Raisins, grapes, even in small amounts, can kill a dog

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A tiny box of raisins almost killed a 16-pound border terrier named Casey.

The dog's family is sharing her story because they don't want other dog lovers to go through days of agony, like they did, when veterinarians thought the dog would die.

This is one of those it-could-happen-to-anyone stories.

Unbeknownst to family members, Casey rifled through a backpack left by the front door and scored an unexpected treat, a 1 1/2-ounce box of raisins. "We found the empty box" with little dog teeth marks, said Renee Very, of Mt. Lebanon, but no one gave it a second thought. The family didn't realize that a treat that is so healthy for people could be deadly to a pet.

Casey vomited several hours later, but there was still no apparent cause for concern. Casey didn't seem to be ill, and dogs do occasionally vomit. Mrs. Very, a registered nurse, kept an eye on her.

The next morning, there was evidence that Casey had vomited again during the night. But she was, for the most part, her usual happy, frisky self. The family went to a youth baseball game at noon.

When Mrs. Very mentioned the vomiting and the pilfered raisins, friends sounded the alarm. People at the baseball game had heard that grapes and raisins can kill pets.

It was Saturday afternoon. Why is it that children and pets tend to become ill or have accidents on their doctors' days off?

As a precaution, the family took Casey to an emergency veterinary clinic in the North Hills. Blood tests indicated Casey was in acute renal failure. Her kidneys were shutting down.

Approximately 18 hours after she ate the raisins, Casey was hooked up to IV lines. She was getting activated charcoal to flush out poisons and fluids to flush out her kidneys.

"They were not very optimistic," Mrs. Very said.

After two days and nights in the emergency clinic, Casey's kidney readings had improved. She spent another day in her own vet's office. And then she came home.

"I was a basket case," Mrs. Very said. "She was not herself."

Veterinarians prescribed a prescription dog food and, by Wednesday, five days after eating the raisins, Casey was almost back to normal.

"The veterinarians said people often bring dogs in 72 hours after they've eaten grapes or raisins," Mrs. Very said. Many of those dogs die. "Coming in 18 hours probably saved her life."

Warnings about grapes and raisins have been around for several years. Veterinary toxicologists have been unable to figure out why these fruits have been killing dogs in recent years because many people, in years past, have used grapes and raisins as healthy treats with absolutely no ill effects. It's still unclear whether these fruits are potentially toxic to cats and other animals.

From April 2003 to April 2004, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center got 140 calls about dogs that had eaten varying amounts of raisins or grapes. More than 50 of those dogs developed "clinical signs" ranging from vomiting to kidney failure. Seven of the dogs died.

Updated figures are not available but, undoubtedly, the number of raisin and grape poisoning calls are on the rise as more people learn about the danger.

Several years ago, the warnings indicated that large amounts of grapes or raisins could be harmful, especially if a dog was old or had chronic health problems.

Casey is 4 years old and had no chronic illness. An ounce and a half is not a "large" amount, not even for a small dog.

I didn't realize that a dog that had eaten grapes or raisins could be dying even if, like Casey, it appeared to be fine. If you go to the Google search engine and type in "dogs eating grapes," you'll get lots of hits, including veterinary sites.

Some of those sites advise calling your veterinarian if your dog eats grapes or raisins. Some of the sites suggest you go to a veterinary clinic even if your dog is not exhibiting signs of illness or distress.

If you are concerned about anything your pet, or a person, has eaten, call the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital at 1-800-222-1222. The call is free.

They might have to refer you to the ASPCA, 1-888-426-4435, which has access to veterinary toxicologists. Those calls cost $55.

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.