It is 10 years since Tennyson nearly killed himself through overeating wedding cake. It could just as easily have been Christmas cake. Overindulgence at Christmas is common in people and their pets. Tennyson’s story is a stark reminder of the perils.


“I’ve never seen a sicker animal survive,”

This was experienced vet Chris Welland’s comment when Tennyson Pearcy, a much loved family Beagle, was discharged from Halifax Veterinary Centre.


When Tennyson was brought into Halifax he was desperately ill. The reason? Wedding cake! Beagles like Tennyson share with Labradors a reputation for roaming for food and not knowing when to stop eating. Well Tennyson didn’t have to roam far. He found and devoured the entire middle tier of a wedding cake that owners John and Mandy Pearcy had left on the kitchen bench. It was the last section of the cake from their wedding a few months earlier and they’d taken it out of the freezer to thaw out.


Friends and relatives were all keen for a slice but Tennyson had other ideas. He ate the lot and the result was a very sick dog. Although he vomited the cake up again, in 15 places throughout the house, he was very lethargic. John and Mandy thought he would recover. Instead he got worse.


When Tennyson was first brought in he was severely dehydrated, had brick red gums, wheezy breathing, a painful tummy and a subnormal temperature. Tennyson’s chances didn’t look good and the outlook got worse as the blood and urine tests came in. He was suffering from pancreatitis and was in kidney failure. Pancreatitis is a quite common and potentially fatal disease of dogs. It is often associated with binge eating, especially of fatty foods or garbage.


Tennyson was so dehydrated his blood was like sludge. His urine was full of protein casts from his severely damaged kidneys.


However Tennyson was a very special member of the Pearcy family. John and Mandy voted to give him the full treatment for 24 hours with the proviso that if he was not responding, he would be put to sleep.


An ultrasound scan of the abdomen and microscopic examination of the cells collected from the pancreas through a long needle supported the findings of the blood tests. Tennyson did have pancreatitis. That is inflammation of the gland that produces most of the enzymes that digest the food we eat. After binge eating (and in humans, binge drinking) the enzymes can leak into the tissue of the gland and start digesting the pancreas itself. This process releases more digestive enzymes in a potentially life-threatening cascade. The toxins and inflammatory products released, together with the extreme dehydration, caused secondary kidney failure.


When a dog is as ill as Tennyson all body systems suffer. He needed saline and plasma by intravenous fluid pumps, antibiotics to control the infection, and drugs to manage the nausea and vomiting. By Sunday Tennyson was much brighter but most importantly tests on his kidneys showed they were rapidly recovering. This improved his chances greatly.


The levels of electrolytes need to be closely regulated by the body but in patients with severe dehydration, vomiting and kidney failure, maintaining the correct electrolyte balance is a real challenge. Tennyson needed frequent monitoring and lots of supplementation. It may have been the electrolyte imbalance causing cramping or more likely muscle inflammation from the pancreatitis that caused Tennyson’s next problem.


Late Monday afternoon he started yelping with pain when he was handled. His left thigh muscles were very painful, though they improved with massage. By Tuesday the pain had shifted to his neck and left shoulder and by Wednesday he was sore all over. Blood tests confirmed severe muscle tissue damage. A treatment dilemma! Opiates weren’t providing sufficient pain relief. Cortisone can lead to more pancreatitis and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (the same group as the human drugs Nurofen and Voltaren) are a big risk with damaged kidneys.


Tennyson was started on cortisone and it proved a good choice as his muscle soreness settled over the next few days. Meanwhile he had been making great progress on other fronts. He had been eating a special low fat, easily digestible diet (Hill’s i/d) and keeping it down.


Thursday was the big day, home to his family, a much happier but possibly no wiser dog. Beagles are notoriously slow learners when it comes to over indulgence. John and Mandy certainly didn’t leave any more wedding cake out to put him to the test!



Footnote – Raisins can be toxic for pets


The acute kidney failure that nearly killed Tennyson Pearcy may have been secondary to the pancreatitis. The raisins in the wedding cake may also have caused it.


Several human foods can be toxic to pets, including raisins. Several hundred cases of raisin or grape toxicity are reported each year world wide. Exactly what substance in the raisins that makes them so toxic isn’t known. As little as 3 grams of raisins per kilogram of pet (about an ounce of raisins for a Beagle) have caused acute renal failure. However pets vary widely in their susceptibility and some pets eat more than this with no apparent side effects.


Other common foods that can be toxic to cats and dogs are chocolate (especially dark chocolate), onions and garlic, macadamia nuts and xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in lollies and chewing gum. Small dogs are more at risk because of their lighter body weight. This means they don’t have to eat as much of the foods to make them sick.


Remember it’s vital to feed your pet proper pet food and safe pet treats. Keep the chocolate and fruit cake for yourself. If you think your pet has over indulged in something potentially dangerous, don’t wait for them to become really ill, call your veterinary team right away for advice on what to do next.