Holiday Hazard 1: Liquid Potpourri
Liquid Potpourri: While the scents of simmering potpourri can be delightful, ingestion can prove deadly, especially for cats. While any pet might be burned by heated oils, cats are particularly sensitive to the components called cationic detergents that are found in such products. If eaten, severe burns to the mouth, esophagus, and stomach may occur. Liquid potpourri may also cause severe irritation to the skin. If pets come into contact with it, their fur needs to be washed with liquid hand-washing soap until all traces of the oily residue are removed. Because it’s difficult to determine exactly how much cationic detergent is in liquid potpourris, suggest that clients avoid using them. For those clients who insist on scenting their homes, safer options include reed diffusers, plug-in air fresheners or scented candles.
Holiday Hazard 2: Chocolate
Chocolate: We’ve all heard that chocolate can be toxic to pets, but just how much is too much? Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine that’s highly toxic to dogs and cats. The darker or more concentrated the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. Therefore, the most dangerous chocolates are baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and gourmet dark chocolates. Dark chocolate covered espresso beans are particularly problematic since they may contain large amounts of both theobromine and caffeine. Milk chocolate contains lower amounts of theobromine.
Typically, animals need to consume at least 1 to 2 ounces of milk chocolate per kilogram of body weight before symptoms occur. The amount of chocolate in many baked goods, including cookies, cakes and candies is often relatively low and less frequently causes serious chocolate poisoning. However, significant gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhea, are common following the ingestion of any chocolate product. Signs of chocolate or theobromine poisoning include salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, pacing, tachycardia, arrhythmias, tremors, and seizures. Ingestion of chocolate may also cause pancreatitis because of the high fat content.
Breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, miniature schnauzers, and Shetland sheepdogs, along with obese dogs and those on certain medications (such as potassium bromide, azathioprine, etc.) are more at risk for pancreatitis.
Holiday Hazard 3: Plants
Holiday plants: Curious pets often nibble on holiday plants. Though most are fairly safe, some can prove to be fatal, even when a very small amount is ingested.
Lilies: All flowers of the Lilium species, including Stargazer, Easter, Tiger, and other Asiatic lilies, are extremely poisonous to cats. Lilies are not toxic to dogs, and only self-limiting vomiting is expected if a dog ingest them. The ingestion of just one or two leaves or petals is enough to cause sudden kidney failure in cats. Even the pollen from these flowers is toxic to cats. Signs of kidney failure due to lily ingestion include vomiting, reduced appetite, increased or decreased urination, and lethargy. Kidney failure will begin within a few days of a cat eating lilies and, if not treated, the cat often dies. Any cat ingesting even small pieces of lily needs an immediate medical evaluation accompanied by intensive intravenous fluid therapy, blood work, and hospitalization.
In spite of their names, plants such as the Peace Lily, Lily of the Valley and the Calla Lily are not true lilies. While they may cause other issues (gastrointestinal distress, arrhythmias) for pets, they do not cause sudden kidney failure.
Poinsettias, Holly, and Mistletoe: Though traditionally thought of as quite toxic to pets, the potential for poisoning from poinsettias is overhyped. The milky sap of poinsettias contains irritating saponin-like (or detergent-like) properties. While exposure to the sap may cause irritation to the skin and mouth, along with vomiting and diarrhea, serious or fatal poisoning is highly unlikely. American mistletoe is commonly used in the U.S. as a Christmas time decoration, and is less toxic that its European counterpart. Ingestion of mistletoe most commonly causes self-limiting vomiting and mild neurological depression. Rarely, diarrhea and hypotension (low blood pressure) may also occur. Holly is also less toxic than previously touted. The most likely problem caused by ingesting holly is irritation to the gastrointestinal tract from the saponins (similar to poinsettias) and physical damage to the stomach and intestinal tract from the spiny points of the leaves. Though holly also contains methylxanthines (also found in chocolate and caffeine) and cyanogens, these chemicals rarely lead to poisoning from small ingestions of the plant. Additionally, large ingestions of holly may also cause a bowel obstruction because the leaves are difficult to digest.
Holiday Hazard 4: Ribbon and Tinsel
Ribbon and Tinsel: These shiny strings are simply too tempting for cats to resist. Though they’re not poisonous, ingesting these strings can result in a life-threatening linear foreign body, intestinal perforation, and septic peritonitis (infection in the abdominal cavity). A linear foreign body occurs when pets swallow something stringy, like ribbon, yarn, floss, or cassette tape ribbon. The stringy item wraps around the base of the tongue or anchors in the stomach and is unable to pass through the intestines. As the intestines contract and move, this string slowly saws through the intestinal tissue, resulting in severe damage and possible rupture of the pet’s intestinal tract.
The treatment for linear foreign bodies involves complex and expensive abdominal surgery, hospitalization, antibiotics, and pain management. Even after surgical removal, some pets may not survive. If a pet does ingest a long piece of tinsel, ribbon, thread, or string, it is advisable to take the pet immediately to a clinic or hospital for an examination. Most importantly, if a pet owner reports seeing a string hanging from the pet’s mouth or anus, they should not attempt to pull it out themselves and risk further damage. Only trained veterinary professionals should remove such strings.
If you think your pet has been poisoned, call Rita Ranch Pet Hospital at (520) 624-6100. If it is a holiday, weekend, of after-hours, contact Southern AZ Veterinary Emergency Center at (520) 888-3177.
ASPCA Poison Control = 1 (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee willy be applied to your credit card.
Pet Poison Helpline = 1 (800) 213-6680 $38 per incident fee applies