Top 10 toxins

Posted on Jan 14, 2015

After doing mostly emergency work for over 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of pets get into things they shouldn’t. In many cases if we know what was ingested and we get to them in time, quick action can save lives. Unfortunately in many circumstances the ingestion wasn’t seen, or, more tragically, owners were not aware that what their pet ingested was poisonous until it was too late. Here is a list of 10 pet toxins that can be quite serious, some of which you may not be aware of!

  1. Rat/mouse bait. Most people realize this is poisonous to pets, but some people do not realize how poisonous it can be. These poisons often don’t show any signs right away. Some people may be aware their pet ingested the toxin, but, not seeing any ill effects, assume it was not enough to cause a problem. Some mouse baits can cause the blood not to clot and pets will bleed to death internally, often a week or two after the ingestion. Others can cause kidney damage or neurological signs. Small amounts can be deadly. Mouse baits placed “safely” away from pets can be dragged into an accessible area by a mouse trying to bring the bait back to its nest, allowing access to pets. If you think your pet has ingested mouse or rat bait, seek veterinary attention right away. Many (but not all) of these poisons have antidotes that are successful if started early enough.
  2. Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen/Naproxen/etc. Dogs and cats are very different from humans, and cannot (especially cats!) metabolize some medications the same way we do. Cats lack an enzyme to properly metabolize acetaminophen, and even a very low dose (1 tablet) can be deadly to a cat unless it is treated with the antidote right away (usually within 4 hours). Ibuprofen, naproxen, and other similar drugs can lead to ulcers and kidney failure in dogs – Naproxen is very toxic and even 1 tablet is enough to cause a stomach ulcer and acute kidney failure in a dog if not treated immediately. Unless you have been specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian, never give anything “over-the-counter” to your pets, no matter how safe it seems to be in humans!
  3. Raisins/grapes. The toxicity related to raisins and grapes is still a bit of a mystery, but there are many dogs out there (not all – some seem to be immune to the effects) who will go into kidney failure after ingesting raisins or grapes. Even fairly small amounts can be toxic to the kidneys. Treatment involves IV fluid therapy, and is often successful if started early enough.
  4. Chocolate. Most people know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but there is a wide range of toxic levels depending on the type of chocolate. White and milk chocolate is the safest, and a large dog can easily eat a few M&Ms or even a few bites of a milk chocolate bar without a problem. Concentrated dark chocolate, Baker’s chocolate, cocoa, etc. contain a much higher concentration of the toxic substance and small amounts can be very toxic. If we know exactly the type of chocolate that was ingested and how much, we can estimate how much of a concern for toxicity there is. The nervous system and cardiovascular system can be effective, and treatment is aimed at minimizing serious consequences.
  5. Xylitol. This is a funny little sweetening ingredient that is found in many sugar-free gums, candies, toothpastes, even some vitamins. It, for some reason, causes massive insulin release from a dog’s pancreas (humans do not seem to have this response). This can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and also can lead to acute liver failure several days after ingestion. It is very toxic such that a small amount (even a piece or two of gum) can have deadly effects. Immediate treatment offers the best chance of recovery.
  6. Lilies. Lily flowers and plants are very toxic to cats. Even eating a small amount of any part of the flower or plant often leads to severe and deadly kidney failure in cats. I am often surprised how few people know about this. Around Easter time, whenever I see these Lilies out for sale I am shocked that they are not labeled as being deadly to cats. I have seen many cats die from Lily ingestion after owners purchased these plants or received them as gifts, not knowing of their toxic potential. For some reason, dogs do not seem to have the same response.
  7. Human medications. Many antidepressants, ADHD medications, sleep aids, diet aids, and even vitamins can be toxic to dogs and cats. If a pet accidentally ingests a medication prescribed for a human, the exact drug name should be noted and veterinary attention sought right away!
  8. Mole/gopher bait (zinc phosphide). This is a very bad toxin that, if enough is ingested, can cause death within a few hours. It is of particular importance to note that if an animal ingests zinc phosphide and vomits, the phosphine gas that is released is toxic to people – even at low levels. If an animal vomits inside or in a car this is dangerous – get to a well ventilated area immediately and seek veterinary attention for your pet!
  9. antifreeze. This is a very bad toxin, often leading to deadly kidney failure if the antidote is not given within a few hours. Cats are even more sensitive and need to be treated immediately. It is sweet and animals will drink it readily. For outdoor animals in the winter, it may be the only liquid that is not frozen, so they are more readily apt to drink it. Check your radiators for leaks and keep any antifreeze that is being stored in your garage carefully away from pets.
  10. Compost/mold (“tremorogens”). There is a type of mold that grows in many compost piles, and can even grow on garbage (particularly dairy products) inside that will cause seizure-like full-body tremors in dogs. Body temperature can get dangerously high and if a high enough dose is ingested dogs can even stop breathing. Treatment is supportive, and in many cases dogs that are treated appropriately will recover fine.

There are certainly other poisonous substances, however this is an introductory list of some things we see fairly commonly. If you think your pet has ingested something toxic, you can contact one of the pet poison control centers below to see if your pet needs to see a veterinarian, or see your veterinarian directly.

Pet Poison Helpline: 855-886-7965 ($39 fee at this time)

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435 ($65 fee at this time)