Putting chocolate away keeps the vets at bay: Tips for preventing pets from eating unsafe foods

Putting chocolate away keeps the vets at bay: Tips for preventing pets from eating unsafe foods

Pets can be sneaky, and if left alone for a few seconds too long, they may be found amongst a feast of toxic foods. 

When a pet gets into something they shouldn’t, it’s important to know what to do. Luckily, the staff at Vale Park Animal Hospital are well-versed in treating food-related illnesses in pets.

The most common issue veterinarians see is chocolate digestion, but xylitol, an ingredient found in sugar-free gum, is another common culprit. The toxins have very different effects on pets.

“With xylitol, you will see a really rapid decrease in blood glucose,” Associate Veterinarian Ashley Walker said. “They’ll get really weak and can even have seizures if they've had enough of it. Some pets will just be really dumpy and lethargic. On the other hand, if you have chocolate toxicity, it's kind of the opposite because it gives them an excitability issue. They’ll usually have rapid heart rate, excessive drooling, and won’t be able to relax.”

Accidents happen, but there are ways to prevent them. Walker says that ensuring food gets put away after use is one of the most important things to keep in mind, especially if children are in the house.

“Keeping things out of pets' reach can be tricky. A lot of times, kids will leave things out and on the floor. Naturally, the dog will eat a bunch of Hershey's Kisses it found on the floor. They’re delicious, and the dog knows that too,” Walker said.

Not all food-related issues are due to sneaky pets eating treats, however. Some food issues are due to pet owners being unaware of the harmful effects of foods. A common example is feeding cats milk.

“It's more of a TV or movie thing versus something that cats can actually drink. They don't have a lot of the correct enzymes for digesting milk by the time that they're adults,” Walker said.

Seasonings like garlic and onions can also be toxic to pets. Many owners enjoy sharing their meat scraps with pets after dinner, but these common seasonings can be harmful for pets to digest.

It can be difficult to know what is and isn’t safe for pets to eat, and it can get especially challenging when facing a potential emergency. Walker recommends getting familiar with resources from sources like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) on pet food safety.

She also advocates for pet owners to use a pet poison hotline in case of emergency. Both the Animal Poison Control and the Pet Poison Helpline offer help in an emergency and will work with a veterinarian to discuss the best course of action for a pet in need. The service is especially useful when dealing with potentially complicated toxicology reports.

“As veterinarians, we see toxicity cases on a fairly regular basis, but we're not toxicologists. It's nice to have that second opinion. That is the only thing that they do, so they can confidently tell us exactly what we need to push through to make sure that your pet is healthy and safe,” Walker said.  

Of course, the staff at Vale Park is always available to answer any questions as well. Many cases of food-related illness can be solved with rest and some plain food, but Walker and the team are always happy to offer reassurance or guidance to pet owners who may be unsure of what to do. 

“I would much rather answer some questions over the phone from a concerned owner than have an owner question it on their own and potentially cause a problem that we can't reverse in time. Everyone is always welcome to call,” Walker said.  "And if we can't get you help right away, we may direct you to call one of the poison hotlines to make sure you get the information you need as quickly as possible to help your pet as effectively as can be managed."