Holiday Pet Safety Tips from the AVMA

Are you keeping your pets safe this holiday season?  Lots of tempting food and decorations around the house could lead to an unexpected holiday visit to the vet!

Here are a few common-sense holiday pet safety tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Certain people foods are toxic or unhealthy for our dogs and cats.  Make sure these popular holiday food items are out of reach:

  • Chocolate, sweets, and baked goods (the artificial sweetener xylitol is toxic to dogs)
  • Turkey skin and bones
  • Onions, raisins, nuts, and grapes
  • Alcohol
  • Raw yeast dough

Some holiday decorations can pose health hazards to pets, including:

  • Unsecured Christmas trees (and Christmas tree water that contains additives)
  • Tinsel, lights, and ornaments
  • Flowers and plants (including amaryllis, mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias)
  • Potpourri and lit candles

Here’s a cute infographic on holiday pet dangers from the AVMA that you can keep as a reminder!




FDA Investigates Link Between Grain-Free Dog Food and Heart Disease

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that they are investigating a possible link between certain kinds of dog food and a canine heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  In DCM, the chambers of the heart become enlarged, causing the heart to weaken and the body’s supply of oxygenated blood to decrease.

Grain-free dog food has been implicated in this connection because an increased number of DCM cases have been seen in dogs that eat a diet high in peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes.  These are the kinds of carbohydrates that often replace grains like wheat in grain-free dog food.

Besides diet, the affected dogs had no other known risk factors for DCM, which can occur in certain very large dog breeds such as Newfoundlands and Great Danes.

Veterinary cardiologists began noticing cases of DCM in dog breeds not known for having a hereditary risk for the disease.  The common factor among these dogs were grain-free “boutique” diets, which also often contained novel animal proteins.

A report on the FDA warning in the New York Times notes that one large veterinary cardiology practice in the Washington DC area began documenting the growing number of DCM cases in their patients.  The practice reports seeing 8 to 12 new cases per month that are not associated with genetics.

Veterinary nutrition experts say that the trend in grain-free dog food should be viewed with caution.  They note that grains are not necessarily a bad thing in a dog’s diet, and that true grain allergies are rare.

Investigations into the connection between DCM and diet have shown that some dogs eating grain-free diets experience low taurine levels.  Taurine is an amino acid essential to heart health.  Dogs deficient in taurine are at elevated risk for DCM.

Researchers are still not certain what exactly is the dietary trigger that connects grain-free dog food and DCM.  Whether it’s the addition of the legumes or exotic proteins—or the removal of the grains or common proteins—the answer is not clear yet.

No pet food recalls related to DCM and diet have been announced at this time.  If you and your veterinarian suspect food-related DCM in your dog, you can report it to the FDA via their website.

Be sure to talk to your vet if you have questions or concerns about the right diet for your individual dog.


Your Dog Ate Chocolate: Here’s How to Calculate How Much is Too Much

Oh no, your dog just got into some chocolate!  How do you know if the amount eaten is a danger to your pet which requires an emergency visit to the veterinarian’s office?

The PetMD website has created a chocolate toxicity meter for dogs.  You can quickly enter your dog’s weight, the type of chocolate, and the amount eaten to find out if your dog needs to get to the vet ASAP.

Sometimes a very small amount of chocolate eaten by a large dog requires nothing more than observing your dog for symptoms such as vomiting and restlessness.  However, a small dog that eats several ounces of chocolate might be in more danger and require immediate veterinary attention.

Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are toxic to dogs.  Dark chocolate poses a higher risk than milk chocolate.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, seizures, and even cardiac failure and coma in severe cases.

In addition to the toxicity meter, check out PetMD for a handy guide on the theobromine and caffeine content of popular chocolate products, such as M&Ms and Peanut Butter Cups.

On the same page, you can also see a list of the types of chocolate that have the highest amount of theobromine (unsweetened cocoa and baking chocolate top the list).


ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Lists 10 Most Common Pet Toxins

In recognition of National Animal Poison Prevention Week, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center has announced their list of the top 10 pet toxins of 2017.

The Poison Control Center got nearly 200,000 calls about possible poisoning from concerned pet owners last year.  Here are their top categories:

Human prescription medications

17.5% of last year’s calls were about prescription meds.  The most common?  Antidepressants, pain medications, and heart medications.  The Center notes that while most poisoning cases are accidental, you should never give any drug to your pet without talking to your vet.

Over-the-counter medications

OTC drugs accounted for 17.4% of calls to the Center in 2017.  They range from pain medications to vitamins and supplements to allergy and cold meds.  Like Rx drugs, most of these cases are accidental, and you should avoid giving human drugs to your pet (unless your vet says it’s OK).


People food accounted for over 10% of pet poison calls last year.  Sugar-free foods containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol continue to be a hazard, along with other foods like grapes, avocado, alcohol, and raw bread dough.

Veterinary products

Nearly 9% of pet poison cases were caused by veterinary products.  Of special concern are flavored and chewable pet meds that may entice your dog or cat to eat the whole package.


As a people food hazard, chocolate has a category of its very own.  8.8% of APCC cases involved chocolate.  Dogs in particular are at risk for getting into our chocolate treats and eating this toxic food…especially around the holidays.

Household items

8.6% of cases involved household items like paint, cleaning products, glue, and laundry detergent pods.  Yep, pets are getting into those pods too, and the ASPCA notes that they are an up and coming danger for our pets.


The Center reports that insecticide poisoning cases declined last year.  6.7% of calls involved insecticides (such as ant and roach killer).  Be sure to always store them away from pets and take pets out of any room in which they are being used.


6.3% of cases were linked to rodenticides in 2017.  The ASPCA notes that cold weather is linked to more rats and mice entering homes and increased use of these poisons.  Remember that they are as dangerous to your pets as they are to rodents.


Many plants are toxic to pets.  5.4% of cases involved common plants used in outdoor landscaping and indoor flower arrangements.  Lilies are a special danger to cats and both sago palm and oleander are toxic to both dogs and cats.

Garden products

2.6% of the Poison Control Center’s calls involved garden products like fertilizers, herbicides, and soil enhancers.  Some types of mulches can also pose a danger to pets if ingested.  Keep your pets away from areas that have been freshly treated.


Keep Your Pets Safe This Easter

Most responsible pet owners know that pets and chocolate don’t mix.  But there are a few other Easter related pet hazards that dog and cat owners should know about.  Here’s a quick rundown on the most common Easter items that could harm your pet.


Chocolate is toxic to our pets and should always be kept away from curious or hungry dogs, cats, and other animals.  Why is chocolate so dangerous?  Besides caffeine, chocolate contains another stimulant called theobromine.  These substances can cause rapid heart rate, agitation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in pets.


The popular Easter lily poses a serous health risk to cats.  Other types of lilies you may bring into your home at Easter are also toxic.  These include tiger and stargazer lilies.  While the exact toxin in lilies hasn’t been identified, a cat that ingests even a small bite of any part of a lily plant (leaf, flower, stem, pollen) can develop severe, sometimes fatal, kidney failure.

Easter Grass

Those thin strands of plastic grass used to line Easter baskets can pose a health risk to pets.  If ingested by dogs, cats, or other animals, they can become lodged in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract and cause an obstruction.  Surgery may be required to remove the blockage and repair intestinal damage.

Easter Dinner

In addition to chocolate, it’s important to keep an eye on your pets as you prepare Easter dinner and serve it at the table.  Remember that common human foods can be harmful to pets.  Here’s a partial list:

  • Alcohol
  • Bread dough
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Raw poultry and poultry bones

You can refer to the Pet Poison Helpline’s complete list of pet toxins for more information.