Dr. Gary Osweiler, Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-1015
Dr. Susan O’Brien, Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-4900
Dr. Mike Loenser Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-4900
Phyllis Peters, Veterinary Medicine Communications, (515) 294-4602


AMES, Iowa – It's the time of year when dogs and cats can experience an increase in unusual health problems. Veterinarians at Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine suggest pet owners stay especially alert to potential hazards.

Certain foods, plants and other materials contain agents that can be highly toxic when ingested by companion animals. The Iowa State veterinary specialists provide the following tips for avoiding poisonous substances and keeping pets safe and healthy.

Ice melting pellets—Certain kinds of ice-melting products contain calcium chloride, a toxic chemical. The residue left on sidewalks or driveways easily sticks to the paws of dogs and cats. When the animals lick their paws in cleaning, they come in contact with particles containing the poisonous chemical. Calcium chloride is highly caustic (similar to lye) and can cause direct skin burns or erosions and ulcers of the mouth, tongue and esophagus. Dogs and cats have been known to suffer from these types of burns.

Pet owners can avoid this risk by purchasing ice-melting products that contain potassium chloride or sodium chloride (common salt). If a product containing calcium chloride has been used on a sidewalk or driveway, keep areas frequented by pets clear by rinsing the crystals or by thorough sweeping and pick-up of the crystals. If a pet is exposed, the best home first-aid is rinsing with large amounts of water. If there are signs of skin or digestive damage, take the pet to a veterinarian.

Antifreeze for vehicles—Antifreeze is another common poison lurking in driveways and garages. It takes just a small spill to create a fatal hazard, especially for cats. (One-half teaspoon of antifreeze per one pound of body weight is fatal to pets.) Antifreeze poisoning is difficult to diagnose quickly without an appropriate history. Pets often initially show only incoordination and weakness, depression and perhaps vomiting—symptoms common to many other diseases. Because quick diagnosis is essential to adequate treatment, antifreeze poisoning is considered an emergency. The likelihood of recovery is best when treatment is administered within two hours after ingestion.

Garland and tree decorations—Holiday decorations, especially tinsel and garland, can cause frequent and serious intestinal problems if ingested by cats and dogs. Health problems include vomiting, diarrhea or worse. Tinsel, especially, can cause severe blockages.

Holly and mistletoe—The red berries found in holly and the white berries in mistletoe are both toxic. It's easy for cats and dogs to spot these berries and eat them, which causes mild to severe vomiting, diarrhea and possible shock.

Lilies—This flower can cause serious, even fatal, kidney damage in cats. The toxic agent in lilies has not been identified and there is no specific antidote. If not treated in the early stages, kidney damage is difficult to treat.

Chocolate—During the holidays, chocolate can be more accessible to pets. Dogs like the taste and may eat excessive amounts very quickly. As little as two to three ounces of baking chocolate or 20 ounces of milk chocolate may be lethal to a 20-pound dog. Chocolate contains large amounts of theobromine and caffeine, both potent stimulants that can cause nervousness, excitement, seizures and potentially fatal disturbances of the heart rhythm. Dogs are usually poisoned by first-time massive exposure to concentrated chocolate products, such as bars of baking chocolate or dark chocolate. They are less likely to be poisoned by finished products like brownies.

Both the seizures and cardiac rhythm problems can be corrected with appropriate drug treatment under the care of a veterinarian. Treatment should begin as soon as possible. For first aid at home, induce vomiting, using approximately one teaspoonful of hydrogen peroxide per two pounds of body weight (about 3 tablespoons for a 20-pound dog). If vomiting does not occur within 10 minutes, get the pet to a veterinarian for care. If possible, try to estimate the amount of chocolate consumed, and bring the package along for possible identification of the type of chocolate.


More TIPS:
electrical cords
table scraps
Supervise pets around children, especially children unfamiliar to the pets. (important when guests are visiting or staying for a few days)

Don’t give a pet as a present. People need to think carefully about the type of companion animal that will work best for them. An alternative is to give a gift certificate from a local animal shelter and let the recipient have extended time to consider the choices.

For pets kept outdoors, be sure to provide adequate food and bedding, and access to non-frozen water.

Animals that are not acclimated to outdoor weather should not be left outdoors unless the weather is particularly warm. Frequently, families leaving for a day trip or those hosting company will abruptly change a dog’s environment, leaving the dog outdoors as a convenience to guests. It doesn’t take much time for an unacclimated animal to suffer from exposure.

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