The Counter-Surfing Canine: A Cautionary Tale
The fun and excitement of Halloween is fast approaching this weekend. Maybe you’re gearing up for a night of trick-or-treating with little goblins, masquerading at a party with friends, or getting scared silly on a haunted hay ride. Whatever the event, your night will most likely include indulging in some holiday treats. Unfortunately, many of our favorite Halloween candies and sweets are toxic to our pets. There’s certainly nothing spookier than a late-night emergency trip to your veterinarian because Fido was left unattended near the treat bowl. Instead of giving you a list of toxic pet foods on this post, we thought you’d enjoy a real-life tale of one rambunctious dog’s experience after getting into some gum. Our story is told by Amy, LVH’s Events Coordinator and Mom to Elphie, a 4-year-old cute – but sometimes crazy -Springer Spaniel.
(For an extensive list of Halloween pet hazards, check out our blog article here.)
I grew up with dogs as a part of my family for my entire life. However, our world changed when we met Elphie. There was something special about this little ball of brown and white fur; she looked so innocent running around with her stumpy little legs and big puppy tummy. I couldn’t wait for her to be a part of our family.
When Elphie was a pup, we learned quickly that she was very smart and did well with most training, including potty and crate training. She had a lots of energy and loved to run and retrieve. We enrolled her in Flyball as a way to socialize with other dogs in a controlled environment and to and expend much of her energy.
Even though Elphie is no longer a pup, her actions would make you think otherwise; everything she does is with such gusto! She has run into a tree branch chasing a ball only to come back with half the branch and bark stuck in her thigh. On a hike, she’s tramped through a tick nest getting covered in literally hundreds of tick nymphs, but still wanted to walk. In the winter, she’ll take off and jump into freezing ponds and puddles, not caring about hypothermia. And on extra hyper days, she’ll scrape off layers of her footpads because she doesn’t want to stop running. She has even eaten an entire tub of aloe!
Each time Elphie gets into mischief, I pick up the phone and call Leesburg Vet. At one point I felt like I had them on speed dial and was at the hospital more often as a client than as an employee. Elphie’s medical file sure is a cornucopia of ailments and injuries, however our most recurring vet visits are a result of Elphie’s favorite pastime – counter-surfing! (Did I mention the aloe?)
Every time my husband and I leave the house (or a specific room) we are conditioned to clear counter tops and tables, placing food or food-related items behind closed doors, or out of Elphie’s max jumping height. When we get home, we immediately scan the house to make sure nothing is out of place. However, on many occasions, Elphie has outsmarted us. One time, we came home to find my husband’s work backpack unzipped and looted through as Elphie pilfered Costco-sized bags of trail mix and chocolate-covered berries. Another time, she stealthily climbed onto our kitchen table, then jumped to the counter top to eat leftover biscuits from breakfast. You get the point, if Elphie’s nose gets wind of something new, she’s on it!
We had never thought to put Elphie in her crate when she was unattended because she was never destructive with anything in the house; she never gnawed on furniture or even chewed through her toys. Even when she would break into a box of candies, she would always politely remove the wrapper, leave it on the counter, eat the candy and be on her way. In hindsight we probably should have crated her. After this next incident, we knew that’s exactly what we had to do!
After being out one afternoon, my husband and I returned home, to settle in and watch a football game together. About halfway through the game, my husband says, “Oh by the way, the dog ate some chewing gum. I picked up all the wrappers she left.” “Which pack,” I asked him in panic. “That one from your purse. Is that bad?” He was referring to the two packs of sugar-free gum I had bought the day before. I forgot I had left them in my purse which I threw on the floor when we got home. I looked over at Elphie who was innocently staring back at me. “We need to call LVH immediately,” I said to my husband. My husband didn’t think it was a big deal, assuming she would pass it like other human food she gets into, however, sugar-free gum is very dangerous to dogs. It contains an artificial sweetener called xylitol .
We rushed Elphie to LVH where the doctors began treatment . Elphie ended up staying at the hospital for three days. Fortunately, she made a full recovery, but it really made us think about the foods Elphie has access to and her freedom in the house when we’re not with her. Growing up, my family’s mentality was, “It’s a dog, they can stomach it,” so we were never really worried about what our dogs ate. Thank goodness my husband mentioned that she ate the gum or Elphie’s condition could have been fatal. Unfortunately, we almost learned the hard way that something so small like sticks of gum can cause serious medical harm to a dog.
I’m so glad we still have our crazy, exuberant Elphie dog in our lives. Our family wouldn’t be complete without her. However, since our counter-surfer can no longer be trusted, she is now crated whenever we leave the house! Silly dog!
The following notes about xylitol and Elphie’s treatment were written by LVH’s Dr. Jennifer Boyle:
 Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in many types of gum, mints, baked goods and even hygiene products (such as oral/dental care products). Unfortunately, Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Even a small dose can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, and/or liver failure. Some types of gum can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia if a LARGE dog ingests only 2 pieces! Xylitol causes a rapid release of insulin from the dog’s pancreas, which results in a significant decrease in their blood sugar. Higher doses of xylitol can cause liver failure. Prompt treatment by a veterinarian is essential for a good outcome in these cases. You do not want to wait until you see signs of low blood sugar—your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as you suspect xylitol ingestion.
 Elphie’s treatment consisted of the evaluation of her bloodwork, an IV catheter, IV fluids containing dextrose (sugar), and liver protectants. Elphie’s blood glucose level was checked regularly while hospitalized to be sure her levels remained in the desired normal range. It is important to note that Elphie appeared completely normal when she presented at LVH – you never would have known her blood glucose level was plummeting from her xylitol ingestion without checking a blood sample. It is because treatment was started before her blood glucose dropped too low that guaranteed her complete recovery.