Boo! Holiday sweets aren’t so sweet for pets

Halloween excitement is nearing and the kids are making their costume plans. Thinking about this, I realized that veterinarians see holidays in a different light than most people.

While there is the usual excitement of the upcoming holiday, there is also the constant thought of what crazy emergency will come through the door as a result.

Halloween is no exception, all of the increased activity around the house can make our pets nervous, and, if given a chance, they may bolt, causing an increased number of animals hit by cars.

Other situations arise when fearful pets bite in response to unknown costumed figures in their territory.

Candy poses a more serious threat for dogs and cats. Dogs will gulp down candy, wrapper and all, causing a serious case of “garbage gut.”

It is often thought that chocolate is the biggest threat to dogs, but actually candies and gum sweetened with xylitol can be much more deadly.

Xylitol is the sweetener often used in sugar free gum, candy and other products such as toothpaste. In dogs, xylitol is rapidly absorbed into the system, causing a profound insulin release and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). It can also cause liver failure, bleeding and death.

Ingestion of as little as 0.2 milligram per pound of body weight should be considered toxic. Just 1 milligram per pound puts a dog at risk for liver failure.

A rough estimate is one or two pieces of chewing gum in a 20 pound dog is potentially toxic. Vomiting is often the first symptom related to xylitol ingestion, followed by hypoglycemia (weakness and lethargy), diarrhea, collapse and seizures.

Immediate veterinary care is required if any ingestion of a xylitol containing product is suspected.

Chocolate can be bad for several reasons. Most of the problems from chocolate ingestion are due to the fat content that can set off a serious metabolic disease called pancreatitis, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and severe sometimes life-threatening abdominal pain.

The wrong type of chocolate in the right dose however can be a direct toxin. This is due to a substance in chocolate called theobromine.

Theobromine levels are higher as more chocolate liquor is added to sweeten it. Baking chocolate has the highest theobromine levels, followed by dark chocolate and then milk chocolate.

Theobromine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, irregular heart rhythms and death in severe cases. Doses of theobromine of 9 milligrams (mg) per pound of body weight may produce mild signs including gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and vomiting. A dose of 18 mg per pound of body weight can producing severe signs such as a racing heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and collapse.

Milk chocolate contains 44 mg per ounce of theobromine while semisweet and baking chocolate contain 150 mg and 390 mg per ounce, respectively.

It can take four days for the effects of chocolate to leave the system, and supportive hospitalization may be required during this time.

Have a great holiday season and include your pets to some degree. Just remember, holidays can be a traumatic and a truly frightening experience for animals.

Help them by keeping them locked up when trick or treaters are out and doors are opening and closing regularly.

Don’t forget that the Grand Valley Veterinary Emergency Center, 1660 North Ave., is open evenings and weekends if you have an emergency. It can be reached at 255-1911.

Drs. Tom and Tara Suplizio own Animal Medical Clinic in Grand Junction. The Suplizios are graduates of the Colorado State University Veterinary School. Email them at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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