Gum Can Kill your Dog? GUM? Seriously?! Oh, and GRAPES, too? Great! Just great!

Some toxins make chocolate look like candy

Published: March 04, 2013

Photo by Phyllis DeGioia
Some days, it seems like the universe is just one big machine that wants to kill all of us in the most gruesome way possible. Beautiful seas are filled with Portuguese Man-O-War that sting (recently renamed People-O-War for political correctness), sharks that bite, little cone shells that shoot poison darts, and who knows what else. Zombies? Snooki? What happened to a relaxing day at the beach? Where can I relax?

Let’s try the forest – serene communion with nature, right? Nope. Bears can take a chunk out of your hide, trees can fall on your head, and if you nibble the wrong mushroom, you’ll be joining the choir invisible and pushing up the daisies no sooner than you can say “Norwegian Blue.”

We MUST be safe at home, mustn’t we? Home is a castle and all that. Sanity and justice demand it. But, alas and alack, home is full of hazards to life and limb for you AND your pet. Toxins – I am speaking of toxins, here, lurking under the sink, stashed in the garage, nestled in the medicine cabinet amongst the zit creams, cotton swabs, and cold medicines.

Most pet owners have a working knowledge of the big players when it comes to toxins and poisons – your antifreezes, your chocolates, your rat poisons (although I will never forget the one unfortunate dog who tried to bleed out, owned by the guy who didn’t think it was a problem that his dog ate rat poison because "he isn’t a rat"). But there are some new and unusual toxins that are out there that pet owners should be aware of, and some of these make chocolate look like, well, candy.

We’ll start with the oldest of the new. We have known about this one for about 10 years: raisins and grapes. I have always thought raisins were disgusting, little boogery things, suitable only for tricking you into thinking they are chocolate chips in cookies. It turns out that not only are they gross (to paraphrase Eddie Murphy, they are grapes with all the life sucked out of them) they and their non-dehydrated predecessor the grape are deadly. And unpredictably deadly, to boot! Dogs (cats are too smart and tend to avoid them) have eaten as few as 1 or 2 grapes and gone into kidney failure, while others can eat a whole cluster and emerge unscathed.

Grapes and raisins (and even dried currants) have an unknown toxin in them that is found in some, not in others, and damages the kidneys through a mysterious process. Deadly, unpredictable and mysterious, like asking Charlie Sheen to babysit. The bottom line here is stop tossing them to your dog as a treat (use carrots instead) and if your dog gets into any raisins or grapes, call your veterinarian or local emergency clinic for advice on what to do. This threat is very real; I once treated a healthy young lab brought down in his prime by a mere handful of grapes. Only an urgent trip to NYC for dialysis and a gargantuan pile of money and medical effort saved him (he made a full recovery).

Next up in our rogue’s gallery of pet poisons is…gum. Yeah, kind of a let-down, I know. Who dies from gum? But, as it turns out, in our ever-expanding quest to stay slim, humans have developed all sorts of low-calorie compounds that push that ‘sweet’ button on our tongues (you know – the one right next to that giant, inflamed taste bud).

These low calorie sweeteners are usually quite safe for humans (well, except for the cancer you get from saccharin – there is that…) but not so much for dogs. One of them, xylitol, causes dangerously low-blood sugar in dogs who ingest it, and can also damage the liver. I have treated several cases of xylitol toxicity where the dogs emptied purses and rifled through pants pockets (probably looking for grapes, no doubt) and chewed up a pack of gum. Next stop: ER!

The good news is that they have minty fresh breath; the bad news is that they have to stay in the hospital for two to three days while they are monitored and treated. All the cases that I have treated have made a complete recovery due to the fast-thinking and knowledgeable pet owners who brought them in. If your dog chews up your gum, check the ingredient list. If you see xylitol on the label, call your veterinarian or local veterinary ER right away. As little as one piece can contain enough xylitol to put a hurting on your hound.

With Easter just around the corner, this brings us to the last of our new and relatively unknown toxins – lilies. Easter lilies, day lilies, tiger lilies, and several other varieties can all pose a deadly risk to your cats (as far as we know, dogs are not at risk). Peace lilies are toxic but not enough to be life-threatening.  Lily-of-the-valley is toxic to cats and dogs but affects the heart, not the kidneys. All parts of the plant are toxic – I have seen cats go into kidney failure from one tiny nibble. Before we knew this plant was toxic, I can remember several cases of young, healthy indoor cats that went into acute kidney failure without any explanation. I now think those cases were lily intoxications, but we had no way to know that the plant was deadly back then. If you have lilies in your home make sure that your cats don’t have any access to them. If you do note that your cat has chewed on part of the plant, make sure to see your veterinarian right away. This can be treated successfully, but only if it is caught early. Here is a website about lilies with some more info.

There are veterinary hospitals, veterinary ERs and veterinary poison  control centers standing by to help your pet in case of poisoning, but prevention is the key to lots of toxins. Knowing what to avoid can be just as important as knowing what to treat, and your pets are counting on you to keep them safe.

So, let’s see – ocean…no. Forest…no. Home…no. Guess I’ll just have to stay at work! It’s not so bad though – someone brought chocolate chip cookies!


Koren Hellerich 
March 7, 2013

Oh I forgot! As I was finishing reading the article I was eating chocolate chip cookies! LOL!

Koren Hellerich 
March 7, 2013

I just added this link to our updated website. I had been wanting to add a  site that would be available for my clients to search for reliable information. Thank you!This article was wonderfully written and made me smile!

Katie B. 
March 6, 2013

Excellent Monty Python reference, thank you!

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