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This spring we spent some time discussing first aid and specific Arizona Emergencies for our canine companions. Given the busy upcoming holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to go over some of the hazards for our dogs that come with the season.

The most common problems we see during the holiday season have to do with food.  First of all, by now you have all worked with your veterinarian to find an adequate diet for your dog.  There is no reason to change this diet over the holidays.  To our dogs, the holidays, while filled with a lot of excitement, are just regular days.  There is no reason to give the dogs a special meal or feed them anything out of the usual.  If does are given people food such as ham, turkey, or roast beef, it can wreak havoc on their systems.  Vomiting or diarrhea are common consequences to this sudden change in diet.  Another possible problem is pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas caused by ingestion of fatty food.  Pancreatitis can be a complicated problem requiring, at times, prolonged hospitalization.

Chocolate is a common ingredient in a lot of holiday treats that we buy or make in the house.  In large enough amounts, chocolate and cocoa products can kill your dog.  The toxic component is Theobromine, which is not easily processed by dogs.  Humans have little trouble metabolizing this substance.  The clinical signs associated with chocolate ingestion depend on the type and amount consumed.  Small amounts usually result in vomiting or diarrhea.  In large amounts, or with the ingestion of dark or baking chocolate, we can see increased body temperature, muscle rigidity, increased heart rate, seizures and even death.

Milk chocolate contains the smallest amount of Theobromine.  Mild signs are seen with the ingestion of 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight.  This means a 50 pound dog would need to eat about two pounds of Hershey’s Kisses to see signs.  More sever signs would be seen with the ingestion of two ounces per pound, which is a lot of Hershey’s Kisses for any dog.  Smaller amounts of Semisweet chocolate are needed to cause problems in dogs.  Mild signs such as vomiting or diarrhea will be seen with the ingestion of 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight.  This means a 50 pound dog would need to eat about 16 ounces of Semisweet chocolate chips (the regular size bag of chocolate chips is 12 ounces).  More significant signs will be seen with ingestion of one ounce per pound.  The most problematic chocolate product is Baker’s chocolate, which has a high Theobromine content.  Two of the small 1-ounce squares can be toxic to a 20 pound dog.  The toxic does of this product is 0.1 ounce per pound.

Grapes and raisins are another known toxic food for dogs.  Even small amounts can be toxic in any size dog.  The exact substance that causes the toxicity is not known.  The most serious complication is sudden kidney failure with lack of urine production.  Not all dogs are affected by ingestion of grapes and raisins and at this point in time, we do not know why.  The best plan is to avoid giving these products to dogs.

Decorations around the house can also be hazardous to our canine companions.  Poinsettia plants have the reputation for being toxic to our pets.  They are actually only mildly toxic to dogs and cats.  The white sap of the plant contains the chemicals that are problematic.  Generally, at worst there are signs of vomiting, drooling, or diarrhea.  They may have skin or eye irritation from direct contact with the sap.  The signs are generally self-limiting and require no therapy.  Other plants that are more worrisome include Lilies, which are common flowers in holiday bouquets.  One or two bites of a lily can cause kidney damage in cats.  Holly will cause vomiting and diarrhea as well as irritation of the mouth.  Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal signs in small amounts.  Seizures have been reported upon ingestion of large amounts of this plant.

Other holidays decoration that can be problematic because they are new and exciting to dogs, especially young canines who have trouble staying away from new or exciting things.  Be sure that all electrical cords are out of the reach of dog mouths whenever possible.  Observe the dog around the Christmas tree as any garland, or shiny ornaments, may be difficult to resist.  Ribbon and string used to decorate packages can also be problematic if ingested.

If you are staying in town, be sure to be aware of your regular veterinarian’s office hours in case you have a problem.  Many offices alter their hours around the holidays.  If you are traveling, make sure you are aware of options for emergency veterinary services in the town you will be visiting.

I hope this information helps to keep all members of ASAS safe during the holiday season.

Have a question or a topic you would like to see in the blog?  Feel free to send me an email, talk to me at class, or have your trainer forward a message to me.

Mary K. Quinn, DVM
Diplomate ACVS
Dogs4Vets Medical Trainer