I've written before of our trials and tribulations with our pets. Those who know us well also know that we will go the extra mile for our fur-kids. This story is no different.
For the past two months, our lovely Quinn has been on a vet-prescribed elimination diet to determine what is making her so darn itchy. She is so itchy, in fact, that we now refer to her as 'Itchy Skin Quinn'. We are fortunate to know hunters who are willing to provide us with those parts of the animal that are not used for human consumption so we can make Quinn's meals on a daily basis. And we don't stop at diet; she is bathed twice weekly with a prescription shampoo and receives a bi-weekly concoction of herbs and oils designed to be absorbed directly into the fatty layer of her skin.
We are now a fully 60+ days into Quinn's elimination diet; as such, I think it's fair to suggest that this limited palette is getting a little dull. Fortunately (for us), she has never been a food thief, not even of her treats we keep on a side table used daily for brief training sessions. Perhaps we counted our chickens (or our treats) too soon, as we proudly bragged her up at Christmas that she might sniff but never actually helps herself to food without our permission, not even her own meals. Perhaps, we need to be more humble; perhaps we need to learn never to say 'never'.
Only two nights ago, Eric made a deliciously spiced mix of burger, onion, dried bread crumbs and egg. After a number of consecutive days of bitter - 40+C days, he excitedly went to fire up the bar-b-que in our -10C heat wave, only to return to find Quinn, forepaws resting comfortably on the counter, two burgers missing and confidently working on a third. Suffice to say, he was not pleased. Not only was this our supper; not only was this tasty little meal well outside Quinn's elimination diet; it also contained onions, known to be toxic to dogs. After a bit of research we came to understand that one small dose is unlikely to create a significant problem, whereas several small doses over time would.
While we were still not pleased with this new behavior, who can stay mad at a face like this? 'To err is canine. . . to forgive is devine,' and all that stuff.
The incident was all but forgotten when, the very next day, Eric left a butter tart on the table unattended for a total of two minutes when it literally vanished. Quinn was contentedly working on her moose-stuffed kong at the time. While looking somewhat guilty, when he returned, she was back on her bed, kong between paws. But, as there were only the two of them on the floor, and one was sure he didn't eat the butter tart, there was only one place to turn. . .
Here is where the story gets really crazy. While we knew grapes and raisins were not good for dogs, we had NO IDEA just how toxic they can be. We read several articles, every single one of which insisted the consumption of even a single raisin is sufficient cause for an immediate trip to the vet. We then phoned the after hours emergency clinic, only to be assured that everything we have read was correct. Off we went!
The first step was to induce vomiting which would hopefully produce the offending foods. Sure enough, Quinn threw up 12 wee raisins, which were then weighed to determine the potential level of toxicity. We now know that there is no real understanding why a grape or raisin can be lethal to a dog. Indeed, some dogs die from ingesting a single fruit, while others can get away with a handful and be unaffected. What we do know is that there is no antidote; prevention is the best route and, when that doesn't work, it's a matter of purging the system of any offending substances, and observation. After sharing my experience with an on-line international dog group, I received myriad food-related comments that demonstrate just how toxic some things can be to our four-legged friends. One woman who lives in an area where vineyards flourish said she has seen dogs eat grapes right off the vine and yet, her friend's dog ate some of the fallen grapes and died within 24 hours.
We now know that grapes, raisins and currants (Vitis species) can cause kidney failure in dogs. Foods such as raisin bran cereal, trail mix, granola or, as in our case, baked goods, all have the potential to be toxic. While dogs that ingest large volumes are more likely to suffer more severe consequences, and some dogs have more tolerance than others, there is no way to predict which dogs are more sensitive.
The most common symptom of toxicity is vomiting, usually within the first 24 hours, followed by lack of appetite, lethargy and possibly, diarrhea. More severe signs are not seen until 24 - 48 hours after ingestion, when acute kidney failure begins. The kidneys may shut down, the dog will not produce urine and blood pressure will increase dramatically. The dog then lapses into a coma. By now it is obvious that outcomes are poor.
So here sits poor Quinn, confined to a cage in a place with strange smells and too many bright lights. In our ignorance, we did not immediately research the toxicity of raisins; it was a full 3.5 hours before we were standing at the door of the emergency medical clinic. As stated, induced vomiting produced the offending 12 raisins, after which Quinn was administered activated charcoal to prevent further absorption of the toxin. Intravenous fluids are being administered to flush any remaining toxins out of her body as quickly as possible. After 48 hours her kidney values will be assessed to determine whether the treatment needs to be more aggressive. Blood work may need to be repeated at 72 hours and even two or three days following.
Prognosis depends on many factors, not the least of which is, how sensitive the dog is, how significant the poisoning, how soon the dog was decontaminated and whether there was any clinical signs of kidney failure. Because Quinn ate only a few raisins, this combined with her size, our relatively quick response and the medical treatment she is receiving, her prognosis is very good and we are cautiously optimistic. As of a few hours ago, we have been advised by her veterinary caregivers that she is doing well and shows no signs of kidney damage. If the kidneys become damaged and urine is not being produced, the prognosis is indeed poor and fatality becomes likely.
While it's all well and fine to joke about our beloved pets getting into mischief, we are painfully aware that our negligence can easily have outcomes that are not even remotely laughable. Common foods that are toxic to dogs include onions, garlic, alcohol, chocolate, cocoa, macadamia nuts, fatty foods and all foods containing the sweetener xylitol to the list, all of which can be fatal. In Quinn's case, ingestion of onions in the burgers she helped herself to the evening prior, may easily have compounded the problem. And if her health (perhaps her very life) doesn't inspire us to take better care, perhaps the bill will; the estimate received starts at $1,200CAD, with the potential to double over as many days. We feel fortunate that we do not have to ask ourselves whether this is, in fact, an expense we can easily absorb. Many would not only find this a significant hardship; they simply could not do it!
Grapes and raisins have only been identified as a potential problem for dogs, though there have been some anecdotal reports of cats and ferrets being affected so the best advice is to keep them away from all your animals.
UPDATE:We brought Quinn home and she seems none the worse for wear except that her poop is like black tar (due to the activated charcoal) and she must not have enjoyed it going down because her coat is full of charcoal too lol. The bill was even slightly less than the original estimate so that's a good thing too! so here are a few other things we learned last night:
1. vets see a whole bunch of dogs over the christmas season, mostly due to being fed turkey or ham; either the bones cause a problem (cooked bones can also kill a dog) or with pancreatitis due to the fat.
2. if you have a dog that gets into something you should phone for advice. If you absolutely CANNOT get the dog in, you can induce vomiting but it is rarely recommended as it isn't always successful, which compounds the problem and there is only a short window of opportunity (about an hour)
3. the issue of toxicity is very complicated and not well understood for all substances. some dogs are highly sensitive to chocolate, while the one vet assistant talked of her little dog getting into the Halloween candy, eating many chocolate bars, and none the worse for wear. In other words, it's a crap shoot. We chose to err on the side of caution.
4. as with most things, prevention is the best option. We learned a rather expensive lesson; the fact that it pinches a little isn't such a bad thing.