Most of us love avocados and all the different ways we can use them from freshly sliced to amazing guacamole. I think avocados became ever more of a household staple over the past decade - especially after the avocado toast craze. However, this is still a fruit that is dangerous, and ever deadly, when it comes to our pets. There are several dangers to our small animals from the pit itself to the fruit surrounding it. If a small animal or exotic animal eats the pit of the avocado, it may get lodged somewhere throughout the digestive system. This can start in the mouth as a choaking hazard while trying to swallow the pit, which would block the airways and can lead to death if it is not dislodged. If the animal is able to swallow the pit, there are still many areas throughout the GI system where it can become lodged and create an obstruction. The area where the stomach empties into the start of the GI tract is called the pylorus and it is the most difficult place for a large object to move into the small intestine. Therefore, it creates a blockage where the stomach cannot empty into the small intestine, either partially or totally, which usually results in vomiting, decreased appetite, and decreased or absent bowel movement. If it does make it through the pylorus and into the intestinal tract, there are still plenty of places it can become lodged and cause a partial or full obstruction and create those same symptoms. To treat this condition, surgery on the gastrointestinal tract becomes necessary to not only remove the foreign body (the hard pit) but also remove any parts of the track that may have been affected so negatively by its presence, entire sections of bowel must be removed. The fruit itself is dangerous to dogs and cats due to the high level of natural fats, which can lead to inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis. The increase of the pancreatic enzymes, that are meant to help break down fat, are very irritating to the tissue surrounding that area and can cause complications throughout the abdomen. This is also usually seen with clinical signs such as vomiting and a decreased appetite, but can also cause very painful abdomen. Generally, this disease is medically addressed, but usually involves hospitalization and 24 hour around-the-clock care, and can be fatal. Keep in mind that in anything that irritates the pancreases (the biggest thing being the digestion of a really fatty food) can result in pancreatitis, which is why we do not recommend anything other than appropriate fruits and vegetable “human food” as treats for your pets. Also, any disease that decreases the appetite of a cat can result in fatty liver disease and potentially be fatal. A cat that does not eat, even for just a few days, will start to mobilize the fat stored in the liver and this cascade of events can be deadly. If your cat ever stops eating, for any reason, medical attention is needed immediately.
The avocado and the plant itself are much more dangerous and deadly to our “pocket pets”, otherwise known as exotic animals, and birds. The leaves, bark, seeds, skin and pits of avocados contain a natural, oil-soluble fungicide called persin. Lucky for all of us avocado lovers, persin is not harmful to humans. Unfortunately, the same is not true for exotic animals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc., and birds. Avocados in any form, even avocado oil, must be avoided in all species, but is particularly deadly in exotics and birds. The persin tends to attack the heart first. The persin will damage the heart to the point that it becomes fatal due to arrythmias (abnormal heart beats), fluid developing both around the heart (tamponade) and in or around the lungs, leading to heart failure and/or respiratory distress. Just like with dogs and cats, exotics can develop pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) as well due to the high fat content in avocados, but their unique response to the persin is really the more fatal issue. Exotics may develop vomiting, lethargy, loose stools, difficulty breathing, weakness, and sudden death. Birds will often show similar clinical signs such as collapse, lethargy, heavy breathing, and sudden death. While all parts of the plant are of concern, the most dangerous parts of the avocado tree are the leaves and fruit. Just a small nibble of the plant can be fatal so you need to be sure that your pets, especially your birds and other exotics, have no access to any part of an avocado, from the avocado itself to the plant if came from. If you notice or suspect a potential poisoning, call Pet Poison Control and go to an emergency veterinarian immediately.