Pet Tales: Common items can poison a pet

Grapes and raisins are still killing dogs, and lilies are still killing cats. Chocolate, xylitol, prescription drugs and other items can be life-threatening, and life-saving treatment can rack up hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinarian bills.

None of this is new information. This column has become a yearly ritual because many people still don't know that our houses and yards are full of things that can sicken or kill pets. See this column on my Facebook page and share it with your friends on social media. Read it at and email it to every animal lover you know. Or take the old-fashioned route and talk to your family and real-life friends.

Only 34 percent of pet owners know that cocoa mulch is toxic, according to a survey conducted by Petplan insurance. Only 16 percent know that tulip bulbs are dangerous, and that's a new one for me. A total of 67 percent knew the dangers of grapes, xylitol in sugar-free candy and gum, diced onions and coffee grounds. This marks the first time I've heard that coffee grounds are bad, so keep an eye on kitchen trash cans.

Medications intended for humans topped the 2013 list of reasons people called the Animal Poison Control Center of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The telephone hotline handled 180,000 calls, and nearly 20 percent were for prescriptions, including 4,151 calls about pills intended to control blood pressure or heart rate and 2,836 cases involving pain killers.

Here's the rest of the ASPCA Top 10:

2. Insecticides, 15.7 percent of calls.

3. Over-the-counter drugs including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, 14.7 percent.

4. Household items including expandable glues and paints, 9.3 percent.

5. Food for humans, including onions, garlic, grapes, raisins and xylitol.

6. Meds prescribed by veterinarians. Some are available in chewable form with nice flavors, and pets have been known to break through pill bottles to eat the whole batch.

7. Chocolate, the darker the chocolate, the higher the toxicity, 7.7 percent.

8. Rodenticides, 5.5 percent.

9. Plants, mostly houseplants eaten by cats, 5.4 percent.

10. Lawn and garden products, 2.8 percent.

None of the news releases I've received have figures for how many animals die of poisoning.

Now for the sticker shock: Petplan's news release said the company has paid out as much as $10,000 for a poison claim. Here's the insurance company's list of average reimbursement for veterinary bills: $929 for anti-freeze, $750 for illegal drugs including marijuana, $700 for prescription drugs, $545 for unknown causes, $501 for poisonous plants and $465 for food or additives.

Here are the symptoms that indicate you need to get to a veterinarian quickly: vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, loss of appetite, tremors, seizures, excessive thirst and infrequent urination.

Human and pet meds can cause stomach ulcers and kidney failure, especially in cats, according to veterinarian Jules Benson at Petplan. Internal bleeding, pancreatitus and kidney failure can all be caused by things that are toxic to pets.

The number for the 24-hour poison hotline is 1-888-426-4435. Have your credit card handy because the call will cost you $65.

There's no charge for calls to the Pittsburgh Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. They handle calls for people and for pets, but if they feel they can't help they refer callers to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Go to for further information.

Pit bull gala

Hello Bully is hosting its sixth annual Lovers Not Fighters gala from 7 to 11 p.m. next Saturday at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, 4141 Fifth Ave., Oakland (15213).

Hors d'oeuvres and a dessert buffet are included along with raffles and auctions and a chance to meet the famous Bulletproof Sam, a pit bull rescued from a dogfighting ring in 2012 and rehabilitated by Hello Bully, a nonprofit organization that helps bully breeds.

Sam has been in Pet Tales several times and his Bulletproof Sam Facebook page has 355,000 "likes." That's really astounding, for it far outstrips pages of professional athletes, including Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin, whose Facebook page has 15,285 likes. The page has many pictures of Sam with the family that adopted him.

The dog's face bears permanent scars that could be described as disfiguring and even frightening. You get past that when you meet him, for his sweet and friendly nature suggests that he has forgiven and forgotten the abuse he earlier suffered at the hands of humans.

Tickets are available at for $50 or $125 for VIP tickets.

Kitty Theatre

If you've never seen Waffle the cat and Princess Tirzah drive their little car, here's another chance to do so. The cats are performing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Butler Senior Center in the Tanglewood Building, 10 Austin Ave., Lyndora, 16045.

Waffle is a male black-and-white tuxedo cat and Tirzah is a calico. They're owned by Gregg and Karen McCandless of Butler, who have put together a new Kitty Theatre show.

One of the show's comedic highlights is seeing Waffle behind the wheel of a kiddy car. Mr. McCandless adapted the purple Model A so it can be "secretly" operated by him by remote control. The car pulls a chariot in which Tirzah rides with the regal dignity that befits a princess.

I've seen these cats at the Home and Garden Show in Pittsburgh and in Molyneaux commercials. They're crowd-pleasers.

Kids get into the show for free, others donate $5. Proceeds benefit and the senior center. Basic9 is a motivational message that Gregg and Karen McCandless share through their website and the cat performances. Their message is about the nine fruits of the spirit including love, joy, peace and patience.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, or 412-263-3064.