While winter is a great time for dogs to have fun playing in the snow, enjoying holiday treats and getting extra time with their special people over Christmas vacation, the holidays and cold weather bring a number of health hazards for dogs. While poinsettias have had their toxic reputation greatly exaggerated, there are a number of seasonal items that are quite poisonous for dogs. Here are a few important canine poisons to beware of in the winter months.
Antifreeze-a Danger to Dogs’ Kidneys
Ethylene glycol-containing antifreeze is incredibly toxic to dogs. It causes rapid irreversible kidney damage, leading to a slow, painful and unpleasant death from kidney failure. Antifreeze poisonings are all too common in the winter months. Fortunately, many newer antifreezes contain an added bitter flavoring agent, or the less toxic propylene glycol. Older type ethylene glycol antifreezes, however, have a very sweet and palatable taste and a dog will drink it, or even lick it from the ground. To avoid antifreeze poisoning in your dog, clean up any spills immediately and thoroughly and dispose of antifreeze properly. If you suspect your dog has been exposed to antifreeze, take them to your veterinarian or animal emergency clinic immediately. Treatment immediately after antifreeze exposure may save your pet.
Bad Dogs Sneaking Chocolate
Careful with your winter baking! Dogs are extremely sensitive to the theobromine in chocolate, which can cause heart problems and seizures. The darker the chocolate, the more hazardous it is to dogs, and baking or bittersweet chocolates have the greatest concentration of theobromine and so are the most hazardous. A single chocolate chip will not likely affect a large dog, but smaller dogs are much more vulnerable to chocolate intoxication. Watch out for food gifts under the Christmas tree – I once had a patient that ate an entire gift box of chocolates, wrapping paper and all. Despite the chocolate poisoning, he had a doggie smirk on his face when he came in for treatment.
Poisonous Holiday Plants and Doggie Snack Time
Many dogs enjoy chewing on greenery which is a normal urge, and then throwing up the partially digested plants- also normal. One theory is that it allows dogs to clear their digestive systems. Unfortunately there are many holiday plants that contain toxins and can poison the snacking dog. Decorative Christmas plants such as cyclamen, kalanchoe, yew, ivy, holly berries and amaryllis can cause symptoms ranging from stomach upset to seizures. Much more toxic is mistletoe, which should be kept far out of reach of pets, especially the berries. Keep plants out of your dog’s reach and contact your veterinarian if your dog snacks on any winter house plants.
De-Icer and Rock Salt Hurt Dog’s Paws and Belly
To melt away winter snow, many people use de-icing agents or rock salt sprinkled on sidewalks and driveways. Unfortunately these substances can hurt dogs in two ways, chemical irritation and poisoning. Exposure on dog’s pads can cause irritation and blistering. When dogs lick their paws, they ingest the toxic chemicals in the rock salt and de-icing agents and can develop stomach upset and electrolyte imbalances. Keep a cloth by the door and wipe your dog’s feet after returning from a walk outside, or better yet, wash the feet with warm water.
Enjoy a wonderful holiday with your dog companion, and keep them safe from these common winter toxins and poisons!
“Animal Poison Control Center,” ASPA.org