Archive for the ‘What’s Poisonous for Your Pet’ Category

Artificial sweetener can be deadly for cats and dogs

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in sugar-free gum, baked goods and other items, causes a rapid, dangerous drop in pets’ blood sugar levels and, if left untreated, can result in liver failure in less than 36 hours after ingestion, writes veterinarian Dana Brooks. Symptoms that develop 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion of xylitol include lethargy and seizures, while vomiting can occur sooner. The condition may be treatable with emergency interventions, but signs of liver failure, such as skin and intestinal bleeding, carry a poor prognosis, even with treatment, Dr. Brooks notes. The Seattle Times/Tails of Seattle blog

Question: Why is xylitol so dangerous for dogs and cats?

Answer: Ingestion of xylitol primarily affects insulin release throughout the body. Insulin causes an increase of glucose (blood sugar) uptake into the liver, muscle, and fat cells resulting in decreasing blood glucose  levels.

Xylitol strongly promotes the release of insulin from the pancreas into circulation leading to a rapid decrease of blood glucose levels. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can occur within 30 to 60 minutes of xylitol  ingestion with levels as low as 0.1g xylitol /kg body weight.

Hypoglycemia may compound further into liver toxicity, liver damage, and ultimately liver failure. Ingesting amounts of xylitol greater than 0.5 g xylitol /kg body weight increases the risk for developing liver toxicity.

Sugar-free chewing gum is the most common cause of dogs that present to the emergency room. However, the recent introduction of xylitol as a substitute for sugar in grocery stores has increased the potential for toxicity.

Xylitol is perfectly safe for people, but because of different metabolisms, it can be fatal for dogs and cats. A simple piece of cupcake or cookie could kill an animal if the danger is unknown and not addressed immediately.

Question: What are the signs my dog might have eaten xylitol?

Answer: Immediately after ingestion, vomiting may occur. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) develops within 30 to 60 minutes, resulting in lethargy and weakness. These signs may quickly develop into ataxia (trouble walking), collapse, and seizures. Prolonged blood clotting times as well as skin and intestinal hemorrhaging are clinical signs that may develop within hours and warrant a very poor prognosis.

Question: What do I do if I think my dog has eaten xylitol? What is the treatment and prognosis?

Answer: If xylitol ingestion occurs, consult your veterinarian immediately. Inducing vomiting to remove the xylitol is imperative, but close monitoring of blood sugar levels and intravenous infusions of glucose (sugar) may also be needed depending on the amount ingested and how quickly the problem was recognized.

The prognosis for dogs with hypoglycemia is good with immediate and proper treatment, while the prognosis for dogs that have developed liver toxicity is poor. Large ingestions of xylitol (a relatively small amount of the product) that are not caught immediately can result in fulminant liver failure and death despite aggressive supportive care. This can occur in less than 36  hours in dogs that are otherwise young and healthy.

Dr. Dana Brooks

Dana Brooks is a internal-medicine specialist at Seattle Veterinary Specialists (SVS) in Kirkland. She graduated from Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991 and completed her residency at Michigan State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in 1995. She worked in the Northeast until 2007, when she joined SVS. Her special interests include hormonal and immune-mediated diseases as well as endoscopy. She lives with two black cats named Jasper and Logan.

Pet-Safe Spring Gardening Tips

Monday, May 14th, 2012

With a little planning, creating a beautiful garden that is also pet-safe is doable, writes emergency veterinarian Denise Petryk, who provides a list of toxic plants and dangerous fertilizers and chemicals. Younger animals will eat anything and are at higher risk for toxicity, but even exposure to small amounts of some toxic garden components can be harmful to pets, Dr. Petryk warns. The Seattle Times/Tails of Seattle blog (5/10)

AVOID the 10 most dangerous, most toxic plants:


— Castor bean (Ricinus communis) — oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney failure, convulsions, death.

— Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), pictured right — vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, cardiac failure, death.

— Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) — tremors, difficulty breathing, vomiting, seizures, death.

— Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) — vomiting, seizures, depression, trouble breathing.

— Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) — vomiting, heart trouble, disorientation, coma, seizures.

— Lily (Lilium species) — kidney failure in cats — ALL parts of the plant, even in small amounts.

— Morning Glory (Ipomea sp.) — vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, disorientation, ataxia, anorexia.

— Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) — drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, slow heart, weakness.

— Oleander (Nerium oleander) — diarrhea, trouble breathing, tremors, collapse, incoordination.

— Precatory Beans (Arbus precatorius) — severe vomiting and diarrhea, tremors, fever, shock, death.

The 10 most common plants that can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea — AND if ingested in larger amounts — more serious health problems:


— Hydrangea, above

— Azalea

— Boxwood

— Daffodil (bulbs are more toxic than leaves and flowers)

— Tulip (bulbs are more toxic than leaves and flowers)

— Rhododendron

— Iris (Gladiola)

— Elephant’s ear

— Clematis

— English ivy

The 10 most surprising problem plants:

— Apple (the seeds contain cyanide)

— Plum, cherry, apricots and peaches (the pits contain cyanide)

–Onions, chives and garlic (cause anemia)

— Potato and rhubarb plant leaves (vomiting)

There are some wonderfully safe annuals and perennials:


–Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)

–Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)

–Begonia (Begonia sp.), pictured right

–Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)

–Butterfly flower (Schianthus sp.)

–Calendula (Callendula sp.) coleus.JPG –Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)

–Coleus (Coleus sp.), pictured right

–Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)

–Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)

–Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)

–Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)

–Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)

–Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)

–Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)

–New Guinea Impatiens

–Petunia (Petunia sp.)

–Phlox (Phlox sp.)

primrose.JPG–Primrose (Primula sp.), pictured right

–Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)

–Roses (Rose sp.)

–Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)

–Spider flower (Cleome sp.)

–Turf Lilly (Liriope sp.)

–Violet (Viola sp.)

–Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

–Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)

The non-plant concerns in the spring include fertilizers, pesticides, slug bait, mulch, and garden tools. Talk to your local nursery about the safest options, read labels carefully and store everything safely in sealed containers or out of reach.

Try natural products like vinegar for weeds, coffee grounds, beer and salt for slugs, and soap and water as a natural pesticide.

Avoid cocoa mulch as it comes from chocolate manufacturing and can contain substances that will cause minor chocolate poisoning (vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity) as well as general irritation to the mouth, stomach and intestines.

Many of our mature dogs (and almost all of our cats) are discriminate — they might sniff but they are not inclined to eat plants.

Grass is often the exception and in small amounts, common grasses are safe. Ornamental grasses can be very irritating to the mouth, throat, and nose so if you have a big grass eater, it is safest to avoid these plants.

Remember that puppies and kittens are always an exception. They will generally eat ANYTHING! It still makes most sense however to always pick the safest plants possible for our spring flower gardens and our deck pots.

Horticulturists employed at our favorite plant nurseries are excellent resources for pet safe plants and gardening products. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a fantastic guide to pet-safe gardening and a wonderful collection of plant pictures and toxicity information here . also has an array of informative articles written by veterinarians about toxic plants and gardening.

The three most common spring garden problems we see in our busy Tacoma pet emergency room include dogs ingesting SLUG bait poison (metaldehyde), dogs ingesting decomposing things out of the compost pile, and Lily ingestion or sniffing by cats.

A few bites of slug bait can cause horrible tremors. Quick emergency treatment is critical.

A compost pile snack can also cause tremors or it may cause drunk-like behavior or vomiting and diarrhea. Here too, quick emergency treatment is essential for a quick recovery.

Lilies are highly toxic to cats. It is safest to avoid all lilies — both as cut flowers as part of a bouquet or as a garden plant. Potential sniffing of the flower and inhaling the pollen can even be a problem to our cats.

Enjoy your garden but do your research first. Prevention is so much easier than sick animals and treatment.

Dr. Denise Petryk

Dr. Denise Petryk graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1991. Later this year she will complete her MBA at Pacific Lutheran University. For the last 20 years she has enjoyed the fast pace of emergency medicine and enjoys the satisfaction of explaining things clearly to pet owners. At home, she has a family of six — two hairy dogs, one short-haired monster dog and three perfect cats — and a big yard full of safe plants!


Photos from The Seattle Times archives

New Smartphone App Can Be Helpful in Saving the Life of Your Pet in a Poisoning

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

SamIam.jpgLorrie Shaw | Contributor to

These days, the ubiquitous smartphone keeps us connected and can help us get the information that we need quickly.

In my business, a smartphone is crucial tool in caring for animals, from being able to text, email or call clients to give daily updates, to verifying schedule changes and, most importantly, getting in touch immediately should an emergency happen.

I’ve mused about how we can put our smartphones to work as an effective tool helping with a sometimes difficult task by capturing a pet’s behavioral changes, lameness or symptoms that you can’t quite explain or mysteriously disappear when you step foot into the veterinarian’s office.

Handheld devices just became even more useful: A new app designed with your pet’s welfare in mind was released in late-March and could mean the difference between life and death for your animal companion.


Apple has made Pet Poison Help available for download and does two things: it offers information on hundreds of searchable household products and plants that have the propensity to be toxic to your critter, as well as guiding you through steps to take if your dog or cat is exposed to something that can harm them with direct dialing to the Pet Poison Helpline. The helpline is staffed by board-certified veterinary internal medicine and emergency critical care specialists and veterinary toxicologists.

The app, which costs .99 cents to download and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, is no substitute for a trip to your vet’s office or an emergency vet should something happen, but it can help get the ball rolling. The professionals staffing the helpline have special training to assist you and your own vet or emergency vet hospital (by dialoging directly with them) if your pet is critically ill from a potential poisoning.

Click here to download Pet Poison Help.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for

Easter Goodies and Decorations Can Be Harmful to Pets

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Pet owners are asked to be mindful of Easter foods and decor that can pose threats to animals.

Here are several tips:

Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure.

Chocolate is toxic for dogs when ingested in large quantities and contains xylitol, which can cause a fatal drop in blood pressure. Also posing a risk are candy wrappers, sticks and plastic eggs.

Human holiday food can cause pets to become ill, including gastrointestinal sickness, pancreatitis and intestinal blockage or injury from eating bones.

Easter basket grass can cause intestinal obstruction in cats and may lead to emergency surgery.

Chicks and rabbits should not be taken on as pets unless their owners are committed to giving them permanent homes and caring for them responsibly.

For more information, visit or call 645-2758.