In my first bestseller, Sometimes It Breaks Your Heart, I tell a story from my student days of three sisters who brought their dying 140+ pound Labrador to Cornell Vet College. They were there because their local vet in Brooklyn couldn’t do anymore to save the poor creature. I was the senior year student assigned to the case, and it was a genuine heartbreak.
It was one of those “kill the animal with kindness” stories that we veterinarians see all the time. In the case of poor ol’ Buddy, his gentle owners gave him a painkiller called Excedrin® Extra Strength. When I asked them why, they said they “didn’t like seeing him in pain.” (The poor old dog had severe arthritis and hip dysplasia.) “It always worked well on my arthritis,” said the oldest sister. The trouble with this Excedrin® product is that its main active ingredient happens to be acetaminophen, more commonly known as tylenol. In Buddy’s case, about three days after being on the drug, he stopped eating and began to turn yellow (jaundiced) in the eyes. After five days of intense hospitalization, despite all of the best veterinary care in the whole world, Buddy died. And it was awful. In my practice, well-meaning owners give tylenol (and all of its cousins: Advil®, Alleve®, Motrin®, etc.) for all kinds of absurd reasons. “He had a fever(?).” “She cut her paw.” “The poor dog wouldn’t eat.” The bottom line, gentle reader, is never ever give any of these types of painkillers to your pets. You might get away with it once, or twice, but the drugs will eventually destroy their livers.
I learned about a new product that is unintentionally killing our pets just last week. It’s called Xylitol. For those readers who have never heard of it, Xylitol has been used as a sugar substitute since the 1960s. Derived from fruits, berries, corn cobs, birch and other hardwood trees, xylitol is approved as a food additive in unlimited quantity, and appears (so far) to be completely safe for humans. The product has been a God-send to people with diabetes, it has been proven to help reduce tooth decay and help reduce ear infections in children, and has been a large component in tons of weight loss products. Again, it seems to be completely safe for people. However, a recent article in the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association had an article on eight dogs who died of liver failure after eating products containing xylitol. The article mentioned that there were 138 cases reported to The Animal Poison Control Center in the first six months of 2006. In mild cases of the xylitol ingestion, the product seems to cause a sharp decrease in dog’s blood sugar levels. The signs of this are weakness, stumbling, dizziness, and seizures. In more drastic cases, we see signs of liver failure: not eating, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice. The take-home message here, treasured readers, is to not give any sweetened products to your dog at all. (I know no one will listen to me on this one.)
And with my sincerest apologies in advance to my much valued grape farmer friends, the final—but certainly not the last—common foods I’ll talk about today that can kill dogs and cats, are grapes and raisins. All grapes, both seeds or seedless, white or purple, organic or not, have been found to be harmful. The toxic component is still not known. The cause of death in fatal cases is kidney failure. The only report I found regarding how much you need to cause clinical signs, are three and a half ounces of grapes, or a half an ounce of raisins, per 10 pounds of dog. Signs seen in mild cases are vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, the pet develops a progressive weakness, has possible abdominal pain, and begins to drink and urinate excessively. And like all of the above examples, I know there will be readers who’ll tell me they’ve been giving their pets raisins for years with no problems: All I can say is, “I’m glad your pet is still alive, but now that you know better, it’s best if you stop.” Thank You.