Friday, April 1, 2011

Paws Off: Putting the Seal on Hazardous Human Foods

By Melissa Chan

Dog owners who can’t seem to resist the big, brown, begging eyes of their insatiable canine companion may find themselves throwing their pooch more than a bone—and more than often.

But human food ranked as number four as part of the top 10 pet poisons of 2010, with over 15,000 cases, and can cause severe consequences that result in more than just a typical stomachache.

"In many cases, they actually end up throwing a lot of the food up, which is not a bad thing because that means it is no longer in the body,” says Sharon Gwaltney, DVM, Ph.D., Vice President of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center (APCC).

Depending on what your dog has eaten, dangerous human foods could affect different systems and organs of their body, including the nervous system, blood cells, heart, and kidney. The most common culprits include chocolate, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic, and xylitol.

Grapes and Raisins: Many pet owners are not aware of the dangers of these tasty toxins. Although most fruits have been given the thumbs up by veterinarians as a healthy human food choice, grapes and raisins have not, as they have been shown to cause kidney failure in dogs, due to an unknown toxic substance.

Nuts: Nuts, which contain large amounts of fat, contain a different type of fat than carnivores are used to, causing dogs to react with mild vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms may not be as severe and go away rather quickly. However, macadamia nuts, specifically, can make dogs feel pretty miserable for about three days, Gwaltney told The Daily Paw.

“It makes them feel very weak and uncomfortable and can lead to fevers and even difficulty walking,” she says.

According to the ASPCA, macadamia nuts have also caused tremors and hyperthermia in dogs. Signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and last approximately 12 to 48 hours.

Onions and Garlic: Although you wouldn’t think to actually feed your dog onions and garlic, you should pay more attention to what you drop on your kitchen floor. Onion and garlic powder, especially, have higher concentrations of toxins and can cause gastrointestinal irritation in dogs, leading to red blood cell damage if large amounts are ingested, says Gwaltney.

This may also trigger hemolytic anemia, says Alice Blazer, DVM, of the National Veterinary Association. Ingestion of very small amounts of onions and garlic, such as what might be found in pet foods or treats, are relatively harmless.

Gwaltney says: “Dogs would need to eat approximately the equivalent of one large onion per pound of their body weight to really be affected.” However, veterinarians recommended keeping paws off this specific vegetable and herb.

Xylitol: More familiar to us as a product than an actual word, xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products and is found mostly in chewing gum, candy, baked goods and artificial sweeteners. It can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar level, says Blazer. More mild symptoms may include depression, vomiting, loss of coordination. According to the ASPCA, the sudden decrease in blood sugar causes an increase in insulin, which can lead to more severe symptoms like liver failure, hypoglycemia (lowered sugar levels), and seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.

What to do in an emergency: If your pet ingests any of these foods, first contact your veterinarian. Don’t rely on the internet since information posted on the web may not always be credible. For emergencies, contact the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), where experts are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at (888) 426-4435. Although the call is toll-free, pet owners should be advised that a $60 consultation fee will be charged to their credit card. This includes follow-up consultation should you or your vet need further assistance with your pet’s case. Be ready to provide your pet’s species, breed, age, sex, weight, symptoms, information regarding the exposure, including the agent, amount ingested, and time elapsed since the ingestion. It is also helpful to have the product in a container for reference as well as anything collected in a sealable plastic bag of what your pet may have vomited or chewed.

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