Hidden Household Pet Poisons
Over the years, I have treated dogs and cats that were poisoned by everyday household substances that, sadly, the owners did not realize were toxic. As pet owners, we try hard to keep our pets safe and healthy, but there are products in our homes that deserve the “dog and cat skull and crossbones” sign for toxic substances. Here are a few of the more memorable cases:
A dog presented with full blown seizures after chewing a container of Mentos gum (luckily the owner brought the chewed-up container with them, which helped with diagnosis and treatment). Xylitol, a sugar substitute found in this product, triggers a release of insulin that dramatically drops blood sugar of dogs and cats. Within minutes of IV dextrose (a kind of sugar) this dog was no longer seizuring and was wagging its tail.
Vomiting was then induced and the dog threw up 20 pieces of gum, saving him from surgery. The gum, if not removed, would have continued to stimulate insulin, causing low blood sugar, seizures, and eventually death.
Xylitol is also found in other low calorie foods that you might unknowingly give your dog as a snack: some peanut butters, Jello puddings, candies, energy drinks and protein bars. Read the label before you give your dog something, and keep products with xylitol out of reach of your dogs!
I know, I know – you’d never intentionally put rat poison where your dog could get it. Two instances of dog exposure come to mind – when the renters didn’t realize the landlords had put it in cabinets, and when campers put it out the season before only to have the dog get into it the next season.
There are two types of rat poison (and they are just one aisle over from pet food in Walmart!). One type causes an animal to bleed to death (anticoagulants – warfarin, brodificoum) and the other – (Vitamin D-containing rodenticides – calciferols) elevates blood calcium and causes kidney failure and seizures. The two types of rat poisons require different treatments. Both products are greenish pellets, both are flavored, and your dog or cat may eat it after mice drag it out from under the fridge. Dogs and cats can even get sick from eating a mouse that died from rat poison! My advice – don’t worry about the mice. Keep your pets safe, and avoid rodenticides of any type.
This is one I would not have thought about until a dog came in that had chewed a container (why do they do that?) of Gorilla Glue during a woodworking project.
Gorilla glue expands in the stomach and turns into a solid mass. This dog needed surgery to remove the glue that had made a perfect cast of the stomach. The dog did fine but that was an expensive wood craft project!
Dental floss (and tinsel, yarn, and string)
These items aren’t really toxins but are still common household items. They are known in the veterinary world as “linear foreign bodies” and always require surgery for removal once they cause symptoms. Cats love to eat string and should not be given the chance.
Essential oils, used in aromatherapy and homeopathic medicine, are liquid toxins to cats. They absorb through the skin and cause liver failure. Cats that have ingested potpourri oil have come in with horrible mouth ulcers. Cats are not humans, so if you are not sure if it is safe to use something on your cat don’t do it.
Fatty foods can cause pancreatitis in dogs. This is a painful condition in dogs and requires intensive and expensive medical care with IV fluids, medications, and hospitalization. Next time you want to offer your dog a piece of bacon give him a green bean instead and save yourself, and your dog, some heartache down the road.
Luckily, we don’t see this problem much anymore. I’ll never forget the farm dog, though, that spent a lot of time in the garage with an old car that was leaking antifreeze. He was very sick with kidney failure before the owners realized what was going on. Also, be careful at rest stops when traveling with your dog so that she/he doesn’t drink from puddles that have been contaminated with engine oil or antifreeze.
Prescription and non-prescription drugs
Everyone knows that Advil is toxic to dogs and Acetaminophen is toxic to cats, right? Sometimes cats and dogs help themselves to human prescription drugs – dogs love to chew the containers and eat whatever pills
are inside, and cats find that stray pill dropped on the floor.
Lilies make beautiful bouquets but instead of being heart-warming they can be heart-breaking. Cats that nibble even a tiny bit of the leaf or flower of lilies (Easter, Tiger, Day, or Star-gazer lilies) can go into kidney failure. Keep flower arrangements with lilies out of reach of your feline friend!
Bread and dough
A dog was left in the car with the groceries and ate a
loaf of bread. The bread filled the stomach, produced gas, and the dog’s stomach bloated and twisted. I’m not sure how common of a cause this is for stomach torsion, but I’ll never forget that dog. Raw dough is also bad – fermentation produces gas that leads to bloat but also releases ethanol into the blood system causing alcohol poisoning, and a drunk dog.
Pyrethrin-containing flea medicine
Two or three times a year, we treat cats for tremors and seizures from cheap, topical, flea products. Avoid pyrethrin-containing flea medications on your cat! These products are labelled “safe” for cats” but many cats cannot tolerate this insecticide.
I hope that I’ve helped you recognize some common products that might be in your house right now that can cause problems in pets. If you think that your pet might have gotten into something, remember, every minute counts! Call your veterinarian or a Pet Poison Hotline. Knowing the name, the label, and possible time of ingestion can expedite diagnosis and treatment.
There are several Pet Poison Hotlines available (may require a fee for the service).
Kim Williams, DVM