ASK THE VET: During cold winter months, what are some of the common risks to our pets?
Answered by MHS Veterinarian Dr. Michael Redmer, D.V.M.

Q: During the cold winter months, what are some of the common risks that plants and other substances may present to our pets, and how can we avoid them?

A: Santa is long gone and, before we know it, the Easter bunny will be on his way. Do you have any poinsettias or Easter lilies in your house? Or a four-pound box of chocolate? This time of year often leads to numerous plants, foods and other dangerous items being more accessible to pets, resulting in their ingestion and potential life-threatening complications. The presence of new items in the environment often results in an uncontrollable urge to “sample” them. Pets left to their own devices often chew on or ingest plants and other non-food items.

Many indoor ornamental plants, when ingested, will result in life-threatening toxicities. Minimally, their ingestion will result in digestive upset with transient or persistent vomiting and diarrhea not what you want to find during an Easter egg hunt!

Poinsettias, which may still be displayed, were once considered to be toxic. They can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, and may cause mild vomiting or nausea. Poinsettias were at one time toxic, but genetic selection for showy traits has decreased their potency to a point that is irritating, but usually not deadly.

Giving chocolates to your sweetie for Valentine’s Day? Be sure to keep all chocolate away from the family dog, cat or ferret, as the chemical theobromine in chocolate can prove deadly if ingested.

The ingestion of Easter lily (lilium longiforum) leaves and/or flowers results in kidney toxicity; soon after eating the flowers or leaves, gastrointestinal upset develops and the animal becomes depressed. Acute renal (kidney) failure is usually observed 48-96 hours after exposure. Supportive care in a veterinary hospital has been shown to be beneficial, but only if performed within six hours of plant ingestion. Households with cats may want to forgo this plant entirely.

Many trips to the veterinary emergency room are the result of other common household risks including:

Bones. MHS does not recommend giving any bones, especially those from fish, fowl or pork, to dogs, as they can splinter and lodge in your pet’s throat or digestive tract, causing serious injury.

Electrical cord chewing. This can result in electrocution with sudden death, or more commonly, oral burns and heart and lung complications.

Batteries. These contain corrosive agents that when ingested can cause severe ulceration of the mouth, tongue and the entire GI tract, and when swallowed, could also result in an obstruction requiring surgery or the death of your pet.

Medications. Don’t give your pet any medications unless advised to do so by your pet’s veterinarian. Keep human medicines and supplements out of reach of pets.

Foods. Remember to feed your pets only quality pet food, and greatly limit table scraps. Avoid food items that could cause problems for your pet, including, but not limited to:

Alcoholic beverages, avocado, chocolate (all kinds), coffee (or coffee grounds), fatty foods (can cause pancreatitis), grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, moldy or spoiled foods, onions, onion powder, garlic salt, yeast dough (unbaked bread), Xylitol (an artificial sweetener).

Be sure to secure garbage cans so that your pet does not have access to these foods when disposed of.

Outdoor winter hazards can also result in life-threatening intoxications. Most animal guardians are aware of the serious toxicity of antifreeze (ethylene glycol). Unfortunately, antifreeze has a pleasant, sweet taste and even very small amounts can be fatal when ingested. As little as one teaspoon can be deadly to a cat, and less than four teaspoons can be dangerous to a 10-pound dog. Propylene glycol is a safer form of antifreeze and is recommended to use in households with pets. Be sure to wipe your pet’s feet after walks.

Always be prepared! In spite of your best efforts, your pet may become poisoned. Keep the telephone numbers nearby for your veterinarian and local emergency/after-hours veterinary service, as well as the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888.426.4435.

If you suspect your pet has ingested something poisonous, seek veterinary medical attention immediately! Time can be the determining factor in the successful treatment of your pet.

Have a safe and healthy winter!

By: Michael Redmer, D.V.M.
Dr. Redmer has been a staff veterinarian at the Michigan Humane Society Berman Center for Animal Care veterinary center in Westland for more than 10 years.

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To set up a veterinary appointment for your pet, please call one of the three Michigan Humane Society veterinary centers.


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