Common toxicities Part III, Culinary Treats Good For You, Bad For Fido

                Many of us are guilty of giving our beloved companions treats from the table at dinner time. Some owners prefer to make up their own specialized diet for their pets. Unfortunately, a few of the foods that we love and are great for us can cause serious disease in our pets. Also an improper mix of foods with a homemade diet can cause serious nutritional concerns. If you prefer to feed a homemade diet always consult a nutritionist beforehand.

                We live in wine country. I, like many of us enjoy visiting local wineries and sampling their fare. One of my favorite fruits is grapes. Feeding grapes and raisins to your pet can cause acute renal failure. The mechanism of the toxicity is not well understood. We do know that raisins are more concentrated and therefore tend to be more toxic than grapes. Common clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drinking/urine production, and edema. The best treatment is prevention, but if your pet does get into a batch of raisins or grapes, you should seek veterinary care. Treatment consists of inducing vomiting, activated charcoal, intravenous fluids on an aggressive fluid rate, and monitoring of blood values. As a side note, it is best to treat early. Kidneys are a funny organ in that they do not regenerate very well once they go into failure. Early treatment prevents them from developing renal failure. The prognosis is much more favorable if we can prevent them from getting to that point.

                My father loves to cook. One of his favorite hobbies is making bread or pizza dough from scrap. Against my advice he often even gives our dogs small amounts of the dough as he is making it. Bread dough isn’t necessarily toxic. However the warm, moist environment in the stomach is a wonderful place for yeast to grow. Once your pet has ingested the dough, it can expand in the stomach causing blockage and gastric distention. The distention can lead to respiratory and vasculature compromise. Alcohol produced from the fermenting yeast can cause a metabolic acidosis and intoxication. Common clinical signs noted by owners include unproductive vomiting, abdominal distention, and depression. If enough alcohol is produced owners have noted staggering, weakness, and lethargy. Treatment for dough ingestion is fairly straight forward. It consists of gastric lavage, treatment for alcohol toxicosis, and supportive care. On a side note, normal alcoholic beverages cause the same signs as alcohol produced by yeast. Do not give your pet alcoholic beverages!

                Many dogs and some cats find the trash can to be a sort of all you can eat buffet. While I was in veterinary school in the Caribbean, the local dogs would constantly knock over and gorge themselves on whatever they found in the trash. Besides the various items that may be toxic or cause obstruction, mold growing on the expired food is extremely toxic. These molds contain tremorgenic mycotoxins. These toxins, as the name implies, can cause tremors. They also have been known to cause seizures. Common clinical signs observed initially are fine twitching tremors progressing to severe tremors. Some owners have noted vomiting, depression, hyperactivity, and behavior changes. The onset of symptoms is extremely rapid. Some pets have died in the first two to four hours after ingestion. Treatment consists of inducing vomiting, treatment of seizures, supportive care, anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxers. Early treatment is once again provides the best prognosis.

                Onions and even worse garlic can be toxic to your pet. Almost everything I cook has both in it, and I am definitely guilty of giving my dogs treats from the table. The toxic component in these herbs is the volatile oils. In large doses these can cause damage to the pet’s red blood cells. The mechanism of the damage is oxidation caused by the volatile oils. These can lead to intravascular hemolysis, anemia, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most owners note the gastrointestinal signs as the damage to the blood cells does not peak until 4-7 days after ingestion. Treatment consists of inducing vomiting, supportive care, and in severe cases hospitalization with treatment for anemia.

                Macadamia nuts are toxic to canines. Most cases present with inability to stand and hind limb weakness within 12 hours of ingestion. The mechanism of the toxicity is unknown, but it is specific to dogs. With proper treatment most dogs recover very well and are back to normal within 48 hours. Treatment includes inducing vomiting, activated charcoal, supportive care, and in some cases enemas.

                The last toxicity that I want to cover today is avocado. Avocado is toxic to many species, but tends to effect birds the most severely. Birds develop a myocardial necrosis and respiratory failure. The prognosis is poor in avian cases. Treatment consists of supportive care. No guacamole for your bird! Canines and felines usually develop gastrointestinal signs and possible obstruction if they ingested the avocado pit. Horses, ruminants, and rodents can develop a sterile inflammation of the mammary gland upon ingestion.

                Most of us will be unable to resist the urge to feed our pets treats. It is one of the ways that we as humans demonstrate our love to our pets, and they love us for it! We do need to be aware of what we are feeding and realize that every animal is built differently. What is good for you may not be good for your pet. What is good for animals in the wild may not be good for a domesticated species. Prevention is the best treatment and is always much kinder to the pocket book.

Dr. McKenna


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