• Dr. Justine Zingsheim

Toxic Household Items

Animal toxicosis is defined as adverse effects to animals that have been exposed to chemical agents. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that the pesticides, biotoxins, and automotive products account for substantially more than half of animal poisonings. Drugs and houshold products account for the rest of common poisonings. Pet owners should know that although many episodes of exposure to toxic substances can be life threatenting, they more often than not do not result in the animal experiencing any adverse effects. This means that although your pet might have injested a toxic substance, they might not show immediate signs of illness.

Below is a list of common substances that can cause toxicosis in many of our dogs and cats and their corresponding clinical signs:

1. Human Medications: Tylenol (Acetaminophen), Ibuprofen (NSAIDS), Aspirin.

We are all aware of the importance of keeping our medications away from children, but it's also important that we keep our pets out of them too! Estimated toxic doses of tylenol can be as low as 75-100mg/kg in dogs and 10 mg/kg in cats. Long term exposure to a low dosage can still cause a similar toxicity. Accidental ingestion of this OTC drug is the most common cause of toxicosis but often times owners intentially give it to their pets thinking that it has the same antiinflammatory/pain relief effect as it does for humans. This can often cause unwanted side effects and makes it difficult for veterinarians to prescribe safe veterinary drugs when needed. Early signs of toxicosis can include vomiting/diarrhea and lethargy, then progress to respiratory distress, shock, and liver failure. If accidental exposure is ever noted, veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible.

2. Human Foods: There are many human foods that are potentially toxic to our animals with the most notable being chocolate. The toxic nature of chocolate comes from its theobromine and caffeine components both of which can cause a variety of life threatening clinical signs. Darker chocolates have higher levels of these compounds and therefore are more likely to be toxic in smaller amounts. In small amounts and in early toxicosis, chocolate ingestion can cause vomiting and diarrhea but in larger amounts and as the toxicosis progresses, can lead to increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, cardiac distress, seizures, and eventually death.

Grapes and Raisins are one substance that most owners find surprising

to be toxic to their pets. The reason for its toxicity is unknown and clinical signs are not thought to be dose dependent. This means that for some dogs, ingestion causes no adverse effects, while for others serious side effects will be seen after the ingestion of only one grape. The primary sign of grape/raisin toxicosis in both dogs and cats is acute kidney failure. Elevations in kidney values on bloodwork can be seen as early as 24 hours post ingestion. Without appropriate treatment, kidney disease will continue to progress. It is very important therefore that a veterinarian address any known ingestion of grapes.

Sugar free gums and now certain peanut butters (primarily specialty and organic) are also toxic to cats and dogs as they contain a substance called xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is commonly used as a sugar substitute. When ingested, it simulates the body to rapidly release insulin causing a drastic drop in glucose levels. This causes signs of weakness, collapse, drunken walking, tremoring, and even seizures. Doses of as little as 0.1g/kg can cause severe hypoglycemia. The average piece of Trident gum contains 0.22g/piece. Whenever ingested, it is extremely important that veterinary care is sought for decontamination and treatment.

Onions, Garlic, and Chives: Many people don’t know that onions and

garlic are toxic to our pets. No matter the form (cooked, diced, raw, etc) they can cause serious side effects to red blood cells. When ingested, these substances are metabolized into compounds that damage red blood cells causing anemia and reducing the ability of any animal to carry oxygen throughout the body. The use of low dose chronic supplements can also cause chronic poisoning. Clinical signs may take days to weeks to show up but the ingestion of any amount more than 0.5% of the animal’s body weight should be addressed immediately.

3.) Snake Bites: Snake bites although relatively uncommon can be extremely serious. The most common venomous bites occur from coral snakes and rattlesnakes. Most often these bites will occur in the mouth, face, or paws and are difficult to find. Clinical signs associated with coral snake bites are associated with its effects on the nervous system (muscle paralysis and difficulty breathing for example) and can take as long as 18 hours post envenomation to be seen.

Rattlensake envenomations show similar signs including difficulty breathing, clotting abrnoamlities, cardiovascular shock, and eventually organ failure. It is extremely important to keep your pets safe and on a leash in known snake country and to seek veterinary care (even if clinical signs are not noted) if a bite is witnessed.

4.) Rodenticides: There are many various types of rodenticides on the market used to control mice and rats in our homes. All of these types however are dangerous to our pets in different ways. The most common type of rodenticide is the anticoagulant form, which works by preventing the blood from clotting. When ingested, this toxin causes the animal to spontaneously bleed often seen coming from the nose or mouth. This bleeding, however, is not usually seen for 2-3 days after ingestion. Before this time, little to no clinical signs are noted. Because of the effects of this type of rodenticide noted on wildlife many companies have begun to switch from anticoagulant compounds to those containing bromethalin.

Bromethalin is a neurotoxin that causes fluid buildup within the brain and spinal cord resulting in central nervous system changes like depression, abnormal behavior, paralysis, and seizures. These signs can be noted anywhere between 2-24 hours after ingestion. Unlike the anticoagulant rodenticides however, there is no antidote for bromethalin thus early detection and decontamination by a veterinarian is essential. The final type of rodenticide contains cholecalciferol which is essentially Vitamin D. When ingested, a Vitamin D toxicosis is induced causing a significant elevation in blood calcium eventually leading to renal failure and death. Whenever ingestion of any rodenticide is suspected, it is incredibly important to seek veterinary care and bring the packaging so as to know which type of rodenticide we may be dealing with.

5.) Biotoxins: A biotoxin is a toxin produced by or inherent in a living organism. The most common seen in veterinary medicine include mushrooms and lilies. There are many different species of mushrooms and only a few of them are actually toxic to dogs and cats. Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to distinguish toxic vs. non-toxic mushrooms. Clinical signs of toxicity include vomiting and diarrhea within 24 hours of ingestion and neurological signs such as ataxia (drunken walking), seizures, and coma within 36 to 48 hours. Although mushroom toxicity is rare, a veterinarian should address any exposure.

Although lilies are a very common decorative household and garden plant, they can pose a very serious threat especially to cats. The specific toxin within the plant has not been identified but ingestion of any part of the plant; even the pollen can cause severe side effects. Early signs involve GI upset (vomiting, lethargy, anorexia) and can occur within 6-12 hours post ingestion. They then progress to kidney failure and potentially death. Neurological changes have also been noted in some cats. The ingestion of even 1 or 2 plant pieces can cause issues so keeping these plants out of reach from your pets and seeking veterinary care when exposure is noted is very important.

6.) Automotive Products: Antifreeze is by far the most common automotive product ingested by our pets due to its sweet taste. The main component in antifreeze is ethylene glycol. The toxic dose is estimated at 4.2-6.6ml/kg in dogs and 1.5ml/kg in cats. When ingested, ethylene glycol is rapidly absorbed from the GI tract and clinical signs occur in 3 stages. The first stage can occur anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion and is described similar to that of alcohol intoxication in people (nausea, vomiting, drunken walking). The second stage can occur anytime 12-24 hours after ingestion where signs dissipate in most dogs and they appear to “recover.” The 3rd and final stage is the most severe and results in kidney failure and potentially seizures and death. Because of its rapid absorption, early detection of ingestion is extremely important. Once at the veterinarian however, there is an antidote if needed.

If you ever have questions at any time about a potential toxicity, feel free to contact us or any of the animal poison control centers listed below (please note an associated call fee applies for these organizations):

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