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Canine Trauma

Macadamia Nuts, other Holiday Gifts Pose Serious
Health Risks for Animals

Written by: Kim Thomas, DVM - republished with permission from

This holiday season, Mary Postel will not be sharing her Christmas presents with her dog, Elvis.

Last year, the four-year-old mixed breed Labrador retriever had decided to snack on some macadamia nuts sent to Ms. Postel as a seasonal gift from friends in Hawaii. 

When Ms. Postel, of southern Maryland, came home from work, she found three of the 5.5 ounce cans of nuts lying empty on the ground and Elvis sprawled out in his kennel, looking "depressed with a glazed look in his eye."

She was horrified.

"He was unable to get up or move," Ms. Postel said.  "He was trembling and seemed to have a personality change’he was acting very irritable." The dog also had partial paralysis in his back legs.

Immediately, Ms. Postel called her veterinarian at the Hollywood, Maryland based Three Notch Veterinary Hospital, Dr. David Langford, who then contacted the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center. 

Luckily for Elvis, center was able to contact a veterinarian in Hawaii who was familiar with the symptoms and treatment of Elvis’s problem. Macadamia nuts, a common toxicity problem in Hawaii, can cause soreness, stiffness, and listlessness.  Usually, the hind legs are affected. 

Following the advice of the Hawaiian veterinarian, Dr. Langford treated Elvis by quickly removing the nuts from the dog’s system through an enema.

A relieved Ms. Postel added that "once Dr. Langford treated Elvis and the nuts passed from his system, Elvis was back to normal within 24 hours."  This quick response time is typical, although some dogs may take up to two days to recover completely.

Macadamia nuts are not the only holiday treat that can be poisonous to pets.  Those fancy boxes of Godiva should not be left on the coffee table where a dog can reach them, since chocolates can cause severe harm to canines.

Similarly, Christmas poinsettia plants are a popular gift that can be deadly if ingested by an animal. 

Dr. Steve Hansen, Director of the National Animal Poison Control Center and a member of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicologists, is a firm believer in "poison-proofing" all households that contain pets.   

With all of the gifts of food and plants that the average family receives during the holiday season, there is an increased risk that a dog or cat will chew on a substance that is poisonous to it.

However, according to Dr. Hansen, poison control is a year-round problem among animals.

Every household is filled with potential toxins such as over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, which can cause anemia in cats.  In addition, prescription pills for humans can lead to stomach ulceration, kidney failure, and death in many animals.

So, Dr. Hansen recommends keeping all substances that pose a danger to pets above the counter-top, away from the animal’s reach.

"Pets knock off pills from tables and lap them up," added Dr. Ann Hoenhaus, the Chairperson of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. "Animals are like toddlers and they get into trouble just like children do."

Even pennies can threaten a pet’s health. "Zinc toxicosis is another problem that occurs when animals eat pennies made since 1983, which zinc," Dr. Hoenhaus said. "This causes destruction of the red blood cells" and can cause acute kidney failure, she added.

Common Household Dangers to Animals

The following products and substances may be toxic to animals:

- Flea pesticides containing permethrin.

- Prescription drugs that treat heart problems and depression in humans.

- Tylenol and other drugs that contain acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory drugs.

- Pennies produced after 1983.

- Onions and chocolate.

- Rodent control chemicals such as D-Con, Rodex, and WARF 42

- Bleach and other disinfectants.

- Many household plants.

- Lead-based products.

- Macadamia nuts.

For more information:

If you have questions about plants, foods, or household products that may be toxic, call the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-800-548-2423 or 1-900-680-0000.  There is a charge of $45.00 for using this service. 

The center also has a web site at that contains valuable information.

Article republished here with permission from
Copyright(c) 2000 by


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