Anyone who owns a pet knows that animals have no qualms about trying to eat random objects they find lying around the house. Cats chew on various plants, rats and mice nibble practically anything, and dogs work part-time as vacuum cleaners when food is dropped on the kitchen floor.
However, many things that people wouldn’t ordinarily give a second thought to can actually be incredibly toxic to common household pets. Animals don’t have the same metabolisms as humans; a compound that human bodies can break down effortlessly may prove to be lethal in a smaller animal at the same dose. Here, we will explore several foods and plants that you may not realize are present in your pet’s reach—and the potential medical dangers they can bring if consumed.
This may not be shocking to many animal lovers, but pets do not appreciate the joys of chocolate quite as much as humans, probably because it kills them. Chocolate contains two closely related compounds: theobromine (the primary stimulant) and caffeine, both of which are responsible for chocolate’s energizing effects. These compounds help to stimulate brain and cardiac/skeletal muscle activity, mainly by inhibiting certain cell receptors and enzymes and increasing free calcium concentrations (which helps to power muscles).
At high doses, these effects can cause muscular overstimulation, potentially leading to abnormal heart rhythms, muscle tremors, diarrhea, restlessness, and heart failure. This seems very frightening, and you may be wondering why humans don’t drop dead after eating a piece of chocolate cake. As a matter of fact, humans are able to break down theobromine much more quickly and efficiently than what a dog’s metabolism is capable of.
Because chocolate is a very common food item for desserts and treats, great care should be taken to keep it out of the reach of dogs, cats, and other animals. Other caffeine-containing products such as coffee should be kept away from pets for similar reasons. They can cause harmful overstimulation as well.
What makes people cry and pets die? If you answered onions, you’re surprisingly correct. Onions (as well as closely related vegetables such as garlic, leeks, and chives) are very poisonous to cats and dogs due to compounds known as N-propyl disulfide and sodium n-propylthiosulfate. When ingested, these chemicals reduce the formation of an important antioxidant called glutathione, which ultimately causes toxic hydrogen peroxide levels to rise up. Hydrogen peroxide can alter the structure of hemoglobin, an essential protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen so that it can be dispersed to different parts of the body. This alteration causes hemoglobin proteins to unravel and clump together, forming clumps called Heinz bodies.
Unfortunately, the formation of Heinz bodies can cause red blood cells to burst, which increases the risk of anemia and subsequent organ failure. Humans are very resistant to these side effects, but pets (especially cats) are highly susceptible to anemia after repeated ingestion. Symptoms to look out for include weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, pale gums, discolored urine, and overactive saliva production.