Be My Valentine: pet health hazards of a sweet holiday

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Feb 13 2012

Once a year, people all over the country go on the lookout for the sweetest token of their love to present to their partners on February 14. Oftentimes, it comes down to the wire, and some of us rely on the old standbys – chocolate, flowers and a store-bought card. This Valentine’s Day, you may choose to reward your pet for providing a lifetime of unconditional love, but be sure to keep some of those more traditional gifts out of reach.

Candy is Not Dandy

Those heart-shaped boxes full of chocolate are a temptation too great to ignore, both to us and our curious pets. We’ve talked about the dangers of chocolate before, but it never hurts to reiterate an important point. For many reasons, chocolate can be quite dangerous to our pets. Chemical compounds in chocolate cause gastrointestinal and neurologic problems and can lead to an accelerated heart rate and compromised cardiac function. Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate are the most worrisome, and small dogs are particularly prone to chocolate’s dangerous effects due to their size.

In addition to the methylxanthines that cause the problems I just mentioned, milk chocolates can have a high fat content. Consumption of fatty foods like candy can lead to a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis causes vomiting and abdominal pain, and more often than not, pets with pancreatitis require hospitalization (which, if you don't have a Petplan pet insurance policy to help with the bills, can make any sweet holiday sour).

Trying to be good this year and skip candies with high sugar content? Good for you! But be careful with those candies that contain the artificial sweetener xylitol. While it helps people keep a fit figure, it can be deadly to our pets. Xylitol causes dangerously low blood sugar and is also dangerous for dogs’ livers. Some dogs may make a full recovery, while others develop deadly acute liver failure.

Nip it in the Bud

Don’t let the joy you feel from getting a bouquet of flowers turn into an emergency trip to the vet. Some flowers, particularly lilies, are toxic to cats. If your cats are anything like mine, fresh flowers are ripe for the eating, no matter how hard I try to keep them out of reach. For that reason, lilies are never allowed in my house. For a cat, eating even just a small amount of lily can lead to fatal kidney failure. Talk to your florist about only including flowers that are safe for your pets.

Bring on the Romance

Nothing sparks romance better than candle light and champagne. Before you and your partner head off into the sunset, make sure they are both out of the reach of your four legged Valentines. Candles can accidentally be knocked over and curious kitties (especially youngsters) can burn their paws trying to play with the flame. Overconsumption of alcohol can give us quite a headache, but our pets may not be so lucky. Their small size makes even a small amount of alcohol dangerous.

If your family celebrates Valentine’s Day, include your pet in safe ways. Stuffed heart toys or heart-shaped healthy pet treats are a perfect way to show your four-legged Valentine how much you love them. Just be sure to keep the human treats out of reach!