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Pet Danger Myths Debunked


Most pet owners will admit that while their animal companions are wonderful, intelligent and talented, they can sometimes be a little confusing. And by a little, we mean a lot. Thankfully, there are experts who can help us better understand our furry and feathered friends. Celebrity veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney is here to answer all of your perplexing pet questions about potential dangers to your pet.

Q: How dangerous is chocolate to dogs?


A: Chocolate can be safe to very dangerous for dogs depending on the type, quantity and concentration of stimulants of chocolate that is consumed.

Dogs (and cats) are very sensitive to stimulating chemicals, such as theobromine, which is found in chocolate. Theobromine is a member of the methylxanthine class of chemicals including caffeine, which is the primary methylxanthine found in coffee and soda.

Dogs metabolize theobromine at a slower rate than humans. Therefore, they are more susceptible to toxicity resulting from dietary indiscretion involving chocolate. Gastrointestinal, urogenital, cardiovascular and neurologic systems can be adversely affected. Gastrointestinal signs include vomiting, diarrhea and increased water consumption. Urogenital signs include increased urination or urinary incontinence. Cardiovascular signs include increased heart rate and arrhythmia. Neurologic signs include restlessness, muscle tremors, seizure activity and, in severe cases, death.

The highest concentrations of theobromine are found in baking and dark chocolate. Semisweet and milk chocolate contain less, but still enough for concern. The lowest amounts of theobromine are found in chocolate-flavored commercial products and baked goods. White chocolate contains no theobromine.

Chocolate also contains fat, sugar and other ingredients that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort and pancreatitis. In general, my recommendation is to not feed chocolate to your dog and prevent its access to places where such tasty human treats are kept

Q: Is it a serious danger to accidentally shine a laser light in cats’ eyes?


A: Laser pointers can provide behavioral stimulation and physical activity for pets. Such stimulation can especially be helpful for overweight cats that live otherwise less-than-stimulating lifestyles while residing completely indoors and lacking stimulation from another feline or canine cohabitants.

According to one Scientific American article, “eye damage from a pocket laser is unlikely, but could be possible under certain conditions. Red laser pointers that are ‘properly labeled’ in the 3-5 mW range have not caused eye damage — no retinal damage has been reported — but there are very real concerns. One is pointers not manufactured to federal specifications. There are reports that green lasers, improperly imported to the U.S., far exceed safety limits.”

My suggestion is to is prioritize your cat’s health and safety by following the manufacturer’s guidelines, which typically say to not shine a laser pointer into a pet’s eyes. Even if there is no manufacturer recommendation on the packaging for the laser pointer, I still do not recommend that it is shined into the eyes of your feline (or canine) companion

Q: Is it dangerous to use a Swiffer Wet Jet on surfaces dogs will walk across? What if the chemicals get on their paws and they lick it off?


A: Humans use a variety of chemicals to clean the environments we share with dogs and cats. Sometimes we forget that our pets can pick up toxins from the environment on their paws and fur, which then enter their mouths during self-grooming (licking the paws or hair coat).

According to the Proctor and Gamble’s material safety data sheet for the Swiffer Wet Jet, “this product is expected to have a low order of toxicity. Oral ingestion may result in gastrointestinal irritation with transient nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.”

Additionally, under toxological information, it’s reported that “Swiffer Wet Cloths are non-toxic and this finished consumer product is not carcinogenic.”

It’s not completely clear if the quantity pets may consume from walking across a wet or dry floor cleaned with the Swiffer Wet Jet would cause clinical signs of illness. Therefore, my general recommendation would be to prevent your pet from coming into contact with surfaces that the product was used to clean.

Should your pet show any clinical signs of illness after suspected or confirmed contact with Swiffer Wet Jet, including salivation, pawing at the face or mouth, excessive lip licking, vomit, decreased appetite, diarrhea or other signs, then immediately pursue an examination with your veterinarian or local emergency veterinary hospital

Q: Are lilies really a serious danger to cats?


A: Yes, plants belonging to the genus Lilium (Easter lily, etc.) are especially dangerous to cats. All parts of the lily (flower, pollen, stems, leaves and bulbs) can cause lethal kidney failure should Fluffy opt for a taste.

If you suspect or are certain that your cat has consumed any part of the lily plant or flower, then immediately pursue an examination with your veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital.

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to keeping your cats safe from lily toxicity. Never leave a pet, especially your feline friend, unobserved in the presence of a seasonal plant like a lily. Their curiosity nearly always supersedes your estimation that the plant will go unexplored.

Always obstruct your pet’s access to interesting plants by putting a closed door between your cat and potential life-threatening toxicity. Of course, the safest means of preventing toxicity would be to not allow a plant known to be toxic to your pet into your home.

An extensive list and photos of toxic and non-toxic plantscan be found via the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

 Q: Can dogs die from eating twigs?

A: Dogs have stronger stomach acid than people, therefore rougher and fibrous materials, like grasses and sticks, can be partially to fully digested in the canine stomach and subsequently passed through the small and large intestine.

Yet if a dog swallows a stick in a large chunk, it is more likely to remain whole in the stomach instead of appropriately passing out of the stomach into the small intestine. Pieces of foreign material like a stick can irritate the stomach lining, causing gastritis. Vomiting can ensue to evacuate the foreign material out of the stomach through the esophagus.

During this process, stomach acid can severely irritate the esophageal lining and cause irritation and stricture (scarring). In a more severe scenario, the solid material could even become lodged in the esophagus and cause an obstruction. Not only is this condition severely uncomfortable for pets, but either emergency endoscopy or surgery is needed to resolve it.

Such a situation isn’t exclusive to twigs. Rocks, bones, antlers and even some dog treats (rawhide, dental treats, etc.) can also cause digestive problems in dogs.

My general recommendation is for dogs to not chew on or consume any material that could potentially cause digestive upset.

By PawNation Editors Feb 24, 2014

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