8 Valentine’s Day Safety Tips For Your Pet

Nothing screams Valentine’s Day better than gifting your loved one a handful of fragrant flowers or a box of caramel drizzled chocolates. But those banal yet thoughtful presents can lead to big trouble for you and your furry friend. So Brilliant Energy contacted the experts to find out the various misadventures your pet may encounter during this upcoming Hallmark holiday, and how you can avoid them.

Here are 8 Valentine’s Day safety tips for you and your pet.

Hide the heart-shaped chocolate tin
Chocolate is the No. 1 toxin among dogs, according to a call report by Pet Poison Hotline, a 24-hour animal poison control service center. In fact, dogs ingesting chocolate account for 95 percent of all of the call center’s chocolate calls. Similarly, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that in 2011, more than 7,600 calls concerned chocolate. “Because of their indiscriminate eating habits, dogs are far more commonly affected than cats,” notes Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, PhD, of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, in Veterinary Medicine magazine.

While a single Hershey’s Kiss may not be life threatening, chocolate can definitely be harmful to your pet. One of the key ingredients in chocolate that is toxic to dogs and cats is theobromine because they metabolize it at a different rate compared to humans. Pet wellness site PetMD.com lists the amount of theobromine in various chocolates at http://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity. For example, experts say that milk chocolate contains ~60mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate and unsweetened liquid baking chocolate contains ~450mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate. Thus, it’s obvious to discern why dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate is traditionally more toxic to dogs.

Pet lifestyle expert Kristen Levine offers a formula to know how much chocolate is toxic to your dog, should they accidentally ingest some: “Take the number of ounces of chocolate, multiply by mg per ounce and divide by your dog's weight,” the Floridian writes via email. “That will give you the number of mg of chocolate per pound of pet. The danger zone is 20mg/lb.”

Secure those sugar-free treats
A common sweetener in those chalky conversation hearts, icy breath mints and gum is xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol often used as a sweetener for sugar-free chewing gum, mints, candy and oral care. But this natural substance that humans rely on as a healthier alternative to sugar can actually be very harmful to your pets. Some common sugar-free products that contain xylitol are Dentyne Pure Mint, Ice Breakers Mints and Orbit, according to their respective websites. Some peanut butters also use xylitol as an ingredient.

When ingested, xylitol can cause liver failure in dogs, report pet poison experts. And it takes a surprisingly small amount to be harmful: the dose to cause poisoning is 0.05 grams per pound of body weight, notes The Pet Poison Hotline. Thus, a single piece of sugar-free gum can be toxic to a 10-pound dog. When ingested, symptoms usually appear within 15 minutes and can include vomiting, collapsing, loss of coordination and seizures.

To avoid a potentially fatal outcome, make sure you keep those breath fresheners out of Fido’s reach.

Keep the bouquets out of paw’s reach
While all flowers can be a lovely Valentine’s Day gift to someone dear, they can also be too tempting for some curious felines. Pet Poison Hotline lists more than 200 plants and flowers in its poison database, but some veterinarians say there are a handful of common flowers that you should particularly watch out for if you own a cat.

“Lilies are particularly toxic to cats if ingested and tulips can cause stomach irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea,” emails Trupanion’s in-house veterinarian, Dr. Denise Petryk, DVM, MBA. If you do receive a bouquet, Petryk recommends you display them high on tables and countertops not easily accessible to cats and dogs.

As an alternative, it’s true that roses aren’t considered toxic to cats and dogs. However, ingestion may lead to an upset stomach. Likewise, rose thorns may cause trauma to your pet’s mouth and paws. And if they ingest too many prickly parts, an expensive bowel obstruction may result. So think twice before you purchase a dozen of the 200 million roses that are produced for Valentine’s Day, according to the Valentine's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey by the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA), a division of the National Retail Federation.

Flowers may be a staple during this greeting-card holiday, but the blooms aren’t for every valentine. Edible bouquets made of fruit are also popular gifts this time of year. But all of that fruit can be especially harmful to your pets. Grapes can cause kidney failure, cherry pits can lead to respiratory failure, and star fruit ingestion may lead to acute renal failure. In fact, you should avoid the stones, pits or seeds in all fruits (e..g, apples, peaches and watermelon) because they can be toxic or just present a choking hazard.

Don’t let them sneak a colorful cocktail
“[I]f wine, beer or liquor is a part of the Valentine’s celebration be sure to keep pets from sneaking some of your drink,” cautions veterinarian Dr. Jack L. Stephens, of Pet’s Best Insurance Services. “Dogs and cats alike will get into alcoholic drinks, and this can land them in the hospital. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause vomiting, weakness and seizures in pets,” emails Stephens, who’s credited with founding pet insurance in the United States in 1981. Other signs of alcohol poisoning in pets include drooling, retching, bloat, and low blood pressure.

Even if you are a responsible pet parent and don’t share adult beverages with your pets, you may be surprised to learn the brew can actually be found in some unlikely places. Rum-soaked cakes, unbaked yeast dough, pure vanilla extract, wine-infused marinara sauce, Dijon mustard and liqueur-filled chocolates, to name a few, also contain alcohol. So if your pet does get ahold of something, check the label so you can inform your vet of possible interactions.

Lock up your valuables
On Valentine’s Day, one in six people will give jewelry to their loved one, according to RAMA. But as countless cautionary tales depict, a pet or two is bound to mistake those shiny jewels as something edible. “Pets like bling as much as you do,” jokes Jim Hanophy, CEO of Operation Kindness, the largest no-kill shelter in North Texas. “If you receive a necklace, a pair of earrings, or a ring this Valentine’s Day, your furry friend could be eyeing it as a tasty treat. Keep jewelry out of reach from pets to prevent accidental swallowing.” Like any obstruction, ingestion of jewelry may damage your pet’s digestive tract and may require surgical removal of the object. So err on the side of caution and visit your veterinarian immediately, rather than waiting for it to pass naturally.

Secure all tags, bags and ribbon curls
“Watching your furry friend shred old wrapping paper or play in gift boxes can be great fun, but ribbons and twine can choke your pet or get caught in their throat” warns Nancy Fedelem, the owner of Salty’s Pet Supply and Fang & Feather in Portland, Oregon. After unwrapping your gifts, check the surrounding area and sweep or vacuum up any pieces of wrapping paper, cellophane, ribbons, bows and gift tags. As for that jumbo-sized stuffed dog, don’t forget to properly dispose of its accompanying tag as well.

Consider pet-friendly treats instead
If you really want your pet to know you thought of them this Valentine’s Day, homemade pet-friendly treats can be a healthy solution for the both of you. Licensed psychotherapist Michele M. Paiva says, “… baking is a way to help owners feel connected…and might even be a new hobby that your pet will enjoy.” To start the new hobby off right, consider purchasing a pet-friendly cookbook. “Good Treats Cookbook for Dogs” by Barbara Burg and “The Ultimate Cat Treat Cookbook” by Liz Palika are two cookbooks Brilliant Energy would recommend. Just make sure you check with your veterinarian prior to sharing any new treats with your pet.

Add a helpline to your contact list
If your pet is exposed to any toxin, contact your veterinarian or a poison hotline immediately. The Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 charges $39 per call, and includes unlimited follow-up consultations. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 charges $65 per call, and includes a follow-up consultation. Both hotlines are available 24/7.