Death by Chocolate
Dr. Brianne Hagerty, BVM&S, MRCVS
Veterinary at James Bay Veterinary Clinic
James Alfred Wight would have turned 101 on October 3 of this year. The British veterinary surgeon and writer, better known as James Herriot, shaped an entire generation of his profession and has inspired generations to come.
It happened to be on his birthday this month that I discovered a tattered and yellowed copy of one of his beloved novels in the recesses of a back cabinet at the James Bay Veterinary clinic, almost like an unexpected gift from the author himself. It was safe to say that I spent my lunch break rediscovering the witty, rich stories of a Yorkshire Dales mixed animal veterinarian. It was not my first time reading his books; countless young veterinarians and animal lovers alike, including myself, have been charmed, educated and inspired by his series of books. Having earned my Veterinary Medicine and Surgery degree in Edinburgh, Scotland adds a certain tangible connection to the stories for me, as I can weave my own experiences into the text. Tweed jackets, stubborn heifers and a hot cup of tea to help solve any problem are timeless facts of life for a veterinarian in the United Kingdom, even 100 years later.
It so happened that the very next day I was asked to write this recurring veterinary insight column. Although I fear I will never be a true “James Herriot”, I hope to share a bit of knowledge and insight on common concerns and helpful pet care topics for its readers and pets alike, and do my duty to the profession as a veterinary writer.
“Death by Chocolate” is often used by the decadent chocolatier, found on signs at the local baker or printed on the menu of a fine restaurant. However, for our pets it can be more than a colloquial marketing term. Chocolate, as well as other holiday foods, can be a dangerous health hazard for your dog or cat. With the holiday season approaching, chocolate quickly becomes an increasing part of our diet. However, despite research showing the health benefits of dark chocolate for you and me, our pets are at greater risk as the coco content increases. Chocolate contains methylxanthines, which include caffeine and theobromine. These toxic substance concentrations are increased in baking chocolate, dark chocolate and coco powder. Similarly, if you are trying to avoid sugar this winter, think twice before sharing your sugarless gum, mints or other candies containing xylitol. This sugar substitute can cause delayed liver damage, and profound life threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Unfortunately, sharing Thanksgiving dessert or your Halloween treats aren’t the only dangerous foods for your four legged friends. The rich indulgent meals we enjoy with friends and family often result in leftovers, fat trimmings and bones. Feeding these to our pets, regardless of how patiently they beg with longing eyes or how perfectly they perform their well-practiced tricks, can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, life threatening intestinal blockages or induce painful inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). However, we can share holiday treats with our pets safely. Small pieces of sweet potatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, green beans, unbuttered popcorn and apples are all healthy harvest foods we can share.
With the cold crisp mornings, early dark nights and hustle and bustle of the holiday season our schedules can quickly change. Suddenly our doors are swung wide open to welcome friends and family into our homes. Festive decorations, twinkling lights and candles surround us. Yet, stop and realize the safety of our pets during this time. Insure their normal routine isn’t altered. Changes to their daily life can be stressful; from missing their eagerly awaited morning walk, to sharing their home with new people can be difficult changes. Take care that the beautiful decorations aren’t hazardous to pets, for we all know how tempting shiny and twinkling things can be to the keen eyes of a cat or pet bird. ID tags, microchips and collars can be lifesaving during the holidays. From the frights and terrors of the night during Halloween to loud festival traditions, and doors accidently left ajar, runaway and lost pets are a scary occurrence during this season.
Lastly, despite all these words of caution, stop and enjoy our pets! They are truly members of our family. Celebrate with them and take the time to learn how to safely involve pets in the holiday activities.
Drew working hard at the Capital Project Image by Quentin Verhaegen