Poisons

What is out there that your pet should not indulge in?

Sadly and worryingly there are many substances that are poisonous to our pets. Firstly, should you ever be worried, concerned or unsure, please do not hesitate to contact us. Should this happen at night or times when you think the main clinic is closed, remember we have our 24 hour emergency cover should you need advice or your pet needs treatment. Click here for our emergency contact information.

There are lots of different chemicals, drugs and plants that are poisonous to our pets. Here is an overview of common poisons.

Symptoms of poisoning
  • Contact poisons – chemicals or plants that come into contact with your pet’s skin can cause irritation. You may see sign of discomfort, agitation, excessive scratching, swellings (hives) or pain.
  • Swallowed poisons – can cause gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness, staggering, disorientation, convulsions, lethargy, loss of appetite, twitching, dilated pupils, ulcers, heart palpitations, and coma.
  • Inhaled poisons – coughing, drooling, difficulty breathing, unconsciousness or coma.
Poisons for which immediate care should be sought:-

Skin contact

  • Tar
  • Petroleum products
  • Household chemicals
  • Paint or paint remover
  • Gasoline
  • Stinging nettles
  • Flea and tick medication – if overdosed, or if dog products are used on cats

Inhaled poisons

  • Smoke
  • Tear gas
  • Insecticides
  • Household chemicals
  • Swallowed poisons

Alkalis

  • Acids
  • Household and garden chemicals
  • Petroleum Products
  • Antifreeze, screen wash
  • All drugs/medications – human or pet
  • Luminous necklaces/glow sticks
  • Batteries

Poisonous plants

  • Ivy
  • Foxglove
  • Hemlock
  • Mushrooms
  • Mistletoe
  • Oleander
  • Lilies, including daffodils
  • Tulip
  • Oak/acorns

Food items

  • Chocolate
  • Onions, garlic, chives
  • Raisins/grapes
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Avocados
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Xylitol (an artificial sweetener commonly used in chewing gum and diabetic sweets)
What to do if you think your pet has been poisoned - immediate care

Contact your vet immediately upon ingestion or exposure to any known or possible toxin with as much information as possible regarding the toxin (name, strength, amount ingested).

  • If the poisoning is primarily from noxious fumes or a gas, get your pet to fresh air, but don’t put yourself at risk for poisoning.
  • If the poisoning is by contact with the skin, wear protective gloves and remove the substance from the skin/hair. Use paper towels or clean rags to remove liquids. Do not use water, solvents or anything else to remove the poison unless specifically directed to do so by your vet.
  • If the poison was in the mouth or swallowed, contact your vet. DO NOT induce vomiting unless specifically directed to do so, as some poisons can cause more damage if vomiting occurs than if left in the stomach.
INFORMATION FOR DOGS

What to be aware of? These are some things in particular that will cause a problem in dogs.

Chocolate
Chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine (a bit like caffeine) that is poisonous to dogs. The amount of theobromine differs in the different types of chocolate (dark chocolate has the most in it). Theobromine mainly affects the heart, central nervous system and kidneys. Signs of theobromine poisoning will occur from 4-24hours following ingestion and will vary depending on the amount of chocolate (theobromine) your dog has eaten. You may see vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness, hyperactivity and seizures.
There is no antidote to theobromine. In most cases your vet will make your dog vomit. Other treatments will depend on the signs your dog is showing. They may need intravenous fluids (a drip), medication to control heart rate, blood pressure and seizure activity (fits).

Caffeine
Like chocolate, caffeine also contains stimulants, as this substance is found in the fruit of the plant that is used to make coffee.
Dogs are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than people. A couple of laps of tea or coffee will not do any harm, but the ingestion of moderate amounts of coffee grounds or tea bags can lead to serious problems. Signs are similar to chocolate toxicity and treatment is broadly similar.

Onions, Garlic, Chives
These vegetables and herbs can cause gastrointestinal (stomach and gut) irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed.
Onions are particularly toxic and signs of poisoning occur a few days after your dog has eaten the onion. All forms of onion can be a problem including dehydrated onions, raw onions, cooked onions and table scraps containing cooked onions and/or garlic. Left over pizza, Chinese dishes and commercial baby food containing onion, sometimes fed as a supplement to young pets, can cause illness.

Alcohol
Alcohol is significantly more toxic to dogs than to humans. When consumed, alcoholic beverages and alcoholic food products may cause vomiting, diarrhoea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death. So, remember to keep alcoholic beverages well out of reach of your dog!

Avocado
A substance called Persin that is contained in the leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocados can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs. In addition birds and rodents are particularly sensitive and serious reactions such as the development of congestion, difficulty breathing and fluid accumulation around the heart can result.

Grapes & Raisins
The toxic substance that is contained within grapes and raisins is unknown; however these fruits can cause kidney failure. Dogs that already have certain health problems may have an even more serious reaction so this is certainly one to avoid.

Macadamia Nuts
Within 12 hours of ingestion macadamia nuts can cause dogs to experience weakness, depression, tremors, vomiting and hyperthermia (increased body temperature). These symptoms tend to last for approximately 12 to 48 hours, and as with all the other food groups mentioned if you suspect your dog has consumed macadamia nuts note the possible quantity consumed and contact your vet.

Yeast Dough
Ingestion of yeast dough can cause gas to accumulate in your dog’s digestive system as a result of the dough rising. Not only can this be painful but if may also cause the stomach or intestines to become obstructed (blocked) or distended. So whilst small bits of bread can be given as a treat due to the fact that risks are diminished once the yeast has fully risen, it is advised to avoid giving your dog yeast dough.

Bones
Whilst feeding your dog bones may seem like a good idea in that it takes our dogs back to their ‘roots’, it is important to remember that domestic dogs may choke on the bones, or sustain injury as the splinters can become lodged in or puncture your dog’s digestive tract, so if you choose to give your dog bones be sure to keep an eye on him while he tucks in, and avoid giving cooked bones (which splinter easily) or giving bones that are small enough to get stuck in their bowels.

Eating large quantities of bone can often cause constipation, so try to monitor the amount your dog manages to consume.

Corn on the cob
Corn on the cob may seem like a healthy table scrap to give your dog, but unlike most vegetables, it does not digest well in a dog’s stomach. If your dog swallows large chunks of the cob, or even whole, it can cause an intestinal blockage due to it’s size and shape. If your dog gobbled up corn on the cob watch for signs of trouble such as vomiting, loss of appetite or reduced appetite, absence of faeces or sometimes diarrhoea and signs of abdominal discomfort. In this case, have your dog see a vet immediately and be careful to never feed corn on the cob again.

Xylitol
The artificial sweetener xylitol found in many foods such as sugar free gum, diabetic cakes, diet foods etc. causes insulin release in many species leading to potentially fatal hypoglycaemia (lowered sugar levels). The initial symptoms include lethargy, vomiting and loss of coordination, following this recumbency (unable to stand) and seizures may occur. Xylitol has also been linked to fatal acute liver disease and blood clotting disorders in dogs. Even very small amounts can be extremely dangerous and if you think your dog has eaten any amount of xylitol then you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

Milk
As dogs do not have significant amounts of the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose in milk, feeding your dog milk and other milk-based products can cause diarrhoea or other digestive upset.

If you suspect that your dog has ingested any of these items, please note the amount ingested and contact your vet as soon as possible.

Poisons throughout the year – when are the risky times for dogs?

Spring and Easter poisons

  • Chocolate. Chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine (a bit like caffeine) that is poisonous to dogs. The amount of theobromine differs in the different types of chocolate (dark chocolate has the most in it).
  • Raisins. Don’t forget that goodies such as hot-cross buns contain raisins. Grapes, raisins, currants and sultanas can cause renal (kidney) failure in dogs.
  • Spring flowers. Daffodils can be toxic, most often after ingestion of the bulb but occasionally after ingestion of flower heads and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy that in severe cases may result in dehydration, tremors and convulsions. These signs can be seen from 15 minutes to one day following ingestion. Other spring flowers, such as Crocuses and Tulips, are considered to be less toxic but seek veterinary advice if you are worried your pet has ingested them.
  • Ivy. Dogs that eat ivy (Hedera helix) commonly develop salivation (dribbling), vomiting or diarrhoea. In more severe cases you may see blood in the vomitus or bloody faeces. Contact with ivy can cause skin reactions, conjunctivitis, itchiness, and skin rashes. Note that “Poison Ivy” is a different plant – Rhus radicans.
  • Bluebells. All parts of the plant are poisonous to dogs. Signs are related to stomach, intestine and heart function and include vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort. There is a risk of heart beat irregularity (arrhythmia) if a significant quantity be ingested.
  • Anti-histamines. From spring to early summer the pollen count is at its highest and this is when owners are likely to be stocking up on their anti-histamine medication. Ingestion of large amounts of anti-histamines results in signs that may include vomiting, lethargy, incoordination, wobbliness and tremors. Signs develop within 4-7 hours of ingestion. Some dogs may become hyperactive and hyper-excitable and if large amounts of anti-histamine have been eaten convulsions, respiratory depression and coma may occur.

Summer poisons

  • Xylitol. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar free chewing gum, nicotine replacement gum, sweets and as a sugar substitute in baking. If ingested by dogs it causes hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar level). You may see vomiting, an increased heart rate, wobbliness, convulsions or coma. In severe case of hypoglycaemia fitting may result which if prolonged, can lead to permanent neurological (brain/nerve) damage. Liver failure has also been associated with the ingestion of xylitol in dogs. The onset of signs is often less than an hour but can be delayed for 24-48 hours after ingestion. Liver damage may also develop without the signs associated with hypoglycaemia and may occur up to 3 days after ingestion.
  • Ant powders, baits and gels. Ingestion of ant powders, baits or gels rarely results in significant poisoning. The active components of home use products tend to be at a low concentration and are often housed in containers e.g. ant bait stations. However ingestion of some products causes significant problems and you should contact your vet for advice. Signs you may see include constricted pupils, salivation, wobbliness, tremors and an increased body temperature. Severe cases may produce respiratory depression (not breathing fast enough), convulsions and coma and the duration of effects can be very prolonged.
  • Slug and snail pellets. Metaldehyde based slug pellets are among the most dangerous and common poisonings we see in dogs. Even small amounts of pellets can cause significant poisoning and severe signs can occur within an hour of consumption. Dogs that have eaten slug pellets need to be seen ASAP as rapid intervention can save their life. Signs of poisoning can include; incoordination, muscle spasms, muscle rigidity, twitching, tremors and convulsions. Intensive treatment involving heavy sedation, control of convulsions and associated life support measures is often needed.
  • Toad toxicity. There are two species of toad native to Britain, the Common toad and the Natterjack toad. The Common toad is widespread, whilst the Natterjack toad is a protected species found in East Anglia and the North West of England. Exposure to toads occurs between June and August when they are spawning, toads being most active around dawn and dusk. Most toad-related incidents occur in the evening when cats or dogs lick or eat them. This can lead to signs including hypersalivation (dribbling), frothing, foaming, oral pain, vomiting, wobbliness, shaking, an increase in body temperature and collapse. In severe cases convulsions can occur. You can thoroughly rinse your dog’s mouth out (don’t let them swallow the water) then contact your vet for further advice.

Autumn poisons

  • Conkers. Serious cases of poisoning are rare – ingestion can cause marked gastro-intestinal signs – drooling, retching, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. The conker’s case and conkers themselves also present a risk by causing an intestinal blockage. Dogs usually vomit any ingested conkers quickly and treatment to control vomiting may be needed.
  • Anticoagulant rodenticides. Most, but not all, rodenticides in the UK contain anti-coagulant compounds that interfere with a rat’s ability to clot its own blood. One off exposure to products bought in garden centres often does not cause problems. However, repeated exposure to products or exposure to professional rodent baits can cause disruption to a dog’s blood clotting ability and result in massive haemorrhage (bleeding). The effects may be delayed for several days – blood-clotting (coagulation) tests are often needed to determine if a dog is at risk of developing problems. Treatment involves giving an antidote and in severe cases transfusions of plasma or whole blood.
  • Luminous necklaces. The chemical mixture within these necklaces is very irritating to the gums – commonly causing salivation (dribbing), frothing/foaming from the mouth, vomiting and stomach pain. Although the signs can look dramatic, ingestion is unlikely to cause significant problems.
  • Oak/acorns. Exposure to acorns in dogs is common in the autumn and winter months. The toxic ingredient is thought to be tannic acid, which can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea (with or without blood), abdominal pain, inappetance and lethargy. Ingested acorns can also cause an intestinal blockage.

Winter and Christmas poisons

  • Food hazards. Chocolate, onions, nuts, blue cheese, fruit cakes, puddings and mince pies can all be toxic to dogs. Watch out for turkey bones as these can cause choking, constipation or cause damage to your dog’s intestines.
  • Christmas trees and plants. Most species are low toxicity but may cause a mild gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and/or diarrhoea) if chewed. Tinsel and decorations can cause intestinal blockages if eaten and your pet may get a nasty shock if they chew through the electrical cable for your Christmas lights. Holly, mistletoe and poinsettia are all toxic to dogs so keep them out of their reach.
  • Batteries. Ingestion of batteries is more common at this time of year. If the battery is chewed and pierced it can cause chemical burns and heavy metal poisoning. If they are swallowed whole it is possible they will cause a blockage. All batteries are potentially toxic so if you suspect your dog has chewed or swallowed a battery speak to your local vet.
  • Antifreeze. Ethylene glycol (anti freeze) ingestion is very dangerous. It is sweet-tasting and very palatable. Even a relatively small quantity can cause serious kidney damage and can be fatal. Unfortunately the longer the delay between ingestion of the anti freeze and initiation of treatment the less favourable the prognosis.

All year round

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are used for pain relief. Many human products are available over-the-counter, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen or aspirin. Human NSAIDs can be toxic to all animals, but particularly to dogs where they can cause severe stomach ulceration and acute kidney or liver failure. Please do be very careful and always consult your vet before giving your dog any form of medication.
  • Animal NSAIDs are commonly used in veterinary medicine with trade names including Metacam and Previcox. Many of these have been made palatable to assist owners in giving medications to their pets. However if your pet gets hold of the medication they can eat more than they should. In cases of poisoning or overdose, toxic effects develop quickly and include persistent vomiting, vomiting blood, diarrhoea, and abdominal tenderness. Weakness and depression are often noted, though some animals show no signs of pain. Gastric (stomach) ulceration can occur without other clinical signs being present. Kidney damage is usually delayed by up to five days after poisoning and animals that are already unwell, dehydrated or with poor kidney function are at greater risk of toxic effects.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D compounds (calciferol, calcipotriol, calcitriol, cholecalciferol, tacalcitol, alfacalcidol and paricalcitol) are present in a wide variety of products. Examples include vitamin supplements, cod liver oil, rodenticides and feed additives. In human medicine they are commonly used in psoriasis treatments and vitamin D deficiencies. Veterinary uses include control of low blood calcium in cats and dogs with kidney disease. All vitamin D compounds are potentially toxic to dogs. Signs of toxicity depend on the compound and amount ingested, in the case of calcipotriol, calcitriol and tacalcitol signs may be seen within six hours and include weakness and lethargy, depression, increased water intake and increased urine output, profuse vomiting and diarrhoea. Signs progress to wobbliness, arching of the back, muscle spasms, and twitching. Fatal cases do occur, especially in dogs following ingestion of human psoriasis creams, however effective treatments are available in animals that have not developed advanced poisoning.
  • Mushrooms. The most common account of poisoning is by the mushroom Amanita phalloides, which is extremely toxic. Signs include mild vomiting and diarrhoea and can lead to more severe digestive problems, neurological (brain/nerve) disorders and liver disease.
  • Salt. Common products that are very high in salt include – sterilising fluids, water softeners, dishwasher salt, rock salt (used to de-ice roads) and some bath products (e.g. dead sea salt, bath salt), stock cubes, homemade play-doh and gravy powders. Salt (sodium chloride) toxicity is extremely dangerous and potentially fatal – a toxic dose may be as little as 1/16th of a teaspoon per kg of body weight. Do not attempt to make your dog sick (following ingestion of a poison) using salt water, it can cause severe problems and interfere with the treatment your dog needs.

This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide. Please contact the practice for advice or treatment immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health – even if we are closed, they will always have an out of hours service available.

INFORMATION FOR CATS

Lots of substances that are around us every day can be a poison or toxin for cats. Cats are most commonly exposed to poisons by eating them but poisons can also be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Not all poisonings are fatal. Most poisons do not have an antidote and treatment is usually aimed at giving supportive care and treating the signs of poisoning until the poison is removed from the cat’s system.

There are no specific signs that cover all types of poisoning. If you notice any change in your cat’s health, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, incoordination or changes in appetite or thirst then contact your vet for advice. Other signs that your cat may have been poisoned include foreign material on his hair or feet, foreign material in his vomitus, or a strange smell to his hair, breath, vomitus or faeces.

If you think your cat may have come into contact with something he shouldn’t have, contact your vet for further advice.

Human medications
Assume all human medications are poisonous to your cat, unless instructed otherwise by your veterinary surgeon. Some everyday, over the counter human medications such as paracetamol are highly toxic to cats and can lead to kidney or liver failure and death.

Animal medications
Increasingly animal medications are being made ‘palatable’ to make them easier to give to your pet. The downside is that if your cat gets hold of the medication they may eat more than they should. Make sure you keep all animal medications safely locked away to avoid these cases of self-overdosing.

Plants
There are a number of plants toxic to cats and some of these are listed below. Assume all parts of the plant are poisonous, although some parts of the plant may have higher concentrations of the toxin than others. Many plants are irritants, causing inflammation of the skin, mouth and stomach.

  • Lilies (Lilium sp.) (including daffodils)
  • Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
  • Tulip and Narcissus bulbs (Tulipa and Narcissus sp.)
  • Azaleas and Rhododendrons (Rhododendron sp.)
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)
  • Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)
  • Cyclamen (Cyclamen sp.)
  • Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe sp.)
  • Yew (Taxus sp.)
  • Amaryllis (Amaryllis sp.)
  • Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum sp.)
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
  • Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Schefflera Schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla)

Foods
Here is a list of human foods that can be dangerous for your cat.

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee, Tea, Energy Drinks
  • Dairy Products
  • Fat Trimmings, Raw Meat, Eggs, Fish
  • Grapes and Raisins
  • Onions and Garlic
  • Tuna Xylitol
  • Bones

Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis can occur if your cat comes in to contact with something that causes irritation to the skin. If your cat licks or swallows these toxins, his mouth and digestive tract can be affected as well. Look out for any foreign substance on your cat’s body and feet, any unusual smells, especially a chemical smell, redness, swelling, hair loss, itchiness, blisters, or ulcers on the skin or feet where the substance is located. You may see drooling, coughing, sores in the mouth, vomiting or diarrhoea, if your cat swallowed the substance.

Contact dermatitis is most commonly caused but household chemicals, insecticides, and petroleum products.

What can I do?
Wearing protective gloves, remove as much of the foreign material from your cat as you can. Do not let your cat lick the substance – wrap him in a towel or put a buster collar on if you have one. Contact your vet for further advice.

Inhaled Toxins
A variety of inhaled substances can have adverse affects on cats. In general, these substances are the same things that would cause problems for people such as carbon monoxide, smoke, fumes from bleach and other cleaning products and sprayed insecticides. Most of these substances irritate the airways. If your cat is exposed to an inhaled toxin, move him immediately to an open, well-ventilated area with clean air, then call your veterinary surgeon for further advice.

Prevention
Keep all chemicals, medications, plants and food items out of cat’s reach. Ensure you read all labels carefully and follow product guidelines on species, age and weight.

If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, identify the poison involved (if at all possible) and bring the container label, plant or any other information you have with you when you visit the vet.

Poisons throughout the year – when are the risky times for cats?

Spring and summer

  • Permethrin (insecticides). Permethrin is an insecticide commonly found in many over the counter ‘spot-on’ flea treatments for dogs. It is very toxic to cats and unfortunately at Vets Now we see numerous cases of poisoning every month. Poisonings happen all year round but there is a peak in late summer as this is when the flea numbers are at their highest. Cats are most commonly poisoned after their owners mistakenly use a dog product on the cat, but they can also show mild signs after close contact with a recently treated dog. The effects are usually rapid in onset. Signs of insecticide poisoning include drooling, tremors, twitching and seizures. Any remaining product should be washed from the cat’s hair coat (or clipped in long haired cats) using cool water, as warm water will increase the absorbtion of the product. Controlling the convulsions is often difficult and your cat may need to be hospitalised for several days. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service reports that 15% of cases result in death or euthanasia. However, cats that receive immediate treatment and survive usually suffer no long-term effects.
  • Toad toxicity. We see occasional cases of exposure to toads in the summer months when the toads are spawning. Toads are most active around dawn and dusk and most toad-related incidents occur in the evening when cats lick them. The onset of signs of poisoning is rapid and you can see drooling, frothing, foaming, pain around the mouth, vomiting, wobbliness, seizures and collapse in severe cases.
  • Slug and snail pellets (Metaldehyde). This is a common poison we see in dogs, however we do see occasional cases in cats. The toxic compound is metaldehyde (note – not all slug pellets contain metaldehyde). Only small amounts of pellets are needed to cause significant poisoning. Signs will be seen within an hour of ingestion and include incoordination, muscle spasms, twitching, tremors and seizures. Pets need urgent veterinary treatment if they are to survive poisoning with slug pellets.
  • Anti-histamines. Antihistamines are quite low toxicity – your cat needs to eat quite a few to cause problems. However ingestion of large amounts of anti-histamines can result in signs including vomiting, lethargy, incoordination, wobbliness and tremors. Signs are seen within 4-7 hours of ingestion. Some cats can become hyperactive and hyper-excitable.

Autumn and winter

  • Ethylene Glycol. Unfortunately ethylene glycol poisoning is commonly seen in cats. Ethylene glycol is the compound in most types of antifreeze and is also present in other products. It smells and tastes sweet so cats will drink it from puddles/spills on the ground or will lick it off their paws if they walk through some. The toxic dose is very small and even a few drops of ethylene glycol in a puddle will be enough to cause serious kidney damage and can be fatal. Signs will be seen within the first few hours after ingestion but are mild and easy to miss. They include vomiting, drooling, incoordination (drunkenness – ethylene glycol is a type of alcohol). After the first 24-48hours, signs of poisoning are related to kidney failure and will include loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive urination or no urination at all. Seek urgent veterinary attention if you suspect your cat has ingested ethylene glycol – the longer the delay between ingestion of the anti freeze and initiation of treatment, the less favourable the prognosis.
  • Luminous necklaces. Luminous necklaces consist of plastic tubing with a core of luminescent chemicals, which are apparently attractive to cats as they account for the majority of reported poisonings. The chemical mixture is very irritating to the mucous membranes of the mouth – commonly causing salivation, frothing/foaming from the mouth, vomiting and stomach pain. Whilst these signs look dramatic, ingestion is unlikely to cause significant problems, with effects mostly limited to gut and mouth. Contact your vet for further advice.

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