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Pets find toxins in many forms
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Pets are notorious for chewing things, so caregivers need to be aware of some of the common toxins that do not come with warning signs.
Dr. Patty Lathan is an assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Unfortunately, she may be the first person to tell pet owners about the toxic properties of common household products, plants and even foods.
“Pet owners rarely anticipate their animal chewing on a plant or getting into an Easter basket, but it may only take one time to cause irreversible damage,” she said. “Some people may think if it’s OK for humans, it’s OK for animals, but that is not true for chocolate, raisins, grapes and some over-the-counter medications.”
Lathan said the incidence of poisoning is hard to estimate because owners may not realize their pets consumed a toxin. Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs.
“Each month, we see cases of rat poison and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) toxicosis, and each year, we see toxic results from animals eating plants or chocolate,” she said.
Ashley Weekly of Columbus discovered a toxic plant the hard way. Her black Labrador, Nyx, was not prone to chewing on plants, but the dog’s first mischievous experience turned tragic.
“I purchased a new palm plant on a Sunday and discovered it had been destroyed by one of my dogs on Thursday. By Friday, Nyx was lethargic, would not eat and was vomiting,” she said.
Not long after arriving at MSU’s veterinary college, the 7-year-old dog’s liver began to shut down, and she was fighting for her life. After multiple blood transfusions and a week in the hospital, she had lost her battle.
“Now, I’m researching and re-evaluating all my plants. I am also making efforts to contact companies to ask for labels on certain plants that could be toxic. If I’d known that plant was toxic, I never would have gotten it, mainly because of my other dog with a history of chewing on things,” Weekly said.
Lathan said animals, like children, can be attracted to toxic substances or plants by their appearance, smell, taste or texture. She said there are many common toxins found around the home.
Rat poisons often are brightly colored and may be seen in the vomit or feces. Most types of rat poison inhibit the ability of blood to clot, so severe bleeding may occur. Catching this problem early is the best course of action, although patients may be saved with aggressive therapy, including blood transfusions, if bleeding has already begun.
Ethylene Glycol, or antifreeze, is extremely toxic to dogs and cats. Its sweet taste makes it attractive to them, and even a small amount can kill them. Initially, they act drunk, but they will have kidney failure later. If it’s caught early, the pet has a chance. If it’s not treated until the pet is already in kidney failure, the prognosis is grave.
Ibuprofen and many other pain relievers labeled for human use can cause bleeding in the stomach and intestines and kidney failure in dogs and cats. Such pain relievers should not be given to animals unless under veterinary advice.
Acetaminophen should not be given to an animal except as directed by a veterinarian. In cats, even a small amount causes a change in the blood cells so that they can’t deliver oxygen to the cat’s tissues. It can also cause liver failure in both dogs and cats.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which affect the brain and muscles and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, twitching and seizuring in animals. The same effects aren’t seen in people because human brains keep out the theobromine, whereas dogs’ and cats’ brains do not. Different types of chocolate have different amounts of toxic substances in them. Dark chocolate contains the most toxins.
Sago palm produces brightly colored seeds that could interest a pet. Although ingestion of any part of the plant is toxic, the seeds are the worst, and two or three seeds can kill a medium-sized dog. Dogs show signs within 24 to 72 hours of ingestion, and vomiting is often the first symptom. It causes severe liver failure. The mortality rate is about 50 percent, depending on how much was eaten and how soon treatment is initiated. These plants are also toxic to cats.
Lilies are toxic to cats. Several types of lilies are poisonous, including Easter, tiger and day lilies. Cats may vomit within a few hours of ingesting any part of the plant, and they will go into kidney failure within 24 to 72 hours. Easter lilies are probably the most common cause of these illnesses.
Grapes and raisins are eaten by many dogs without causing illness, but some dogs will develop kidney failure within 72 hours. Most dogs with toxicity have eaten a large volume of grapes or raisins, but a small dog could develop toxicity after eating only two or three grapes.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in some foods and gums. Mischievous dogs may ingest the gum and develop low blood sugar or liver failure.
“If a pet ingests any of these toxins, the owner should call a veterinarian or emergency clinic for advice immediately,” Lathan said. “Recommendations will be dependent on which toxin has been ingested and how much. Don’t wait until your pet is sick, since some treatments are ineffective after a certain amount of time -- even an hour.”
Lathan also said owners should bring in the packaging of what was ingested, especially if it was a human medication (such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen), rat poison or chocolate. If treated early enough, many of the effects of these toxins can be avoided.
Contact: Dr. Patty Lathan, (662) 325-3432