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Take Care With Grapes and Raisins --
Make Your Holiday Feast Safe for Your Beast!

by Dr. Diane Levitan, Center for Specialized Veterinary Care

holiday feast with dog

As the weather gets colder and the holidays begin, thoughts turn to baking those wonderful family recipes we love so much. Or, if you're invited over to someone's home for holiday dinner, you might bring a gift for the host or the hostess like a fruit basket, cookies, fruitcake or a dried fruit plate. Before the feasting begins, however, be aware that two common foods--grapes and raisins--can be potentially deadly to you (or your host's) dog or cat. The ASPCA's Poison Control Center has been recognizing these cases for several years which has resulted in an increased awareness of this potentially devastating problem.

Grapes and raisins have both been shown to result in potentially fatal kidney failure in dogs and cats, although the underlying toxin has not been identified. Green or purple grapes; organically grown or commercially grown; seeds or seedless; grapes grown in many different areas of the country; and raisins from those grapes--all have been found to be harmful. What we do know is that the toxin is not related to the use of pesticides or due to zinc or lead in the fruit. Fungal elements have not been implicated either. As of today, the toxic element remains a mystery, but it's effects are all too real.

Just how many raisins or grapes does it take to cause a potential problem in your pet? That, too, is somewhat of a mystery. We have likely all given our pets raisins and or grapes at one time or another--or they have gotten their wet nose in the fruit bowl--without a problem. On the other hand, our pets may have gotten ill from ingestion and we may never have made the connection!

Some dogs and cats will be more sensitive to ingestion of raisins and grapes than others. Reports have stated that 3.5 ounces of grapes or 0.55 ounces of raisins per 10 pounds of dog could be toxic. There are no reported toxic limits for cats; however, the same or less is likely.

Grape-based drinks also pose potential dangers to your pet. While there have been no reports of poisoning with grape juice, it is best to avoid finding out the hard way. Wine, on the other hand, is toxic because of the alcohol content. The effect of the grape juice there is unknown.

As you can see, it does not take much for some dogs and cats to become severely ill! Additionally, what is a harmful amount to one dog or cat may not have the same harmful effect on another.

Warning Signs that Your Pet May Have Eaten Raisins or Grapes

Within a few hours of ingestion, the effected pet will most likely begin to vomit and lose their appetite. They may also develop diarrhea. Symptoms are most often seen within the first 24 hours after ingestion, but may not be evident until 2-3 days later. Your pet may become withdrawn and quiet and develop progressive weakness, anorexia, and abdominal pain. He or she may begin to drink and urinate excessively. These are symptoms of ensuing kidney failure.

The pet that has ingested a lethal amount and has not been treated will likely die within one to four days from kidney failure.

What To Do If Your Pet Has Eaten Raisins or Grapes

If your pet has just ingested a dangerous amount of raisins or grapes, vomiting should be induced immediately and you should contact your veterinarian or seek emergency attention. The pet that is treated quickly and aggressively has a much better chance of survival than one that comes to the veterinarian very ill.

If your pet is showing signs of a potentially toxic ingestion of raisins or grapes, you must seek veterinary attention immediately. Blood tests and physical examination will likely reveal signs of kidney failure. On physical examination the pet will be dehydrated and weak. He or she could have abdominal pain and may have ulcers on the tongue. Blood tests will likely show elevated creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous levels as well as dehydration. Urine analysis will show that the kidneys are not able to create concentrated urine indicating they are failing to do their job. At that point, aggressive therapy for kidney failure must begin. If urine production ceases, the prognosis becomes grave and a facility that can provide critical care is essential. If the patient responds favorably to therapy in the first 48 hours, the prognosis is much better.

How do you know if the amount your pet ate is dangerous? Well, you don't, really. If the amount is less than 3.5 ounces of grapes or 0.55 ounces of raisins per 10 pounds of dog or cat, you may be in the clear. The ASPCA's poison control advises that when one is unsure that the amount ingested is toxic, the patient receive 48 hours of IV fluid therapy and be monitored very closely for signs of kidney failure. If there has been no elevation of kidney values within 72 hours, it is unlikely that toxic levels were ingested.

Center for Specialized Veterinary Care

So enjoy your holidays and all of the wonderful foods that come with them, but remember that preventing your pet from eating raisins and grapes is the best way to ensure their safety. There are many foods and snacks that contain them; you and your holiday guests need to be conscious of the snacks they throw to the cat or dog during your festive feasts!

From me and all of us here at the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care, have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

For more information on any of the information discussed here, or for emergency service 24 hours a day, seven days a week call 1-877-HELP PETS. It's the FREE call that could save your pet's life!

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Most recent update: 11/21/04
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