Poisons

Poisoning and toxicity

Common Pet Toxins

 

Toxic products can be found in a surprising number of locations inside and out of the home and exposure can be obvious or subtle, signs are very variable and can be rapid or slow in onset, and not necessarily related to the severity of the toxicity or the prognosis. Many pets will fully recover with supportive treatment but often in the more dangerous cases prompt aggressive treatment is required to increase the odds of survival.

Below are some details of the more common pet poisons, however, if in doubt, don’t hesitate to call for veterinary advice immediately, in case prompt action is required.

Common Dog Poisons

Common Cat Poisons

 

Dogs

Dogs very commonly encounter toxins through their inquisitive nature, whether it be through scavenging or accidental contact. An outline of some of the more common toxins, where they can be found, their signs, significance, treatment and prevention are outlined below.

Chocolate                Caffeine               Antifreeze               Rat Bait               Weed Killer               Slug Bait               Anti-inflammatories – aspirin, ibuprofen, paracetamol              Insecticides               Onions               Grapes and raisins               Vitamin D products               Xylitol               Adder bites               Conkers               Batteries               Blue-green algae               Fungi               Acorns               Yew

·        Chocolate

o   Theobromines in chocolate stimulate the brain, muscles and heart usually within 4 hours causing vomiting, abdominal pain, salivation, drinking and urination, excitation and wobblyness. The severity depends on the amount eaten and treatment is tailored to this. Most dogs will survive with treatment. Do not feed dogs any chocolate as they should not be encouraged to have even a taste for tiny amounts.

·         Caffeine

o   Methylxanthine in coffee stimulate the brain, muscles and heart causing vomiting, diarrhoea, fast heart rate, increased urination, dilated pupils, excitation, twitching and convulsions within 1-3 hours. Treatment aims at reducing absorption from the gut, treating signs as they arise and careful monitoring. Dogs with severe signs may not survive. Do not allow dogs to ingest coffee especially not chocolate covered beans.

·         Ethylene glycol – antifreeze

o   Please see our dedicated page about antifreeze toxicity here.

·         Rat bait – rodenticides

o   There are several different types of rat baits which cause a variety of problems.

o   Anticoagulant rodenticides such as coumarins and warfarin  can be very slow in onset with signs not showing for up to 7 days, but cause clotting problems leading to severe internal bleeding that can be life threatening. Visible signs include bruising, lameness, pale gums and weakness. Treamtent involves emptying the stomach if early enough, monitoring clotting function by blood tests, treatment to help clotting problems by giving vitamin K1, and if necessary blood and plasma transfusions. Severe disease where transfusion is required can be fatal.

o   Alphachloralose rodenticides cause hyperactivity and wobblyness within 1-2 hours followed by salivation, drowsiness, weakness leading to coma and convulsions. Treatment is aimed at decontaminating the stomach, preventing seizures and supportive care and dogs should recover.

o   If using rodent poisons discuss their use with a professional, use pet friendly alternatives where possible and ensure any bait is completely inaccessible to any pets. If ingestion is at all expected contact your vet immediatey.

·         Glyphosate – weed killer

o   Use widely in liquid herbicides and weed-killers signs occur within 30 minutes to 2 hours including stomach upsets, excitability and wobblyness. Also eye and ear irritation can occur if contacted by the liquid. Directly eating sprayed plants is likely to only cause mild signs. Most animals will recover with supportive care though organ damage can be fatal. Take care when using these products that animals cannot have access to recently sprayed or neat product, dispose carefully of unused weed-killer, and contact your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has contacted or ingested glyphosate.

·         Metaldehyde – slug bait

o   Found in snail and slug baits and camping stove fuels, metaldehyde causes brain toxicity within 30 minutes, often less, with signs including excitability, tremoring, muscle spasms, twitching and convulsions, breathing problems. Treatment needs to be aggressive to control seizures and if so most dogs will recover, but if veterinary care is not sought then toxicity is often fatal. Newer slug bait products are now child and pet friendly and should be used in preference to metaldehyde containing products. If you suspect your pet has eaten slug bait of unknown ingredients contact your vet immediately.

·         Anti-inflammatory drugs

o   These include aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen and mefenamic acid. These medications should NEVER be given to pets (aspirin may be given but ONLY if directed by a veterinary surgeon and doses must be carefully adhered to). Signs of toxicity often occur within 2 hours causing vomiting, not eating, depression, stomach ulceration and bleeding. Liver and kidney failure can occur. Treatment to empty the stomach, fluids, anti-vomiting medication and monitoring for ulceration is required and is usually successful. Animals not treated quickly or with kidney problems may not survive. Ensure all medications are stored safely out of animal reach and do not mediate pets in pain with your own products, contact your vet.

·         Organophosphates – insecticides

o   Found in a variety of insecticides, organophosphates cause salivation, wobblyness, diarrhoea, small pupils, tremors and twitching within 12-24 hours. Treatment involves decontaminating the guts and skin, giving atrophine as an antidote, cooling and supportive care with which pets should survive. All insecticides should be stored and used with care and where possible pet-safe alternatives used instead.

·         Onions

o   Onions and related plants including garlic and leeks cause damage to red blood cells leading to their destruction. Signs occur over 1 to several days including depression, dark coloured urine, yellow skin and gums and weakness. Treatment involves supportive care for anaemia until the red cells start to recover and large amounts can potentially cause life-threatening disease. Do not feed pets humans scraps or meals contain onions or their relatives including onion gravys.

·         Grapes, raisins, currents, sultanas

o   Whether given alone or in mince pies, fruit cake etc these fruits can cause fatal kidney damage, especially the dried varieties. The mechanism is unclear and toxic dose varies from animal to animal unpredictably. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, salivation, vomiting or passing blood, not eating, weakness and not urinating. If treatment is started before any kidney damage the prognosis is positive but delayed treatment can be fatal.

·         Vitamin D compounds

o   These can be found in human medications, psoriasis creams, rodenticides, vitamins and cod liver oil. Onset is usually in 6-12 hours causing excessive drinking, weakness, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea, excessive urination and muscular problems leading to heart and kidney failure. Treatment needs to be aggressive to reduce calcium levels and if delayed or signs are severe may not be successful. Ensure all medications and supplements are stored out of animal reach.

·         Xylitol – artificial sweetener and chewing gum

o   Found at dangerous levels in chewing gums, sweets and cakes baked with sugar substitutes xylitol causes signs due to low blood sugar in 2 hours (vomiting, wobblyness, lethargy, collapse) but can cause liver damage up to 72 hours after eating. Treatment needs to be aggressive so your should contact your vet immediately if you dog has eaten these products or is thought to have. Unless there is liver damage most patients should do well with aggressive treatment. Ensure these products are not given to dogs and are stored carefully to prevent access.

·         Adder bite

o   The European adder is the only venomous UK snake. Up to 50cm long dark zig-zag along the back they prefer heaths, sand dunes, moorlands and woodland margins. Bites are more likely in the summer and only if provoked. The venom causes signs usually within 2 hours including local swelling and pain. This may spread and bleed. There can also be lethargy, bruising, pale gums, salivation, vomiting and panting and occasionally severe shock and organ damage. Treatment needs to be given asap including a quiet environment, anti-venom and supportive care. Mild to moderate cases should recover. If you see or suspect your dog is bitten by a snake contact your vet immediately.

·         Horse chestnuts / conkers

o   Signs caused by eating conkers usually occur within 6 hours and include vomiting, diarrhoea, salivation, abdominal pain, excessive drinking and not eating. Treatment required can include anti-vomiting medication and fluid therapy but dogs should recover. Discourage your dog from eating these nuts by distracting them with a toy or game.

·         Batteries

o   Batteries that are chewed or spilt can cause burns to the mouth or oesophagus leading to salivation, vomiting, lethargy and depression. Treatment depends on the area affected and the battery type but oesophageal damage can be severe and life-threatening. Keep batteries safely locked away and dispose of them carefully.

·         Blue-green algae

o   Cyanobacteria can be found in fresh, brackish and salt water throughout the UK and with warmth and sun form ‘blooms’. Some species produce toxic compounds and effects can be wide ranging including vomiting (possibly blood), abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weakness, collapse, tremors, convulsions and coma, or slow-onset liver or kidney damage. Treatment depends on the signs sick animals have a poor prognosis. Do not allow your pet to swim in watercourses with unknown or labelled blue-green algae.

·         Fungus

o   Mushrooms and toadstools are abundant but only a few species are toxic in the UK. They can affect several body systems, start quickly or after 6 hours, and cause problems including vomiting, diarrhoea, disorientation, wobblyness, weakness, hallucinations, seizures and organ damage. If the cause if known treatment can be tailored but is often symptomatic and most animals will recover very well. Discourage dogs from eating mushrooms and toadstools by distracting them with a toy or game.

·         Oak, acorns

o   Eating acorns causes retching, vomiting, diarrhoea, pain and lethargy from 1 to 24 hours later and requires supportive veterinary care with a good outcome. Occasionally cases can lead to liver or kidney damage and a much worse outcome. Discourage dogs from eating these nuts by distracting them with a toy or game. Contact your vet immediately if your dog has been seen eating them.

·         Yew trees

o   Taxus trees, often found in church graveyards, are toxic whether it be the twigs or berries. Within 6 hours signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, salivation, wide pupils, lethargy and wobblyness. Supportive care should get most patients through, call your vet if ingestion is expected.

 

Cats

Cats most commonly encounter toxins through accidental contact to the fur and then their penchant to keep clean and wash themselves, thus ingesting poisons. Also chewing plant leaves can cause problems too. An outline of some of the more common toxins, where they can be found, their signs, significance, treatment and prevention are outlined below.

Anti-inflammatories – aspirin, ibuprofen, paracetamol               Insecticides               Permethrin               Antifreeze               Lily               Slug bait               Rat bait               Weed killer               Essential oils               Washing products               Neem oil

·         Anti-inflammatory drugs

o   These include aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen and mefenamic acid. These medications should NEVER be given to pets (aspirin may be given but ONLY if directed by a veterinary surgeon and doses must be carefully adhered to). Signs of toxicity often occur within 2 to 6 hours causing vomiting, not eating, depression, stomach ulceration and bleeding. Liver and kidney failure can occur. Treatment to empty the stomach, fluids, anti-vomiting medication and monitoring for ulceration is required and is usually successful. Animals not treated quickly or with kidney problems may not survive. Paracetamol is likely to kill cats regardless of the treatment attempted. Ensure all medications are stored safely out of animal reach and do not mediate pets in pain with your own products, contact your vet.

·         Organophosphates – insecticides

o   Found in a variety of insecticides, organophosphates cause salivation, wobblyness, diarrhoea, small pupils, tremors and twitching within 12-24 hours. Treatment involves decontaminating the guts and skin, giving atrophine as an antidote, cooling and supportive care with which pets should survive. All insecticides should be stored and used with care and where possible pet-safe alternatives used instead.

·         Permethrin

o   Used in spot-on flea treatments such as Bob Martin’s, the safe and effective dose for cats is low range and overdose (such as putting the dog pipette on the cat) easily causes severe toxicity. Within 1 to 3 hours signs include vomiting, salivation, wobblyness, wide pupils, tremors and seizures. Quick treatment to remove the product and control seizures is needed to prevent fatality. Ensure you are careful to use the correct dose of any medication on your pet and seek immediate veterinary care if you think your cat has had the wrong dose of flea treatment.

·         Ethylene glycol – antifreeze

o   Please see our dedicated page about antifreeze toxicity here.

·         Lilies  

o   Lilies, whether in the garden or flower bunches, most commonly cause toxicity through pollen brushing onto the coat from the flower or the floor underneath it, which the cat then grooms off. If treatment is not started within 18 to 24 hours of ingestion most cats will die of kidney failure. Do not grow lilies in your garden if you have an outdoor cat and remove the pollen from all flower bunches before putting them out, dispose of the pollen carefully cleaning up any spills. If you think your cat could have ingested lily pollen seek veterinary treatment immediately.

·         Metaldehyde – slug bait

o   Found in snail and slug baits and camping stove fuels, metaldehyde causes brain toxicity within 30 minutes, often less, with signs including excitability, tremoring, muscle spasms, twitching and convulsions, breathing problems. Treatment needs to be aggressive to control seizures and if so most cats will recover, but if veterinary care is not sought then toxicity is often fatal. Newer slug bait products are now child and pet friendly and should be used in preference to metaldehyde containing products. If you suspect your pet has eaten slug bait of unknown ingredients contact your vet immediately.

·         Rait bait / rodenticides

o   Alphachloralose rodenticides cause hyperactivity and wobblyness within 4 hours followed by salivation, drowsiness, weakness leading to coma and convulsions. Treatment is aimed at decontaminating the stomach, preventing seizures and supportive care and cats should recover.

o   If using rodent poisons discuss their use with a professional, use pet friendly alternatives where possible and ensure any bait is completely inaccessible to any pets. If ingestion is at all expected contact your vet immediatey.

·         Glyphosate – weed killer

o   Use widely in liquid herbicides and weed-killers signs occur within 30 minutes to 6 hours including stomach upsets, excitability and wobblyness, excessive drinking and weakness. Also eye and ear irritation can occur if contacted by the liquid. Directly eating sprayed plants is likely to only cause mild signs. Most animals will recover with supportive care though organ damage can be fatal. Take care when using these products that animals cannot have access to recently sprayed or neat product, dispose carefully of unused weed-killer, and contact your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has contacted or ingested glyphosate.

·         Essential oils

o   Oils including clove, eucalyptus, peppermint, pine and tea tree should not be used on cats directly, in shampoos or through spillage as they are rapidly absorbed once licked off the coat causing significant skin and internal irritation, vomiting, salivation, dehydration, coughing, skin burns leading to pneumonia or brain problems. Treatment involves decontamination and supportive care and cats should do well if signs are only mild-to-moderate. Severe signs could be fatal. Keep all essential oils safely stored, use with caution around cats or on surface for air freshening.

·         Washing powder and products

o   Machine or hand washing liquids, powders or tablets can all caused vomiting, salivation, diarrhoea and potential lung problems if groomed off the coat from spillages. Severe signs can lead to death so ensure to clean up any spillages quickly and store products safely.

·         Neem oil

o   This Asian tree oil is used in herbal medicines and some flea treatments for cats. If the cat contacts too much from 30 minutes to 48 hours signs of lethargy, disorientation, salivation, not eating, vomiting, diarrhoea, tremoring and convulsions can occur. Liver and kidney failure are also possible. Treatment is supportive and cats are likely to recover if convulsions do not occur.

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