The Fruitcake Did It!

The much-maligned fruitcake turns killer!

The poor abused Christmas fruitcake, shunned by many, eaten in secret, is getting more dents in its famously tough hide from animal poison-control experts. Add to its list of sins – toxic to pets.

There’s nothing new about fruitcake recipes contributing to this latest notoriety, but vets have become more aware in recent years that raisins and grapes are toxic to dogs and probably cats. Cats are unlikely to eat anything resembling a raisin, especially if it’s in fruitcake, unless of course we don’t want them to.

So add fruitcake to the list of things we must not leave around over the holidays, lest we spend some stressful hours with the vet emergency team in Rossmore. Grapes and raisins can cause severe acute kidney failure. Heat is not certain to render them safe and even small amounts can be toxic.

The same is true for several other foods that might be around at Christmas. Any kind of chocolate can cause illness, especially in small pets, but it’s the dark, bitter variety used in brownies and such that are of major concern. More information can be found at the Veterinary Partner website. There are several online chocolate toxicity calculators. If in any doubt, call a vet or poison-control.

Most pet owners are aware of chocolate’s dark side and many now know the artificial sweetener Xylitol is poisonous. But the most common cause of toxicity in pets over the holidays – and year-round for that matter – may come through the door in a visitor’s purse. More than half the animal poisonings reported are caused by human drugs. I saw one just the other day, when a local kitty ate an antipsychotic medication that was dropped on the floor – an astounding act to anyone who has every tried to give a cat pills. She just ate it? Cats are so perverse. This incident had a happy ending, but that’s not always so.

When entertaining guests, provide a place where all purses and parcels can be kept safe from the pets. In many cases, it’s just better to put the animals themselves in lock-up. Except for highly social and well-behaved pets, most are happier to be away from the noise and confusion. It’s also impossible to monitor their activities at every moment and guests are prone to buying doggy love with food bribes despite previous instructions.

Other items of concern over Christmas include the obvious ribbons, string, tinsel and any long, skinny things waiting to be eaten by a perverse cat. Even if not poisonous, when eaten in quantity, any food item can cause gastrointestinal upset, perhaps leading to a severe illness called pancreatitis. Dogs don’t respect gift labels. Don’t leave presents of food under the tree.

Most common Christmas plants – holly, American mistletoe and poinsettias – are not overly toxic, but can cause oral and stomach irritation. Lilies can kill cats. Amaryllis snacks will also make them quite sick. If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to a toxin, contact your veterinarian immediately. Advice and information is also available for a small fee at the Pet Poison Helpline – 1-800-213-6680.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
December 2013