"The dose makes the poison," says MSU toxicologist. Take extra care of pets during the holidays

Dec 17, 2018

Travel, houseguests, and the flurry of activity that happens around the holidays can increase the chances for pets to be exposed to dangerous foods, plants, medications, or other household products. Items of concern include: alcoholic beverages, antifreeze, batteries, chocolate, cleaning products, drugs and medications, grapes and raisins, lilies, macadamia nuts, and products containing the artificial sweetener xylitol.

In addition, with increased legal access to marijuana and marijuana-infused products for people (both medicinal and recreational), veterinarians are seeing an unfortunate increase in cases of marijuana poisoning in pets. 

Dr. John Buchweitz is an assistant professor and toxicology chief at Michigan State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation. He talks about pets and toxins.

John Buchweitz: Toxins are everywhere. Everything is toxic. It does depend on the dose. The dose makes the poison. We're exposed to so many chemicals in our everyday lives, whether it be food, whether it be things that we drink, things that we touch, everything in the environment, it does have a toxic potential. But, it does come down to the dose.

White: And it's different for humans than pets, right, which is why we need to be concerned?

Buchweitz: Absolutely. Toxins, they are species specific. What may affect a dog or a cat may not necessarily affect us and vice versa. 

White: During the holidays, there are some special things to keep in mind. What are some of those? Like several of the foods we enjoy are toxic to pets.

Buchweitz: I just brought my son home from college last night and we gathered around the table and had some dinner. We had buffalo chicken wings. We were eager to sit there and talk and he got up and left the table. Of course, the rest of us got up and left as well. And sure enough, the dog did not leave the kitchen table. And she jumped up and she had herself a nice little buffalo chicken wing dinner and got violently ill immediately.

So certainly around the holidays, people, their families, they gather. They enjoy food. They enjoy gifts and in that our companion animals are sitting there and they are waiting and watching and enjoying, too. But sometimes, we lose track of those things that might be harmful to them. When we least expect it, they are there.

White: So we need to be careful, obviously, all year, but like you say, especially around the holidays when maybe we're eating things we don't always eat and the lovely poinsettias we see this time of year, we should be careful about.

Buchweitz: Well, certainly, plants do have a toxic potential to them. We look at them as nice decorative ornaments but for dogs and cats, consuming them can certainly be a little bit troubling. They can experience a lot of different types of gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. They are not necessarily poisonous in terms of fatally poisonous, but they can certainly cause some distress for the animal. 

White: And, John, you want us to be aware of alcohol as well.

Buchweitz: Oh, yes. Certainly alcohol is brought out quite a bit in holiday settings. And although we may consume it, we certainly don't want to be sharing that with the pets. It can be poisonous in the sense that it can cause a drop in blood pressure, can change their sugar levels and it can become fatally harmful for them.

White: And, John, we're often advised, rightly so, to keep our medications locked up and away from children and again, pets too.

Buchweitz: Yep, absolutely. During the course of your normal day, I'd expect that you, like myself, would keep your prescription medications locked away, either in a cabinet or a cupboard. But certainly as children come home or your grandparents or your aunts and uncles or other extended family members come to the house, and if they have medical conditions that require medications, certainly you want to keep track of that. Again, animals are unique in their interest in something that's new that has popped up in their environment. So certainly we want to keep medications away from the animals.

White: And with recreational marijuana now legal in Michigan, John, and people consuming it in other ways than smoking it, now with edibles, some caution there. 

Buchweitz: Drugs of abuse, such as marijuana, although they are legally acceptable, we should be cautious about having them around pets. They come in many different forms, whether they are smoked or whether they are introduced into food items. We want to treat them much the same as we would care about our children. We would not want them to have access to that. It provides a lot of the same types of effects that we would see in people. And it can be exacerbated in dogs and cats because they are smaller in body size, therefore the effects can be amplified.

White: And, John, of all the things we've been warning about, if they do happen, what should someone do?

Buchweitz: Most certainly, they should seek medical attention. Contact their veterinarian or veterinarian emergency hospital. Here at MSU, the veterinary hospital is open 24/7, 365 days a year and they are there to help your pets. If your animal does get into something that you're embarrassed about, that is not the time to be embarrassed about it. Certainly, you should divulge all the information. That way, the clinician can help your pet get better quicker.

White: So, John, summarize what we should know about toxins and pets.

Buchweitz: Toxins are everywhere. Dose makes the poison and certainly, be mindful of your pets. And if you are concerned that your pet may have gotten into something that is toxic, reach out to your veterinarian and/or call the Pet Poison Hotline and they may be able to assist you.

White: John, thanks so much for sharing this important information with us.

Buchweitz: Thank you. It was a pleasure being here.

White: That's Dr. John Buchweitz. He's an assistant professor and toxicology chief at MSU's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation. There’s much more online at animalhealth.msu.edu.

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