February in New Orleans is the height of sweet decadent indulgence. First, it's carnival season, and then of course there is Valentine's Day smack dab in the middle of the month. That means after we've consumed our weight in all the delicious (ever-growing) varieties of king cake, those who haven't given up sugar for lent (pshaw!) get started in on the delicious delights of chocolate and all manner of other sugary treats. (We need something to tide us over until Easter, right?)
The problem is, all this decadent delight is dangerous to our furry, four-legged family members. While some baked goods are perfectly acceptable for pets, those containing certain fruits are not. Grapes, raisins, and currants, for instance, can cause kidney failure in dogs, cats, and ferrets. Of course any baked goods containing chocolate such as cookies or brownies are a definite no-no. What makes chocolate toxic to dogs? The same thing that can make it potentially toxic to humans if too much is consumed.
Chocolate contains theobromine, a cardiac stimulant and diuretic. which can have some health benefit to humans, as long as we don't over do it. (Note: While it takes a lot of chocolate, like 100 g, too much theobromine can cause sweating, trembling, severe headache, nausea and anorexia in humans.) Chocolate also contains high amounts of fats (as do nuts!) which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and possibly even pancreatitis.
While it isn't technically a poison, and toxicity depends entirely on the size of your pet, animals are much more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and theobromine than their human companions, and it's better to be safe than sorry.
It's good to remember the darker the chocolate, the larger the amount of theobromine, and while milk and "white" chocolate contain lesser amounts, they still aren't healthy for your pet, so be sure not to leave any of your Valentine goodies lying about where animals can get to them.
Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in gum, candies, and some baked goods, is even more toxic to dogs than chocolate. It can cause the release of insulin, leading to liver failure, and higher insulin levels can also lead to hypoglycemia. According to Preventive Vet, Xylitol poisoning cases are on the rise, so much so that the FDA issued a warning in 2011 about the danger.
Note: Xylitol is also used to sweeten some peanut butters, so be sure to read the label before giving your pet any of this popular treat.
Other potential Valentine pet hazards include flowers, candles, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages, as well as decorations. Lilies in particular are toxic to cats, as are tulips and other bulbs, and thorns on roses can present problems to paws or injure the mouths of pets that like to chew. Make sure roses have had the thorns removed (petals are okay) and see Teleflora's list of pet-friendly flowers so see which ones are safe for pets.
Each year the ASPCA's poison control experts see a rise in cases around Valentine's Day, where well meaning pet parents have not realized that something harmful, usually lilies or chocolates, was not kept out of reach of Fido or Fluffy. While you and your sweetie are celebrating the season of love don't forget about the other love(s) of your life! Keep pets away from chocolate and other harmful substances! If your pet has consumed something potential harmful, call the ASPCA Poison Control Center Hotline (24hr) 1-888-426-4435 or call or visit your vet right away.
ASPCA Valentine's Day Safety Tips
Pet-Friendly Flowers and Plants
The Curious (Toxic) Chemistry of Chocolate
5 Valentine's Tips All Pet Families Need to Know
Dog Chocolate Toxicity Meter
Lily Toxicity in Cats
Xylitol: The "Sugar Free" Sweetener Your Dog NEEDS You to Know About