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Common Kitchen Items that are Toxic to Your Pets!

We just had a client come in to Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital the other night with a common case of toxicity involving a seemingly harmless snack. The owner had been feeding her dog grapes when her friend (thankfully) walked in and informed her that grapes are, in fact, toxic to dogs. We also recently had a dog come in after getting into her owner’s chewing gum stash. Both dogs had to be hospitalized, but happily both are doing just fine now. In both instances the owners asked, “Why didn’t I know that this was toxic to dogs?” The reality is that quite a number of commonly used household items and foods are dangerous if ingested by your pets. So in the interest of public awareness, here’s a list of potentially dangerous items that you may have in your own home. Some of these you might already be aware of — but some will probably surprise you.

Grapes/raisins/currants
These toxins are relatively new toxin discoveries in the veterinary literature. They can cause kidney damage and failure, although the mechanism by which the damage occurs is still unknown at this point. They affect all dogs differently, so the lowest dose for toxicity has not yet been worked out. It’s best not to give your dogs or cats any of these!

Yeast dough
Yeast dough can cause problems for your pet in two different ways. The stomach provides a warm environment for yeast to rise, and this kind of expansion in the stomach can cause a lot of discomfort. In extreme cases, the intestines can rupture. The other harmful effect of yeast is that as it ferments, it produces alcohol, which can actually cause alcohol poisoning — just as liquor would in your pet.

Onions/garlic/chives
These toxins can cause gastrointestinal upset if eaten in small amounts. Larger amounts can cause damage to red blood cells, causing them to rupture and resulting in anemia, which can in some cases be severe.

Xylitol
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is becoming more and more prevalent in the kitchen. Xylitol is often found in chewing gum and toothpaste and is now also showing up in some baked goods. Its toxicity is unknown in cats, but in dogs it causes low blood sugar in small doses, and liver failure in larger doses.

Macadamia nuts
Signs of macadamia nut toxicity include weakness, depression, tremors, abdominal pain and an elevated temperature. The exact mechanism of toxicity is not fully understood.

Chocolate/coffee
Many people are aware that chocolate and coffee are toxic to pets. Patients with this kind of toxicity present with a really elevated heart rate and can, in severe cases, suffer a heart attack. While many people would not feed their pets coffee, we have had pets come in to Greenbrier with coffee toxicity from getting into coffee grounds in the household compost pile. And when it comes to chocolate, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is.

All of the above can cause signs ranging from mild irritation and toxicity to more severe symptoms. It’s very important, if you suspect that your pet has gotten into any of the above, that you seek advice from your veterinarian or animal hospital to determine the optimal next steps for your pet. Many times, your vet will recommend that your dog be made to vomit and/or receive supportive care and further decontamination in a veterinary hospital. But the best treatment is prevention! Spread the word!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Ticks: a pesky little problem

Since the weather warmed up this spring, you have probably noticed more and more of these awful little creatures. You might find them attached to your pet, on your pant leg or even attached to your skin. You probably know that they look like: a small head with a large body. We are, of course, talking about ticks, pesky little bloodsuckers that can bring diseases not only to your pets, but also to you. Ticks, even in Virginia, often carry tick-borne diseases that can make your pet very sick. They can cause weakness, fever, joint pain, weight loss, anemia and decreased platelets — which increases your pet’s chances for spontaneous bleeding! For some of the tick-borne diseases, your veterinarian can use an in-house “snap” test to evaluate for infection. Sometimes, blood work needs to be sent out to test for “titers,” or your pet’s level of response to the infection. For most of the tick-borne disease processes, if given early, antibiotics can take care of the infection, and your pet can make a full recovery. However, pets that are severely infected may require a stay in the hospital as well as significant medications, and may not respond as well to treatment. So if your pet is starting to become lethargic, is losing weight or is limping, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible!

With tick-borne disease, prevention is key. Multiple preventative tick and flea medications can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Most are monthly treatments that are easily administered to your pet. Please call your veterinarian today for recommendations. And remember, although some of the tick-borne diseases can be transmitted to humans (e.g., Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), you cannot get the disease from your pet. Ticks have to attach directly to your skin in order for you to get the disease.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Congestive Heart Failure in Pets

Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump appropriately, causing fluid to back up into the lungs. In this condition, your pet may exhibit exercise intolerance, an increased breathing rate, difficulty breathing, and pale or blue gums. Dogs may also experience coughing. Cats may breathe open-mouthed.

Pets suffering from congestive heart failure may have a history of heart murmur, which is turbulent blood flow in the heart, or gallop rhythm, which is an extra heart sound your vet may hear that may indicate heart disease. Congestive heart failure is often diagnosed with a physical examination, in conjunction with chest X-rays. The specific type of heart disease is diagnosed with an echocardiogram, which is like a sonogram for the heart.

If your pet is diagnosed with congestive heart failure, it is not necessarily a death sentence! The specific prognosis will depend on the severity of the situation, and on the type of heart disease from which the pet suffers. Treatment is aimed at clearing the fluid from the lungs and maintaining oxygen levels, blood pressure and electrolyte levels. The first line of medical therapy often involves diuretics (or “water pills,” as they are often called), which help remove fluid from the lungs. Other medications may be used as well, depending on the type of heart disease. Electrolytes should be monitored with blood tests, as some of these medications can change the electrolyte balance in the body. Some patients need to be hospitalized and kept on oxygen for a period of time while undergoing treatment. Hospital stays can be extended, depending on the severity of the case. While there is no cure for congestive heart failure, many pets do quite well with medical management and can live for several more years.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Help! My Dog is Having a Seizure!

What is a seizure, and what causes a seizure?
A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled movement of an animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. If you’ve ever seen your pet have a seizure, it can be very frightening. Seizures may be very severe, affecting the entire body, or more mild, affecting only a portion of your pet. During a seizure, your pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive, and could possibly urinate or have a bowel movement.

Seizures have a number of causes, including epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar and brain tumors. If your pet has recently had or is currently having a seizure, we recommend that you bring your pet into Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital immediately. Our veterinarians can use diagnostic tools to help determine the cause of the seizure and treat the problem.

Diagnosis and treatment at the clinic
When you arrive at the clinic, your pet will be examined immediately, and a thorough neurological exam will be performed. If your pet is actively seizuring, an injection of valium or a muscle relaxer will likely be administered. Once your pet is stable, bloodwork will be recommended to help rule out metabolic disease and any possible toxins.

Some pets that have had a seizure get to go home that same day or night, but we may recommend that your pet stay with us for a longer period of time to monitor for additional seizures. We may also recommend inserting an IV catheter, so that we have access to a vein, should your pet start experiencing another seizure.

Depending on the results of the physical exam, neurological exam and bloodwork, your pet will be treated accordingly. If more advanced imaging diagnostic tools (e.g., CT scan or MRI) are needed, we may refer you to a specialty veterinary practice for further diagnosis.

What to do if your pet has a seizure
If you’re at home and your pet is having a seizure, and you are unsure whether or not to bring your pet in, please call Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital as soon as possible. If your animal is having a seizure, also be aware of the following recommendations:

  • Protect your pet during and after the seizure. Remove your pet from heights, and keep it away from water.
  • Remove other pets from the area. Sometimes, pets may act aggressively soon after the seizure has ended.
  • Keep your hands away from your pet’s mouth, as your pet may unintentionally bite you during a seizure. Pets do not swallow their tongues during a seizure.
  • Try to determine the length of the seizure, if possible.
  • If the seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes, call Greenbrier or your family veterinarian immediately.
  • If your pet has more than two seizures in a 24-hour period, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Above all, don’t panic! Call us here at Greenbrier, and our doctors and staff will be here to help you and your pet!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Canine Distemper: Make Sure Your Dog Is Vaccinated!

Canine distemper is a very serious, contagious virus found in dogs that attacks the immune system, making them more susceptible to other infections, including bacterial and parasitic infections. Sneezing, coughing, pneumonia, anorexia, fever, vomiting and diarrhea are all potential signs of this disease. These signs can be difficult to distinguish from “kennel cough,” a common upper respiratory infection that normally heals quickly without treatment, and parvovirus, a debilitating disease that causes profuse vomiting and diarrhea. Canine distemper, however, can also have neurologic signs, including forceful muscle twitching, seizures, blindness, “chewing gum” fits, incoordination, hypersensitivity, circling and abnormal vocalization. These neurologic signs may be seen in conjunction with other symptoms, and may even be seen weeks or months after apparent recovery! Often these neurologic signs are irreversible, but some may be managed with medication, if they aren’t too severe. The mortality rate of this disease is approximately 50 percent.

How do dogs get canine distemper?
The virus is spread directly from dog to dog, mostly in respiratory fluids (oral and nasal discharge exuded during sneezing and coughing), but it can also be found in other body secretions, including urine. The virus can be shed for 60-90 days after infection; however, shorter shedding periods (1-2 weeks) are more common. Fortunately, this is not a hardy virus and is killed by normal disinfecting methods. It doesn’t last long in warm environments and only lasts for a couple of weeks in near-freezing temperatures (although it can last for years in below-freezing temperatures). The most susceptible dogs to canine distemper are unvaccinated young dogs, although unvaccinated older dogs can also develop neurologic signs. A presumptive diagnosis of canine distemper is often made on clinical signs, but specific diagnosis often requires an outside lab.

Prevention is key
There is no cure for canine distemper. Intensive supportive treatment might be necessary for dogs who contract the disease, but the neurologic signs may be too severe to treat. Dogs that recover from this disease may have lasting neurologic deficits, but recovered dogs do not continue to shed the disease to other dogs.

Vaccination and isolation of symptomatic dogs are key to preventing this disease. Immunity can be long-term, but it is not necessarily lifelong, so periodic vaccinations — even in older dogs — are required. Please contact your primary care veterinarian for their recommended vaccination protocol, and keep your pet healthy!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Vomiting in Pets: What Does It Mean?

Vomiting can have numerous causes
Here at Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital, vomiting is one of our most commonly presented complaints. “Doc, my pet is vomiting. What’s causing it, and what can we do about it?” are questions we hear on an almost nightly basis. Unfortunately, the answers are not always simple. Just like in people, vomiting can be caused by a variety of problems.

Sometimes, vomiting is caused by nothing more than inflammation of the stomach or intestines, resulting when your pet ingests something upsetting to the stomach. This kind of case can be treated supportively with subcutaneous fluids (injected under the skin), anti-nausea medication and antacid medication.

Other causes of vomiting include parasitic, bacterial and viral infections; congenital abnormalities (abnormalities patients are born with) and structural abnormalities, including structures in the gastrointestinal tract or masses that prevent food from passing through appropriately; ulcers; and food allergies.

Sometimes, vomiting is directly related to something your pet has eaten — and this kind of situation can be very serious! Some of the most common vomit-inducing toxins we see here at Greenbrier include antifreeze; rat poison (if it can kill rats, it can kill your pet!); drugs (including over-the-counter medications, herbal medications, medications prescribed to the owner, medications prescribed to the dog, and illicit drugs); household plants; cleaning supplies; grapes; raisins; onions; chocolate; and moldy food, which can also produce tremors, seizures and even death.

Occasionally, something your pet has eaten will create an obstruction, which in turn causes vomiting. Some common items that produce obstructions when eaten by pets include underwear; socks; towels; hair ties; string (which may be attached to buttons or a needle); ribbon, including balloon ribbon; tampons and other feminine hygiene products; baby bottle nipples; pacifiers; baby toys; fishing line; dental floss; holiday ornaments and tinsel; rocks; and dog or cat chew toys.

Vomiting can be caused by systemic problems as well, including fever, kidney and liver disease; inflammation of the pancreas (commonly called pancreatitis); vestibular disease; inner ear infections; and seizures. Uncontrolled diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and Addison’s disease can also cause vomiting. In older patients, cancer can cause vomiting. Even medications like antibiotics, chemotherapeutic drugs and anti-inflammatories can cause vomiting in some patients.

So my pet is vomiting — what should I do now?
First, stop feeding your pet. Second, make an appointment with your veterinarian or bring your pet into Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital right away. As the cause of the vomiting can be almost anything and a diagnosis usually cannot be made over the phone, you’ll need to seek medical treatment for your pet quickly. Discuss with your veterinarian what the vomit looks like, how much there is, how many times your pet has vomited, your pet’s energy level, and whether the vomit is associated with anything specific (e.g., right after your pet eats, right after running, after a seizure, etc.).

After a physical examination, your veterinarian or the doctors here at Greenbrier will make recommendations for diagnostics and treatment. Diagnostics often include fecal examination, blood work and radiographs. Sometimes patients will need gastroscopy (during which a camera is used to look inside the stomach).

Treatment for vomiting can include withholding food for a specific time period, keeping the pet on a bland diet, administering fluid therapy (subcutaneous or, in more serious cases, IV fluid therapy), antibiotics, oral medications, anti-nausea medications, antacids, and plasma transfusions. Occasionally — especially when a foreign object is involved — patients will require surgery.

If you see your pet eat something he/she is not supposed to, be sure to bring your pet to a veterinarian or Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital IMMEDIATELY. Quick treatment can often reduce or completely eliminate the problems caused by some of the most commonly ingested items.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Pets and Snake Bites: Act Quickly!

As the weather warms, our slithery, venomous snake friends become more active. And snake bites are a very common problem in the summertime. Our pets are very curious creatures and tend to lead with their noses and their front limbs, so that’s where we see the most bites (on the face and front legs). These bites often cause extreme pain, swelling and bruising, and that’s typically what you as an owner will notice first, if you don’t happen to see the snake itself. You may also see puncture marks that may be bleeding or oozing.

What should you do if you suspect your pet has been bitten?
Bring him/her in immediately to your veterinarian or to Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. Besides being extremely painful, snake bites can cause skin sloughing, shock, dangerously low blood pressure, bleeding abnormalities, and — in rare cases — death. Upon your pet’s arrival at the clinic, we will likely clean the wound; start medical therapy to make your pet feel more comfortable and maintain blood pressure; and perform diagnostics, including blood tests. Often, your pet will need to stay in the hospital for a short time, depending on the severity of the injury. Most snake bites in our area do not require anti-venom, however.

Although snake bites are very painful and can have very serious consequences, most pets do very well with prompt treatment — so if you suspect your pet has been bitten, act quickly to bring them in. Keep your pet as calm as possible. And if you see the snake, remember what it looked like, but DO NOT PICK IT UP! It can bite you, too!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Xylitol: Not So Sweet for Pets

Xylitol, an increasingly ubiquitous sugar substitute, is found in sugarless gum (e.g., Orbit, Trident, Dentyne), sugarless candy, a granulated form for baking, and even in toothpaste. Xylitol has antibacterial properties in the mouth, thereby reducing bacterial load and periodontal disease. Preliminary studies have shown that xylitol may have other far-reaching benefits to humans as well, such as reducing osteoporosis, helping with endometriosis and fibroids, and helping to prevent ear and throat infections.

In dogs, the effects of xylitol are very different. A dog’s pancreas will recognize xylitol as sugar, causing the pancreas to secrete insulin, which in turn causes a profound drop in blood sugar — a dangerous condition that can eventually turn deadly. And it only takes a small amount of xylitol to cause clinical signs — for a 20-pound dog, ingesting just two pieces of gum containing xylitol can be toxic.

Initial clinical signs of xylitol toxicity are related to low blood sugar: lethargy, weakness, disorientation and collapse. Clinical signs of liver failure usually occur 12-24 hours after xylitol ingestion and can include diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, uncontrolled bleeding and death.

So what should you do if you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol? Although there is no specific antidote to xylitol, seek veterinary care immediately. Your veterinarian will likely induce vomiting and place your dog on IV fluids to increase its blood sugar. Blood work will also likely be performed to monitor liver enzymes, blood sugar and blood clotting times. The best chance for your dog’s survival after ingesting xylitol is to begin supportive care as quickly as possible. So if you suspect xylitol toxicity, don’t hestitate! Get your dog to your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital as quickly as possible.

As a side note, it remains unknown whether xylitol is toxic to cats. There have been some anecdotal reports of xylitol toxicity in ferrets, however.

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Sock Snacks Can Be Dangerous for Your Dog!

They say things come in threes, and for me lately it’s been dogs who eat socks. In one month, I have had three such cases. While it might seem rather harmless for a dog to eat a sock, it can actually cause serious problems if the sock passes from the stomach into the small intestines. One of my patients came into the clinic in shock from vomiting. He was in terrible shape when he arrived, so we gave him shock doses of fluids and took a radiograph, which showed that he had an obstruction in his small intestines. We prepped for surgery, and as we were moving him in, he postured for a bowel movement and pooped a sock out! We were all so happy, but imagine how happy the owner was to get the phone call that we did not have to go into surgery!

My second case was not so lucky and had to have a red knee-high sock surgically removed — but he recovered well.

The third case was a bit more of a mystery. An owner came in with a pup who was, apparently, a chronic sock eater. The owner had seen the dog run down the stairs with something in its mouth, and then the dog rapidly swallowed whatever the object was. Since the dog had a history with snacking on socks, thankfully the owner reacted quickly and brought him into the clinic. The dog was stable and acting fine, but to find out what he’d ingested, we decided to give him an injection to make him throw up — and up came a blue sock!

We would come to learn that all three of these dogs had actually eaten socks on prior occasions, but had been lucky enough to throw them up without treatment. So dogs can be repeat offenders when it comes to sock snacking. The moral of the story is: Don’t leave socks lying around where your dog can get to them. Something as simple as a wayward sock can actually get your pup into a dangerous situation. But if you do suspect that your dog has eaten a sock, be sure to get them to the veterinary hospital as quickly as possible.

Dr. Elvira Hoskins

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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Dog Emergency — Impaled!

One of my most unusual cases was a Golden Retriever who walked into the hospital chewing on the end of a stick that was lodged under its skin. The owner had called in advance to say that her dog had impaled itself on a stick, and I was imagining a small puncture that I would need to clip and clean, and then maybe administer some antibiotics. Well, she called back prior to arrival to say that it was actually a big stick. Still, I had no idea what was about to walk in.

This was no ordinary stick — it was about 2 feet long and 1.5 inches in diameter, and entered under the skin right by the front limb and exited by the tail. Oddly enough, not showing any obvious signs of pain, the dog walked in wagging its tail and chewing on the stick, looking at me as if it wanted to play fetch. I took a radiograph just to make sure that there was no surprise chest penetration, and then took the pup off to surgery. There was no muscle involvement whatsoever, and the stick was easily removed, after which the wound was lavaged and sutured. Truly a bizarre case, with a happy outcome, and a testament to some of the predicaments our pets can get into. My only regret is not having had a digital camera that day!

Dr. Elvira Hoskins

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

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