. Don’t wait until your pet gets sick before you call. Some of the most toxic mushrooms don’t cause symptoms until hours after they’re swallowed.
Pet poison hotlines (fees might apply):
ASPCA Animal Poison Control: 888-426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661
Photos of toxic mushrooms in North Carolina:
NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: mushrooms
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning depend on the type of mushroom and the amount eaten. Toxic mushrooms can be categorized by the type of problem they cause: liver and kidney failure, central nervous system effects, muscarinic reactions, hallucinations, or gastrointestinal irritation.
Liver and Kidney Failure
The mushrooms responsible for the most deaths are in the Amanita, Galerina, and Lepiota genera. Examples are Amanita phalloides (death cap), Amanita bisporigera (destroying angel), and Galerina autumnalis (autumn skullcap).
The toxic compounds in these mushrooms are amatoxins, phallotoxins, or virotoxins. These toxins damage cells of the liver, kidneys, and intestines. The symptoms progress through stages:
Central Nervous System Effects
Mushrooms containing the compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol affect the central nervous system. The mushrooms most often involved in this type of poisoning are Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) and Amanita pantherina. Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion (possibly earlier in cats) and include the following:
Muscarine is a substance that affects a specific metabolic pathway in cells of the body. Ingestion of muscarine-containing mushrooms—usually Clitocybe and Inocybe species—causes clinical signs related to part of the nervous system that regulates routine (not conscious) body functions. Symptoms appear a few minutes to a couple of hours after ingestion:
Hallucinogenic mushrooms include those in the genera Psilocybe, Conocybe, Panaeolus, Copelandia, Pluteus, and Gymnopilus. The toxic components are psilocybin and psilocin, which are similar to the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Symptoms usually begin within an hour or two after ingestion:
Many mushrooms cause gastrointestinal (digestive tract) problems. The exact toxin in most of these mushrooms is not known. Some of the mushroom genera that cause this type of problem are Chlorophyllum (which often forms fairy rings on lawns), Omphalotus, and Scleroderma. Symptoms usually begin soon after ingestion and improve on their own within a few hours. Most symptoms are mild:
Diagnosing mushroom poisoning is difficult unless the animal is seen eating the mushroom or vomits up pieces of mushroom. Known access to wild mushrooms, compatible symptoms, and physical examination findings can put mushroom poisoning on the list of possibilities. Blood and urine tests are used to assess organ function in dogs with symptoms.
Treatment depends on the symptoms and type of mushroom (if known). Animals exposed to the most toxic mushrooms need early and aggressive treatment to survive. Unfortunately, early treatment isn’t possible if the ingestion was not witnessed and symptoms don’t begin until several hours later.
No antidote is available for mushroom poisoning. The best way to manage the risk is to prevent pets from eating wild mushrooms.
1. Hovda LR. Unfriendly fungi: five groups of mushrooms toxic to pets. DVM 360. Published October 20, 2015. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/unfriendly-fungi-five-types-mushrooms-toxic-pets
2. Brownie CF. Poisonous mushrooms. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated August 2014. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/poisonous-mushrooms
3. Cope RB. Toxicology brief: mushroom poisoning in dogs. DVM 360. Published February 1, 2007. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/toxicology-brief-mushroom-poisoning-dogs
Photo of Galerina species by Bernard Spragg
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Make plans now to keep your pets safe over the July 4 weekend. Large fireworks shows might be canceled this year, but fireworks stores across the state line are open and home fireworks pose risks for pets.
Fireworks in neighborhoods are traumatic for many animals. The loud bangs are random and sporadic, so they’re hard to predict. For pets at home, neighborhood fireworks are louder than big fireworks shows because they’re closer. And fireworks set off by individuals tend to continue for several hours, often over a few days, instead of being limited to the duration of a fireworks show.
Animals startled by loud noises can bolt unexpectedly. Take these steps to keep your pets from getting lost and increase the chance of finding them if they run off:
Noise phobia, or irrational fear of certain noises, is common in dogs and is often triggered by fireworks. Noise phobia goes further than just disliking loud sounds. Animals with noise phobia have reactions that range from hiding under the bed to destroying parts of the house. Some symptoms, like seeking attention, are subtle. This anxiety condition often gets worse with time and can seriously affect an animal’s safety and welfare.
If you think your pet might have noise phobia, call your veterinarian. Your pet might need a combination of short-term treatment (like antianxiety medication) that you can use right away and long-term behavior modification measures. The sooner you address noise phobia, the better it will be for your pet.
Various therapies have been used to help dogs with noise phobia. Some work better than others. A survey published in May 2020 asked dog owners how they managed their dogs’ fireworks fears and how well various techniques worked. The most effective measures, indicated by at least 69% of owners, were counterconditioning (giving the dog something desirable when the noise occurred), prescription antianxiety medication, and relaxation training. Pressure vests and desensitization using fireworks recordings were less effective. Pheromones, nutraceuticals, and herbal remedies worked for the fewest dogs.
Fireworks contain hazardous substances like fuel, oxidizers (for combustion), and heavy metals. If swallowed, these chemicals can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, liver disease, or kidney disease. Lit fireworks and smoke are obviously a risk to animals’ eyes and skin. Keep your pets completely away from new and used fireworks:
1. Riemer S. Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs. J Vet Behav. 2020;37:61-70.
2. Fireworks. Pet Poison Helpline. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/fireworks/
Photo by Andy Thrasher
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It’s tempting to share some of the Thanksgiving feast with our pets. Not all human food is safe for dogs and cats, though. The best way to avoid a holiday trip to the emergency clinic is to give pets their usual food and keep table food out of their reach. If you (or your guests) do want to give your pets a little bit of holiday food, though, here are some suggestions that are fine for most dogs and cats.
Keep in mind a few rules of thumb. Don’t give them anything that’s dangerous to dogs and cats: fatty food, bones, raw meat, raw eggs, raisins, grapes, currants, onions, garlic, leeks, raw yeast dough, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and the sugar substitute xylitol. For more, see the posts on Thanksgiving safety for pets and human foods that are toxic to pets.
Unseasoned single-ingredient foods are safer than multiple-ingredient dishes because they’re less likely to contain hidden dangers like onion. Moderation is key; too much of any food can upset a pet’s stomach. And remember that these suggestions don’t apply to pets with food allergies or digestive problems.
A bite of cooked skinless, boneless turkey meat is safe for most dogs and cats. Keep portion size in mind; a 10-lb dog or cat does not need the same amount of turkey that a person would eat. Take these precautions:
Defatted turkey or chicken broth
Pan drippings and gravy are too high in fat for dogs and cats. But a spoonful or two of defatted broth is usually fine for dogs. Don’t give broth to your cat unless you can be absolutely sure it wasn’t made with onions, leeks, shallots, or garlic; try tuna juice instead.
Vegetables and fruits
Dogs like vegetables more than you might think. Avoid grapes, raisins, currants, veggies cooked with fat or butter, and vegetable casseroles (that green bean casserole with the crispy onions on top? no). Stick with plain veggies and fruits, either raw or cooked without seasoning. My own dogs highly recommend all of these:
A small piece of bread, cornbread, or biscuit is generally safe for dogs and cats. Keep unbaked dough out of their reach; raw yeast dough can cause ethanol poisoning. Watch for added fats and seasonings (no onion focaccia or garlic bread). A bite of plain bread is safer than dressing or stuffing, which is likely to contain fat, onion, and possibly raisins or currants. Also avoid store-bought baked goods that might contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.
For pets eating prescription or limited-ingredient diets
The best approach for pets with medical needs or food allergies is to close them in a room away from the kitchen and dining area. Guests might not realize that these pets have dietary restrictions. If your pet is eating a special diet and you’d like to give treats, ask your veterinarian for safe options. Some prescription diet manufacturers have developed treats that are compatible with their diets.
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Chocolate is one of the top 10 animal toxins reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center each year. As you shop for Halloween candy and get ready for the holiday season, remember to keep the candy bowl and baking supplies out of reach of your dogs. (Chocolate is dangerous for cats too, but they’re less likely than dogs to eat it.)
What’s Toxic About Chocolate?
The main toxic components of chocolate are methylxanthine compounds, specifically theobromine and caffeine. Cocoa beans and their hulls have relatively high methylxanthine levels. Cocoa butter (the fat from the cocoa bean) contains very little methylxanthine.
Humans process methylxanthines in the body at a different rate than dogs do, so foods containing chocolate and caffeine that are safe for people can be very risky for dogs.
As far as toxicity goes, not all chocolate is created equal: some types of chocolate are more dangerous to dogs than others. Products with high concentrations of cocoa liquor, which is made from cocoa beans, are the most toxic for dogs.
In general, the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is for dogs. Dry cocoa powder is more toxic than dark sweet chocolate, and dark sweet chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate. Mulch made from cocoa bean hulls contains theobromine and is unsafe for dogs. White chocolate has very low methylxanthine levels and doesn’t cause chocolate poisoning.
Chocolate-containing foods can be dangerous for dogs for other reasons too. Dogs that eat food with a high fat content—this includes white chocolate—can develop pancreatitis, a disorder of the pancreas. Baked goods and candies may contain raisins, macadamia nuts, xylitol (a type of sweetener), or other ingredients that are hazardous to dogs.
How Much Chocolate Is Dangerous?
The severity of chocolate poisoning depends on 3 factors:
These 3 factors determine the dose of methylxanthine that a dog has received. The higher the dose, the more severe the consequences.
Figuring out the amount of methylxanthine in a chocolate product isn’t always simple because cocoa content varies. You can get a general idea of your pet’s risk by using a chocolate toxicity calculator like the one at veterinaryclinic.com. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a mobile app that includes a easy-to-use chocolate calculator and information on other potential hazards.
Signs of Chocolate Poisoning
The signs of chocolate poisoning depend on the dose of methylxanthine. Dogs that eat chocolate can also develop pancreatitis (from the fat content) or have toxic effects from other ingredients. Signs of methylxanthine poisoning usually appear within 6 to 12 hours and include the following:
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate
If your dog eats chocolate or a caffeine-containing product, estimate how much she ate and make a note of the ingredients. Save the product label if possible. Call your veterinarian’s office if you’re not sure if the amount was safe. If your dog has symptoms of chocolate poisoning or if the amount or type of chocolate was dangerous (for example, if your Chihuahua ate a 2-oz bar of dark chocolate), seek veterinary care right away.
Dogs with chocolate poisoning may need to be hospitalized for treatment. Your veterinarian might induce vomiting or might recommend that you do this at home—but don’t try to make your dog vomit without checking with your veterinarian first (induced vomiting is not always the best or safest approach). The prognosis depends on the severity of the symptoms.
Image credit: CDC/Debora Cartegena
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Toxins from algae in a pond killed 3 dogs in Wilmington earlier this month. The same type of algae has been found in a public park pond in Charlotte. The only way to know if algae is harmful is by testing the water in a laboratory, so for safety, keep your dog away from all scummy or discolored water.
Harmful Algal Blooms
Algae are tiny plantlike organisms that live in water. Some algae produce toxins that cause serious illness. Under certain conditions, algae grow quickly into collections called algal blooms. Algal blooms are most likely to form in warm water that is high in nutrients like nitrogen. Hot weather and stagnant water increase the chance of algal growth.
Algal blooms can form in either fresh or salt water. The most common type of harmful algae in fresh water is cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Another type of algae causes red tide in salt water.
Avoid water with signs of potentially harmful algal blooms:
Symptoms of Exposure
People and animals can be exposed to algal toxins through skin contact with contaminated water, by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food (like fish), or by inhaling water droplets in windblown spray. Dogs are typically exposed when they play or wade at the edges of bodies of water with algal blooms.
Not all algal blooms are toxic. But with some types of algae, exposure to only a small amount of toxin can be fatal within hours or days. Algal toxins can damage the liver, nervous system, kidneys, and digestive tract. Symptoms depend on the type of toxin and the amount of exposure and include the following:
What to Do if Your Pet Is Exposed
If your dog comes in contact with questionable fresh or salt water, bathe or at least rinse him off with clean (tap) water right away, before he licks his fur. Take precautions to avoid exposure to yourself; wear gloves or wash your hands after rinsing your dog.
Take your dog to a veterinary clinic if she has swallowed water containing algae or has licked her fur after wading in water with an algal bloom. Symptoms of toxin exposure constitute a medical emergency, so seek veterinary care immediately if your dog is vomiting or stumbling after water contact.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommend these precautions:
Cyanobacteria: Protecting Children & Dogs (NCDHHS): https://epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/oee/algae/protect.html
Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)-Associated Illness (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/habs/index.html
Photo source: https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/harmful-algal-blooms-6
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.