April showers bring May flowers…which may be toxic!

posted on May 02, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the rains fall, we look forward to the spring flowers that will soon be blooming.  While their bright colors remind us of warmer days coming, they may pose a hazard to our pets.

There are a number of toxic spring flowers that are common in our yards this time of year.  These include things like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, lily of the valley, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths are part of the same family and contain a chemical which can cause drooling, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, increased heart rate, abdominal cramping, abnormal breathing, or cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats or rhythm).  The bulb contains the highest concentration of this chemical, but all parts of the plant contain some, so if your pet has ingested a daffodil, tulip, or hyacinth veterinary attention should be sought.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are also from the same family.  These plants contain a chemical that is toxic to muscles in the body.  This leads to clinical signs such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, irregular heart rate and beat, low blood pressure, weakness, tremors, and depression.  In severe cases it can lead to blindness (usually temporary), seizures, and coma.  Prognosis is generally good with treatment, so if you see your pet ingest one of these plants or if you are concerned that your pet may have, please contact us.

Lily of the Valley also blooms this time of year, and is perhaps one of the more toxic plants talked about today.  Lily of the Valley is not a true lily, so it does not cause the kidney failure other lilies can (yes, most lilies are toxic).  Instead, it contains chemicals that affect the heart.  Signs of ingestion can start with vomiting or diarrhea, but progress to a slow heart rate, arrhythmias, seizures, and can be fatal if left untreated.  If your pet is showing these signs or you know they ingested lily of the valley, contact a veterinarian immediately.

These are just a small sample of common flowers that may be toxic to our furry friends.  Both Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA have excellent websites for checking if plants are toxic.  If there is any question whether your pet got into a toxic plant or if your pet is exhibiting any of the signs listed above, please contact us.


My Pet’s Tummy is Upset

posted on March 06, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

The pet’s GI, or gastrointestinal, tract, is a word used to describe the tube that takes food from the mouth, to the stomach, intestines, and colon.  It may also include a number of organs that help with digestion of nutrients and removal of waste products, including the pancreas, liver, and kidneys, thyroid, and even the brain.  Given that most of the body is included in this list, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when a pet becomes ill, one of the many signs we might see can include the GI tract, such as vomiting.

Vomiting is a very common complaint in our pets.  You might think it means that there is something wrong with the GI tract itself, which may be true, but issues in many of the other organs of the can also lead to vomiting.  This is why we recommend an examination, take a thorough history of signs, appetite, exposure to other pets, toxins, foods, etc. and may recommend tests including blood work to look at organ function, for signs of infection or anemia, stool analysis to look at bacterial balance, and x-rays or ultrasound to look internally at the organs.

Just to give you an idea of things that can cause vomiting in a pet, here is a list.  It is by no means a complete list however, but does include some of the more common causes:

  • anxiety
  • nervous system dysfunction such as vestibular disease (vertigo), motion sickness, megaesophagus, or other motility issues within the GI tract
  • toxin exposure or ingestion
  • dietary indiscretion-this can range from eating something too rich or fatty which could lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), to eating something that just doesn’t agree with the pet and causes gastroenteritis or colitis (inflammation of the GI tract or colon respectively), or eating something that is harmful to the pet (toxin, foreign material)
  • Hairballs and other foreign materials or blockages, also including intuscusseptions
  • Bacterial overgrowth or imbalance
  • Viral, bacterial, fungal, and other infections
  • Ulcers or too much stomach acids
  • Tumors
  • GDV (twisted stomach) or bloat (though sometimes the symptom of these are vomiting WITHOUT producing anything)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, dietary intolerance, allergies, or allergic reactions
  • Metabolic issues such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Addison’s disease, or liver or kidney diseases

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons your pet may be vomiting, which is why we recommend coming in for an examination and testing as mentioned above.  Pending results of the preliminary testing, further testing to look at more specific causes may be recommended such as an ACTH stimulation test, urinalysis, fructosamine level, culture and sensitivity, biopsies, diet changes, allergy testing, barium series, or others.

By working together to determine the cause of the vomiting, we hope to be able to come up with a specific treatment plan to help your pet (and your carpets!) feel better.  Call us today if your pet is vomiting!

Homegrown Hazards

posted on July 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As July rolls around, many of us start to see fresh produce from our gardens.  Who doesn’t enjoy some fresh greens, or watching the fruits of our labors start to ripen into the produce we will pick next month.  While spending time in the garden is good for us, there are some hidden hazards to pets in there.

Many plants in the garden may be potentially poisonous to your pet, and any plant if eaten in large enough amounts can cause issues such as obstructions.  Most toxicities are mild and include gastrointestinal (GI) upset such as vomiting or diarrhea.  However, a few of the ones listed below may be more serious.  If your pet eats something out of your garden and you are not sure if it’s safe or not, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  Please note that this list is not a complete list, just a few of the more common potentially hazardous plants seen in gardens.


Tomatoes are a part of the nightshade family, which contains a number of toxic plants.  Green tomatoes, leaves and stems, and flowers can all contain the toxin, though ripe tomatoes tend to have very little toxin left.  Signs of toxicity can include GI upset, increased salivation (drooling), cardiac effects, and nervous system signs including ataxia (walking uncoordinated like a drunk), dilated pupils, confusion, behavior changes, muscle weakness, tremors, and seizures.


Grapes have been identified as the cause of acute renal (kidney) failure in dogs.  The exact mechanism is not understood at this time.  It is also not known if grapes are toxic to cats.  Signs can take 24 hours to develop, and may include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased or absent appetite, and changes in urine production.  Bloodwork may be necessary to see what the kidney values are, and fluids and hospitalization may be needed to help support the kidneys.  Often damage to the kidneys is not reversible and this toxicity could be fatal, so prevention is key.  Avoid grapes and raisins for any pets in the house, and keep outdoor pets away from grape vines if present in your yard.


Avocados, while possessing a number of health benefits for humans, are actually toxic to pets.  They can cause tissue necrosis (tissue death), and can damage the heart muscles.  They are extremely toxic to pet birds (even a small amount usually is fatal).  Dogs and cats tend to develop GI signs, but may also develop symptoms of cardiac issues such as exercise intolerance, cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing, or collapse.


Rhubarb is toxic to dogs and cats.  The leaves can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and irritation of the mouth (increased salivation or drooling, pawing at mouth).  The plant also contains something called oxalic acid, which can lead to formation of crystals in the urinary tract, and can cause damage to the kidneys, which, in severe cases, can even lead to kidney failure.  Fluid support for the kidneys is recommended and may require hospitalization.

Onion and Garlic

Onions and garlics both belong to the same family and both can cause negative effects on pets.  These plants can cause red blood cell issues such as hemolysis (break down of red blood cells), Heinz body formations (abnormalities in red blood cell structure), agglutination (clumping of red blood cells), methemoglobinemia (methemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin that is NOT able to carry oxygen, reducing the red blood cell’s ability to function correctly), and hemoglobinuria (red blood cell breakdown products being passed in the urine).  This may look like pale gums, bruising, weakness, difficulty breathing, urinating “blood” (very dark urine), or collapse.  In addition to anemia, pets may develop GI signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.  Bloodwork and supportive care such as fluids, supportive feeding, hospitalization, and possibly even blood transfusions may be necessary.

The ASPCA has a good website for checking if plants are toxic and what signs to watch for, and you can always give us or a pet poison helpline a call.  Hopefully together we can help keep pets safe so everyone can enjoy summer!

Wanna go for a ride?

posted on June 06, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Chances are, asking Fido if he wants to go for a ride will be greeted with enthusiastic running in circles, tail wagging, and barking.  Most dogs enjoy spending time with their people, and there is something about a nose out the window that brings pure bliss to our canine companions.  However, as the weather starts to get warmer, it may be safer to keep our pets at home instead of allowing them to come along for running errands.

Numerous studies have shown that the temperature in a vehicle can climb significantly in as short as 10 minutes.  Cars can become up to 40 degrees warmer than the weather outside, even with the windows cracked 1-2 inches.  According to the ASPCA, on an 85° day it takes ONLY 10 minutes for car to reach 102° even with windows down 1-2 inches!  Within 30 minutes it can reach 120°!

Pets do not sweat the same way we do.  They use panting as a way to cool themselves.  Panting requires the evaporation of moisture to occur from the breath, which means the ability to cool is impeded on days where the humidity is high.

Pets that get too warm can quickly go into shock and develop organ damage, which can be irreversible and possibly fatal.  Signs that a pet may be suffering from heat stroke include:

  • excessive panting or difficulty breathing
  • drooling
  • weakness
  • stupor or collapse
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea (can be bloody)
  • temperature > 104°F
  • seizures

If your pet is showing any of these signs, please contact a veterinarian immediately.   We will likely advise you to bring a pet over right away.  Wetting the pet with cool but not cold water and using a fan to blow air over the pet will help cool the pet down.  IV fluids and other measures may be required, especially in severe cases.

Other tips to keep pets cool include making sure they always have access to fresh water, getting them summer haircuts, and making sure they have shade available if they are predominantly outdoors.  See this ASPCA blog for additional tips.

Hopefully together we can help keep your pet from becoming a “hot dog” this summer!


Posted in: Canine Health

How to Keep the Holidays Happy (and pets safe)

posted on December 02, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time, and we here at Heritage Animal Hospital would like to help you keep it that way.  There are a number of items that can be found this time of year that can be harmful to your pets.  Items ranging from chocolate, alcohol, macadamia nuts, scented candles, tinsel and ribbons, antifreeze, and a number of plants can all pose threats to animals.  If you feel your pet may have gotten into any of these items, or is showing any of the signs listed below, please contact a veterinarian immediately.

Chocolate can be toxic to animals if it is eaten.  Signs of ingestion can include vomiting and diarrhea, increased urination, increased activity, and racing heartbeat.  Cookies and candies are a common source of chocolate, as are drinks such as hot cocoa.

Alcohol is toxic to animals, usually in smaller amounts than people would think.  Signs of intoxication include drowsiness, an ataxic walk (meaning un-coordinated, like a drunk person) and can progress to coma and respiratory rate depression, which can cause death.  The signs of antifreeze ingestion mimic alcohol intoxication, and are rapidly fatal, so if your pet is showing these signs, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs.  Common in cookies and candies, these nuts can cause signs of weakness, muscle tremors, depression, vomiting, and ataxic walk.

In general, it is best to not give your pet any human foods during the holidays due to potential toxicities or stomach upset from foods their systems are not used to.  Raisins, grapes, garlic, onions, and other common ingredients may also be toxic to your pet.

Scented candles can pose a threat to some of our smaller animals such as birds and sugar gliders.  Strong odors from candles and other objects can cause respiratory distress, which can manifest as things such as increased respiratory rate, coughing, sneezing, and increased respiratory effort and noise.  Also, leaving candles lit where a pet could knock it over or singe whiskers can pose a serious burn risk for your pet or even your house.

Poinsettias, lilies, holly, mistletoe and other plants can be toxic if ingested, especially to cats.  Signs can include things such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and changes in urination.

Ribbons and tinsel may catch your cat’s eye as a good toy, but can be very dangerous if ingested.  String like material tends to get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract and as the intestines try to continue to move it through, they will saw against the foreign material and can cause a leak in the intestinal wall.  The foreign material can also cause a blockage in the intestinal tract.  Signs of foreign body ingestion can include lack of appetite, vomiting, straining to defecate or diarrhea, and lethargy.

Christmas trees can pose additional risks as well.  Water from the Christmas tree can have additives in it that may be harmful to your pet ranging from stomach upset from sugar water to toxicity from fertilizers.  In addition, glass ornaments can cause potential problems if played with either when ingested or by causing wounds to paws and face.  Also, electrical wires can pose dangers to pets if they chew on them.  Lastly, make sure your tree is firmly anchored, especially if you have curious cats that like to climb.

Please limit your pet’s access to these potentially harmful items, and please call a veterinarian if your pet is showing any of the above signs or if you feel your pet may have gotten into something it shouldn’t have.  Together we can help keep your pet safe during the holiday season and into the new year!

Happy Holidays from Heritage Animal Hospital!

Posted in: Toxicity