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Plants and Foods Toxic to Dogs and Cats

There are many different plants and foods that can be toxic to our furry friends. Attempting to cover all of these in a blog would be a bit ambitious. However, there are some food intoxications that are seen more often and it is worth mentioning those common offenders individually. Also, in the realm of plant intoxications, some plants are either seasonally more popular than others or just more prevalent in our local landscapes and thus warrant special mention.

Chocolate- with the Easter holiday approaching, chocolate bunnies will be bouncing onto store shelves. Their cute little chocolaty ears look all too tempting to Chocolatehumans … and their furry companions. But, as some of you may be aware, chocolate can be toxic to your pet. Many dogs are enticed by the smell of chocolate (and, really, who isn’t?) making it a specific threat for large ingestions. Unfortunately, even small amounts of the right kind of chocolate can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, agitation, elevated heart rate and seizures. It is worth noting that the darker the chocolate is, the more poisonous it is. Methylxanthines, the chemicals found in chocolate that are dangerous to pets, are more concentrated in dark and bitter chocolates. For example, just one ounce of Baker’s chocolate can severely sicken a 50 pound dog.

Xylitol- not many of us have bags of xylitol on our pantry shelves, so it’s not something we have to worry about, right? Wrong. A natural, sugar-free sweetener, xylitol can show up in inconspicuous places. As well as being found in the more well-known sources like sugar-free gums and mints, xylitol is also an ingredient in some toothpastes and OTC supplements (such as sugar-free vitamins and fish oils). More recently, the sweetener has been added to certain brands of peanut butters and other nut butters. It is even sold in bulk as a sugar substitute (so you could have a bag in your pantry if you wanted) and there have been many reported cases of pets being poisoned by ingesting homemade breads or cupcakes made with xylitol. In dogs, smaller ingestions can cause profound, life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) within 10-15 minutes. Larger ingestions can result in liver failure. Signs of xylitol toxicity can include weakness, lethargy, collapse, vomiting, tremors, seizures, coma and even death.

RaisinsRaisins – these can be a delicious and nutritious addition to a kid’s lunchbox, but they are poisonous to dogs! Dogs can experience kidney failure after ingesting very small amounts of raisins (including grapes and currants). All types of grape- or raisin-containing products can sicken your dog (e.g. grape juice, trail mix, bagels, etc.). It is not clearly understood how grapes, raisins, and currants are poisonous, but ingestion by your pup can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and potentially severe kidney failure (which typically develops days after ingestion).

Onions and garlic- onions, garlic, chives, and leeks are poisonous to both dogs and cats, with certain breeds and species being more sensitive. The Japanese breeds of dogs (e.g. Akita, Shiba Inu) seem to be more susceptible to toxicosis -- and cats are generally more sensitive than dogs. While very small amounts of these food may be safe in some pets (especially dogs), large ingestions can be very toxic. Onion and garlic poisoning causes damage to the red blood cells making them more likely to rupture which results in anemia and associated symptoms (pale gums, lethargy, increased heart rate). Poisoned animals can also exhibit signs of digestive upset (abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.). Signs of poisoning may not occur for several days after ingestion.

LiliesLilies- chocolate bunnies aren’t the only danger that looms larger around the Easter holiday. Lilies are a popular and affordable plant during the springtime. They often adorn cut flower bouquets, but if you have cats, you will definitely want to pass on these lovely additions to your home décor. The most dangerous lilies for cats include (but are not limited to): Asiatic lily, Day lily, Easter lily, Stargazer lily, and Tiger lily. While dogs may develop mild gastrointestinal upset after ingesting these lilies, any part of the plant including leaves, flowers, pollen, or even water from the vase may cause acute kidney failure in cats. Other dangerous types of lilies include Lily of the Valley and the Flame Lily. These lilies do not cause kidney failure, but may cause life-threatening heart rhythms and death when ingested by dogs, cats or people. Less serious consequences are seen when pets chew on or ingest lilies such as the Calla Lily or Peace Lily, which contain oral irritants (see below for more information).

DieffenbachiaDieffenbachia- a popular decorative plant in many homes and offices, dieffenbachia species contain insoluble oxalate crystals which act as an oral irritant. The Calla Lily and Peace Lily also contain these crystals. When dogs or cats chew or bite these plants, the crystals are released and penetrate the tissues of the oral cavity causing symptoms such as pawing at the face, drooling, foaming, and vomiting. Swelling of the lips, tongue and oral cavity may also be seen, making it difficult for the pet to breathe or swallow. Typically the signs manifest immediately after chewing the plant.

Azaleas- no brighter image is conjured up by mention of Springtime Tallahassee than the azaleas in full bloom. Though they are a lovely accent to our local landscape, azaleas can have serious effects on pets. They contain toxins that detrimentally affect the skeletal and cardiac muscles. All parts of the plant are considered toxic. Eating even a few leaves can result in vomiting, diarrhea and excessive drooling. The cardiotoxic effects of the plant can potentially result in death.

Sago PalmSago Palm- many local yards are decorated with this particular plant and it can be very harmful to pets! All parts of sago palm are considered poisonous, but the seeds are the most dangerous part of the plant. Ingestion of this plant can cause gastrointestinal signs such as drooling, vomiting and diarrhea within hours of ingestion. More seriously, central nervous system signs (weakness, seizures, tremors, etc.) and liver failure can develop within a few days of ingestion.

Keep in mind that this is in no way a comprehensive list of foods and plants that may be dangerous to your pet. These are some common offenders and some seasonally relevant items. Always consult your veterinarian if you are concerned about something your pet pal has ingested. Dogs and cats often metabolize things differently than humans, and their relatively small size increases their susceptibility to intoxication. Acting quickly and seeking appropriate care optimizes the chance for a successful outcome.

Sarah K. Sprayberry, DVM

March 4, 2016

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