As the holidays roll around, we pet owners tend to want to treat our loved ones to something special from the dinner table. Due to this, veterinarians see an increase in the maladies associated with dietary changes during this season. When pet owners give their pets such “treats”, they unknowingly increase the risk of several conditions that can potentially make our furry family members quite ill.
The first condition we see is known as dietary indiscretion or “garbage gut”. This can occur with any change in the regular feeding habits of our pets. The quality of the food has little or no bearing on how sick your pet can become. In other words, your pets’ suffering does not mean you are a bad cook, only that the particular food does not sit well and will result in vomiting and/or diarrhea. In most cases of dietary indiscretion, gastrointestinal protectants are enough to solve the problem.
The next condition is much more serious. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition of the pancreas, which can result in a life threatening illness. It is typically seen in dogs after they have eaten fatty foods and is more common in smaller and specific breeds such as Schnauzers. However, any breed is susceptible. The signs of pancreatitis in dogs are typically severe vomiting and diarrhea. Upon examination, the pet will display a sensitive abdomen, often accompanied with fever and anorexia. The condition can also occur in cats and does not need to be associated with a fatty diet. Also the signs in cats are much less specific and diagnosis is much more difficult. The signs can range from simple anorexia to vomiting to jaundice. In both species, treatment consists of antibiotics, fluid therapy, pain control and sometimes anti-inflammatory drugs.
Many pet owners are aware that chocolate can be quite toxic to both dogs and cats. Chocolate contains theobromine which is a xanthine compound, thus chocolate ingestion is often referred to as bromine or xanthine toxicity. Dogs do not break this down as quickly as humans and because of this slow digestion, they are more susceptible to the toxic effects. These effects are similar to what a person would experience after ingesting a large amount of caffeine. These symptoms include excitement, hyperactivity, increased urination, increased blood pressure and in severe cases, seizures.
There are two points to note. Firstly, for true chocolate toxicity to present itself in a dog there must be a rather significant ingestion of chocolate. One piece of chocolate should not be enough to cause this reaction. As an example, a 50 pound dog would need to ingest approximately 1 pound of semisweet chocolate to reach the toxic level. Baker’s chocolate is nearly 2 times stronger; hence the same dog would exhibit signs of toxicity after ingesting only about 5 ounces. Secondly, chocolate can cause either of the above conditions of dietary indiscretion or pancreatitis to occur. Following the ingestion of chocolate, either of these illnesses is actually much more common than theobromine toxicity.
Think about these facts before you succumb to the urge to treat your pets. It is wise to try to avoid these fatty foods and chocolate—even small amounts.