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Dr Family, Feb 2014, Valentine's Day Dangers

Valentine’s Day is a perfect day to reflect on the importance of relationships, especially the ones we share with our pets.  It is because of our concerns for their well being that we must be cognizant of the most common hazards that they may be exposed to on such a joyous day.  A loving gift, food or beverage, for your loved one, may cause the development of a potential life threatening illness for your pet, requiring immediate veterinary care.

If you are contemplating presenting your loved one a floral arrangement, one that does not include lilies of any kind would be a wise choice.  Pets, especially cats, are very sensitive to this plant with its leaf, pollen, and flower all being toxic and can lead to kidney failure.  Symptoms that may occur include increased salivation, decreased appetite, vomiting, increase in urinations initially, then followed in just a few days with the lack of urine production, dehydration and depression.  Even if you suspect that your pet has eaten a small portion of a lily, call your veterinarian immediately for proper advice.  Also be aware that roses may be troublesome.  Ingestion can lead to not only gastrointestinal upset, but the thorns could traumatize their oral cavity and paw regions.  If large amounts are consumed, bowel obstruction may develop.

During a “romantic dinner interlude”, the presence of alcoholic beverages can be plentiful and commonplace.  However, the consumption of them by our pets from an accidental spill or from a glass can pose a serious danger.  The signs that they may demonstrate is dependent on the age and size of your pet, the ethanol content of the product and the amount digested.  Note that whiskey can range from 40-90% ethanol.  Within 15 – 30 minutes, problems can arise.  Drooling and retching may first be observed.  In-coordination of their gait, excitement, and decreased reflexes are related to central nervous system disturbances.  An increase in heart rate, weakness, collapse, hypotension, and coma are also possible.  Puppies and kittens are of particular risk because of their small size and immature organ systems.  These animals may require intensive treatment and care at a veterinary facility to ensure complete recovery.

A heartfelt, thoughtful gift may arrive on the special day wrapped in various tapes, bows, and ribbons.  When they are torn, chewed and subsequently devoured by a curious pet; a “nightmare” situation may ensue for them.  Persistent vomiting, depression, dehydration and a painful, tense abdomen are hallmark signs of a gastrointestinal tract obstruction.  If this has occurred, it is not uncommon that a surgical procedure to remove the offending material is indicated along with intensive supportive care.

The gift of a box of candy to a loved one is still a fashionable token of affection.  However, when they include chocolate or artificial sweeteners such as Xylitol, ingestion by our beloved dog or cat is usually not well tolerated and can be extremely dangerous.  Chocolate contains Theobromine, a chemical similar to caffeine.  The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more Theobromine it contains.  Therefore, baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet and gourmet dark chocolates are the most dangerous.  The symptoms that our pets show depends on their weight and the actual amount and type of chocolate consumed.  Mild cases of chocolate toxicity may show only vomiting and diarrhea.  However, agitation, nervousness, increased heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and collapse can be seen on presentation in severe conditions.
The artificial sweetener “Xylitol” is occasionally present in candies, mints, gum and baked goods.  Toxicity can develop within 30 to 60 minutes when it is digested.  After Xylitol is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract there becomes a prompt and rapid release of insulin from the animal’s pancreas resulting in a sudden drop in blood glucose levels causing a “hypo-glycemic” crisis.  Common manifestations of this crisis are vomiting, weakness, in-coordination of gait, depression, collapse and possible seizures.  In extreme cases, acute liver failure and coagulopathy are observed.  Swift veterinary intervention and care are essential in guaranteeing a complete recovery.

So we hope you give your pets some extra love on this important day of the year.  Send them an adorable Valentine’s card or obtain a “pet friendly” and safe toy or food treat.  But, by all means, close supervision is of paramount importance in ensuring them a fun-filled and safe day.