Avoiding Pet Heartbreak This Valentine’s Day

What’s not to love about gifts on Valentine’s Day? Unfortunately, chocolates, low-sugar candy or flowers may pose a deadly risk to your pet.

By: latteda
Keep your four-legged loved ones safe on Valentine’s Day. By: latteda

A bouquet of flowers, a box of candy and a chocolate heart. Who wouldn’t be delighted to receive any one of these treats this Valentine’s Day?

But although these may be a delight for you, they may pose a hidden health risk for your dog or cat.

Sadly, chocolate, candy containing xylitol, and lilies all have substances that are potentially deadly to pets. I’ve lost count of the number of Labradors I’ve treated for chocolate toxicity, and then there are the heartbreaking cases of cats poisoned by lilies, and dogs practically in a coma from eating low-sugar candies and cookies.

Let’s take a look at each of these risks in more detail.

By: dawnv
Chocolates should stay out of paw’s reach. By: dawnv

Chocolate

One evening, a pair of chocolate Labs, appropriately named Coco and Oreo, came bounding into the surgery for emergency treatment.

To look at them you’d think they were in bursting good health as they bounced off the walls with even more exuberance than usual. However, a clinical examination of this lively pair revealed a different picture. Their hearts were racing dangerously fast, with the potential for them to collapse at any second. Their hyperactivity was caused by too much of a chemical from the caffeine family, theobromine, in their bloodstream.

The dogs had chowed down on a box of chocolates their human had been given as a gift. Unfortunately, chocolate contains theobromine, an extreme stimulant to dogs. It causes a racing heart and stimulates the central nervous system. Some dogs are so sensitive to the effects that even a small amount can cause seizures and death.

Treatment involves making the dog vomit, giving diazepam to calm their central nervous systems, and administering activated charcoal by mouth every few hours to mop up the residual chocolate.

Happily, Coco and Oreo made a full recovery, but this isn’t always the case, so take care where you stash those chocolates.

The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous for your pet. For more information about how much chocolate is toxic, see this article from Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD.

Some gummy candies now contain xylitol. Check the bag. By: kjgarbutt
Some gummy candies now contain xylitol. Check the bag. By: kjgarbutt

Candy Containing Xylitol

Perhaps less well known is the risk that low-sugar candies and cookies pose to dogs.

These may contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol. Unfortunately, xylitol and dogs don’t mix. The sweetener stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, which in turn suppresses blood sugar levels. As if that isn’t bad enough, xylitol can also cause liver damage, which results in a problem with blood clotting.

Immediate treatment is essential to saving your dog’s life. This involves an emergency trip to the veterinarian, who will administer intravenous glucose and fluids (among other things), to try to get the blood sugar levels back up to normal.

Dogs who have eaten xylitol can suffer from excessively low blood sugar levels with 60 minutes and fall into a coma. Just as those chocolates, store these candies well out of paw’s reach.

For more information about the dangers of xylitol, see this article from Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ.

By: timsamoff
Royal lily (hybridized Easter lily). By: timsamoff

Lilies

Beware of Valentine’s bouquets containing lilies — specifically, the big showy ones that are so common in floral displays. (Be alert for Easter, Asiatic, Tiger, Rubrum and Day lilies, as well as any flower from the Lilium family.)

If your cat chews on the leaves or petals, drinks the water the flowers stand in, or rubs against the pollen and grooms herself, she is at risk of kidney failure. We don’t know why this happens, but the fact remains that lilies contain something that is deadly to cats.

Sadly, there is no cure for lily toxicity. If your cat has just ingested lily pollen, prompt veterinary attention is critical. The cat may need his stomach pumped to remove any residual contamination. Aggressive intravenous therapy can help protect the kidneys and flush the toxin, but even this is not guaranteed to be successful.

The best advice is not to allow lilies in the house (or the garden) with cats. Some people suggest cutting off the stamens (the spiky bits bearing pollen) because the most common exposure is cats who brush past the bloom, get pollen on their coat, and then groom themselves. However, to be honest, the risk just isn’t worth taking.

Here is a graphic you can share:

Valentine's Day dangers to your pets

I hope this Valentine’s Day brings you and a loved one closer, but to avoid heartache of an altogether different sort, for the sake of your pets, take care where you put those Valentine’s gifts.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Feb. 13, 2015.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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