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Chocolate Ingestion
Xylitol Poisoning
Canine Influenza
Heat Stroke


Chocolate Ingestion

One of the most common toxicologic emergencies veterinarians see is chocolate toxicity. Chocolate is a popular treat all year round. Care must be taken when animals are present, though. Chocolate can be toxic, and sometimes even fatal, for animals. Though most common in dogs, it is important to remember that cats and other species are susceptible to its toxic effects as well. Chocolate is made from cacao beans and contains a naturally occurring stimulant called theobromine, which is the toxic compound in chocolate. (Caffeine is also present in chocolate, but in much smaller amounts than theobromine.)

Theobromine, not only leads to severe gastrointestinal upset, but also can cause heart arrhythmias and potent central nervous system stimulation; which can manifest in the form of potentially fatal epileptic seizures. Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine, however.  Unsweetened (baker's) chocolate contains 8-10 times the amount of theobromine as milk chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate falls roughly in between the two for theobromine content. White chocolate contains theobromine, but in such small amounts that poisoning is unlikely. If your pet ingests any chocolate, it is important to call your veterinarian. Who will calculate, based on the amount and type of chocolate eaten and your pet’s weight, whether or not your pet ate a toxic amount. 

Your pet may need to be seen right away! 

Xylitol Poisoning

Xylitol is a common sugar substitute found in gum, sugar-free candy, baked goods, and drinks. Humans have no severe complications from overconsumption of xylitol, however xylitol can be toxic to dogs causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and liver damage.

In dogs, xylitol is rapidly absorbed causing insulin release and subsequent hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar may lead to weakness, disorientation, tremors, seizures, and coma. At high doses xylitol can also cause damage to the liver. Signs typically appear 8-12 hours after ingestion and may include lethargy, vomiting, anorexia, and collapse. Many dogs with mild signs recover with treatment, however, liver failure and death may occur.

Xylitol toxicity is dose dependant. One or two sticks of gum may be enough to cause hypoglycemia in a 10 lb dog. Liver damage becomes a concern at five to ten times this dose.

If you believe your dog has ingested a xylitol containing product contact a veterinarian immediately. If seen quickly, vomiting may be induced to decrease the amount of xylitol absorbed. Your veterinarian will want to monitor blood glucose levels and liver values for any toxic effects.

To date, there have been no reports of xylitol toxicity in cats. 

    Canine Influenza

Canine Influenza is a newly emerging infectious disease in dogs. It is highly contagious, and since the virus in relatively new, 100% of dogs are susceptible and 80% will show symptoms. Even dogs with no symptoms can spread the disease to other dogs. Infected dogs spread the virus by direct contact, in their respiratory secretions (coughing/sneezing) for 7-10 days as well as through contaminated surfaces.  

The flu is usually mild but has been known to be serious in some cases. Approximately 20% of cases had severe fever of 104-106 degrees and/or escalated to pneumonia.  

In May 2009 the USDA approved the canine influenza vaccine which reduces the severity of the flu and length of time the dog is sick. This means that vaccinated dogs who still become infected have less illness and are not as contagious to other dogs. There were no side effects or safety issues in field trials including more than 700 dogs when evaluations of the vaccine’s performance were conducted.

The canine influenza vaccine is intended for dogs at risk for exposure to the virus. Since infectious dogs may not appear ill, your dog might come in contact with a contagious dog unknowingly. Risk factors include dogs that go to, or spend time with dogs that: come from a shelter, rescue or pet store; board at a kennel; attend doggie daycare; attend group classes for obedience, agility etc; visit a groomer; play at dog parks; attend dog shows and trials.

The influenza vaccine consists of a series of two vaccinations, 2-4 weeks apart. It is then boostered yearly.

Please schedule your Canine Influenza vaccination if your pet is at risk!


Rabies is a lethal viral disease for all warm blooded animals that contract it, including humans. Many people believe rabies is a thing of the past, but it is very real and still endemic in Montgomery County.

Pennsylvania State Law and Montgomery County Public Health Code require that all cats and dogs three months of age and older be vaccinated against rabies and have the vaccine re-administered as needed. Your veterinarian can check your pet’s vaccination status and determine when a booster is necessary.

A review of 1,500 animal bites reported to Montgomery Health Department in 2009 show that 23 % of cats and 7% of dogs involved in biting incidents were unvaccinated or not up-to-date on their rabies vaccination.

In 2009, there were 14 confirmed animal rabies cases in the county – ten raccoons; two skunks; one bat and one fox. Vaccinating domestic pets is an important step in preventing rabies from being transmitted from wildlife to humans.

Depending on the vaccine given, the age of your pet and the area you live in, protection may last one to three years. If your pet's vaccine lapses and he/she obtains a wound of unknown origin (and you live in Montgomery county), the owner has a choice of 6 months quarantine in a veterinary hospital at the owner's expense, or euthanasia with post mortem examination of the pet's brain for rabies. Other counties have other regulations, but all center around the fact that an unvaccinated pet can pose a health risk to the people he/she is in contact with. In 2009, there were 275 pets exposed to suspected rabid animals that had to be quarantined.

Hopefully your pet will never be exposed to a rabid animal, but even an indoor cat can escape when a door is left ajar or a fenced-in dog can discover the playful raccoon in the trash cans.

You can never be too careful!

Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol Poisoning)

As cold weather approaches, many people will "winterize" their automobiles, including a change of antifreeze. Antifreeze is a syrupy liquid that is usually brightly colored; bright pink or bright green. Take care to keep both new and used antifreeze in a sealed container, out of reach of pets and children. Clean up any spills of antifreeze on driveways and other hard surfaces (kitty litter will absorb the liquid). Ethylene glycol antifreeze is four times more toxic than “safe antifreeze” containing propylene glycol. Antifreeze is odorless and has a sweet taste, which can be attractive to curious and thirsty animals; if they find antifreeze they will drink it. Very small amounts of antifreeze can be fatal. If a cat walks through a puddle of antifreeze and then licks its paws, it can ingest enough antifreeze to cause death. About five tablespoons can kill a medium sized dog. If you see your pet drinking antifreeze, or are at all suspicious that your pet may have had access to antifreeze, contact a veterinarian immediately. Treatment for antifreeze poisoning needs to be started as soon as possible after ingestion to be effective. The earlier treatment is started, the greater the chance of survival. Affected animals will exhibit neurologic signs and will then progress into kidney failure.  Once kidney failure develops, most animals will die. This type of kidney failure usually happens 12-24 hours after ingestion in cats, and 36-72 hours after ingestion in dogs. Success of treatment is dependent upon quick treatment. If antifreeze ingestion is known or even suspected, do not delay. This is not a "wait-and-see" situation; kidney damage will be more severe as time (hours) go by.

If you suspect that your animal has come into contact with antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately!

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is an elevation in body temperature (hyperthermia) caused by environmental conditions. Hyperthermia can become a life threatening situation and requires immediate treatment. Heatstroke generally occurs during the summer when dogs are exposed to hot and humid conditions. Incidence is often increased in early summer before dogs are able to acclimatize to the warmer weather. Dogs commonly present after vigorous exercise, spending extended time outdoors with no shade, or after being left in a hot vehicle with inadequate ventilation. Overweight dogs, brachycephalic breeds, puppies, and geriatric dogs are at increased risk for heatstroke.

Symptoms initiate with excessive panting and restlessness. As hyperthermia progresses, they may begin to have difficulty walking or collapse, demonstrate abnormal behavior, and may vomit or have diarrhea. Respiratory sounds will become louder and more labored and their mucous membranes may change to a purple or bright red color.

When hyperthermia occurs, the inflammatory system is activated leading to cell damage in the blood vessels, brain, and other organ systems. If heatstroke is caught early and treated aggressively the prognosis is often good. However, if clinical signs are severe, multiple organ failure and death may occur.

If you believe your dog may have heatstroke remove your pet from the hot environment, direct a fan towards your dog, and place cool, wet towels on the paws, neck, armpits and groin. Do not use cold water or ice as this will cause vasoconstriction and slow the cooling process. Transport your pet to an emergency veterinarian immediately.


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