“Death by chocolate” may be an amusing term that we apply to those extra-chocolatey confections we love to indulge in. But the term should be taken literally when it comes to our pets. “Chocolate is highly toxic to dogs, and even a small amount can make them sick. If your dog eats a large quantity of chocolate, it could cause death,” says Dr. Arnie Cary, DVM, board member of The Animal Haven in North Haven. The darker the chocolate, the worse it is. This is because of a greater presence of an alkaloid called theobromine, the toxic element in the confection.
March is Pet Poison Prevention Month, so this is a great time to think about other foods you may be giving your pet as a treat, but which can land him or her in the emergency room. One is xylitol, a sugar substitute found in “sugar free” gum, candy, and baked goods. It can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar which triggers trembling, seizures and a collapse, and can result in significant liver failure in dogs. Another is raisins and grapes. One or two for a large dog may be okay, but the same amount for a small dog can cause kidney failure.
It’s also unwise to give your dog over-the-counter medications like pain relievers unless prescribed by your veterinarian. “How much of a dose you give is important, but some pain relievers like acetaminophen are very toxic to both cats and dogs, and should never be given to them,” says Dr. Cary. As with all medications, keep them out of the reach of children and pets, in hard-to-open bottles, especially for those dogs who like to get into things.
And those house plants and bulbs? Some can be toxic as well, if ingested by your animals. Especially the ones we bring home in the spring, such as tulips, daffodils, and lilies. If your cat likes to eat other greens, Dr. Cary recommends doing some online research to make sure that the plants aren’t toxic to felines.
Finally, rodenticides, which are the chemicals used to kill rats and mice, are enticing to cats and dogs, and very toxic. Be careful where you use them, to make sure your pets, and your neighbors’ as well, can’t get to them.
Program local emergency veterinarian numbers into your cell phone or post them near land lines, so you can get to them quickly if your pet has eaten something toxic. “Time is of the essence when it comes to seeking medical attention for toxic ingestion,” says Dr. Cary. Here are two 24/7 animal poison emergency numbers and accompanying online resources.
The ASPCA® Animal Poison Control Center
Pet Poison HELPLINE®