March is Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month, and Poison Prevention Week is March 19th – 25th. Each year, veterinarians at the Pet Poison Helpline review their prior year’s case records to identify specific toxins that have generated the most inquiries from pet owners and veterinarians. Some of the toxins are species-specific (such as lilies in cats and xylitol in dogs,) while others, such as chocolate, affect multiple species. Some toxin exposures are more commonly seen in certain areas of the country; marijuana, for example, is increasingly sending pets to animal hospitals in Colorado. A study by a Denver emergency-room group and Colorado State University, published in 2012, found a fourfold increase in their marijuana toxicity cases from 2005 to late 2010; it is expected that the number of poisoned dogs and cats will increase further now that marijuana has been legalized in the state. In South Carolina, the top call to Animal Poison Control is due to pets eating Sago Palm: an everyday plant that grows in homes across America, and a longtime fixture in backyards in the southern U.S. Even taking one small bite of the Sago Palm plant is enough to kill a dog, or a child.
We asked our veterinarians and medical support staff what pet poisons send the most callers to our phones and patients to our hospital, and their answers are comparable to the “Top 10” toxins reported in recent years across the United States. In no particular order, they are:
- Rat Poison – Toxicity ranges from mild to severe, depending on the amount ingested, active ingredient, and concentration of the product; symptoms are dependent on the active ingredient, which could be a long-acting anticoagulant, cholecalciferol, bromethalin, and phosphide. Treatment also depends on the active ingredient.
- Xylitol – An artificial sweetener found in an increasing number of products. Chewing gum and candy or mints are some of the products often snatched by inquisitive dogs looking for a treat! Just a little bit can cause an acute, life-threatening low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) within 10-15 minutes. Larger ingestions can result in acute liver necrosis and liver failure.
- Lilies – Only toxic to cats, and extremely so. The more dangerous, potentially fatal lilies are true lilies of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species. Examples of some of these dangerous lilies include the tiger, day, Asiatic hybrid, Easter, Japanese Show, rubrum, stargazer, red, Western, and wood lilies. Just a small ingestion (such as 2-3 petals or leaves) – or even some pollen or water from the vase – can result in severe, acute kidney failure. Cat owners should never bring lilies into their homes!
- Chocolate – The vast majority of chocolate-eating pets are dogs. Toxicity is dependent on not only the quantity of chocolate eaten but also the type of chocolate (milk chocolate vs. dark or bittersweet chocolate vs. Baker’s chocolate) and the size of the dog.
- NSAIDs – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen (you may be more familiar with it by a brand name such as Aleve, Menstridol, or Naprelan) that are commonly used to relieve symptoms of arthritis, and mild to moderate pain associated with gout, bursitis, tendonitis, or menstrual cramps.
One of our young canine patients came to see us for a follow-up appointment just this month after a visit to the animal emergency clinic. This little guy had eaten an unknown quantity of 220 mg Naproxen tablets; the amount he actually ingested was probably minimal, but for a dog his size, even one tablet would have been enough to cause kidney failure! Thankfully, this pup received prompt veterinary care and is doing just fine now.
- Other human medications, including anti-anxiety drugs, and analgesics (pain relievers) such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.) Acetaminophen, for example, is very toxic for cats, who are physiologically unable to metabolize the drug effectively. Studies have shown that acetaminophen, propofol, carprofen, and acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) are cleared from the body significantly more slowly in cats versus dogs and humans.
- Grapes, currants, and raisins (especially in trail mix and granola bars) – Most often a worry in dogs, but they may also affect cats and ferrets. Toxicity is not necessarily dose-dependent, and symptoms can occur with even small ingestions. Kidney failure is a major concern, so prompt treatment and follow-up care is recommended.
- Antifreeze – This seems to attract both cats & dogs. As little as a tablespoon can result in severe acute kidney failure in dogs, while as little as 1 teaspoon can be fatal to cats. When dogs or cats are exposed to ethylene glycol, immediate treatment is necessary!
- Veterinary-prescribed medications – Even medications that are labelled for animal use can be a problem if your pet decides to eat them by the box or bottle-full. Flavor-tabs or yummy chewables are the “treats” in which your pet will most typically overindulge. Depending on the medication consumed, there may or may not be cause for concern, but you should always give us a call so we can calculate the dose taken by your pet.
- Remove your pet from the area of the toxin.
- Check to make sure your pet is safe: breathing and acting normally.
- Do NOT give any home antidotes.
- Do NOT induce vomiting without consulting a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline.
- Call Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.
- If veterinary attention is necessary, contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic immediately.
If your pet has eaten something toxic, call us immediately at 402-291-1255; after hours, contact the animal poison control center or an animal emergency clinic. If you’re not sure if your pet ate the item in question, call anyway! Better safe than sorry!
For more information about pet poisons and how to keep your pets safe, you can download this fact sheet: Handout on common household poisons