Common Toxicity Problems in Pets
Most pet owners are aware that substances such as rat poison and snail bait are toxic to animals, and must be kept away from cats and dogs. However, you might not know that there are many other household items that can be just as toxic, and often fatal.
These common items range from basic cooking ingredients in your kitchen, such as garlic and onion, to that vase of beautiful lillies on your coffee table – you may be very surprised by just how dangerous some of these everyday items can be to our furry friends.
To help you become more aware, we’ve put together a quick reference table of these products, and then expanded on each one below to provide a more comprehensive list of possible symptoms and treatments.
This lists substances from the most toxic to the less dangerous (although still hazardous!), so you can start being vigilant about keeping these items away from your pets, or even removing them from your household entirely.
We’ll also run through what you need to do in the event of poisoning, if you find your dog or cat has ingested any of these products – whether we recommend you seek professional veterinarian assistance, and how quickly.
You may like to print off the table and list and keep it on your fridge as a reminder, and also as a reference guide in case of emergency. Please also share this information with other pet owners to help raise awareness of the risks of toxicity.
Rat Bait – Not Just Fatal for Rodents
Top of the list, and not so surprising, is rat bait. Used commonly in many households to control rodents, rat bait works by preventing the blood from clotting normally, killing the mouse or rat through internal bleeding. Unfortunately, any other animal who ingests the bait will also suffer the same fate.
To make matters even worse, the bleeding can often be internal with no external signs evident, meaning your pet could be experiencing spontaneous and uncontrollable internal bleeding without displaying any outward signs.
If you find disturbed rat bait around your home and believe your pet may have swallowed some you should take your pet to a vet for immediate attention. Illness from rat bait can take many forms, the most common sign being lethargy, collapse or difficulty breathing.
Today’s rat baits are very potent, only requiring a small amount to be ingested to be toxic. They can last for a long time in the body, preventing clotting for up to 6 weeks. Your pet can be at risk of a life threatening bleed at any point during this time.
The treatment for rat bait intoxication depends on the severity of the clinical signs, which your vet will be able to assess once the animal has been brought in.
Animals that present with symptoms of collapsing and bleeding often require blood transfusions to replace lost blood and plasma transfusions (a component of blood) to stop the coagulation problems more quickly.
All animals that are clinically affected by the rat bait (that is, showing signs of bleeding) require Vitamin K supplementation, which acts as an antidote to the rat bait.
To be on the safe side, remove any existing rat baits from your home, garage and outdoor areas – anywhere your pet has access to. Make sure family members, flatmates or partners know the dangers of keeping them in the house for your pets.
Lily Plants – A Deadly Beauty
Less obvious than rat bait, but just as deadly, is a flowering plant known for its unique and vibrant beauty, making it a very common indoor houseplant. It’s toxicity to cats is a much lesser known fact.
It’s not known exactly how or why the lily flower is toxic to cats. The plant presents no toxicity to dogs. What we do know is that the poison in these common plants causes severe kidney failure in felines, which can result in chronic kidney illness and even death.
The 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. All parts of these species of lily plant are highly toxic to cats, including the flowers, leaves and stem, and even the pollen or water from the vase.
Some lillies that are less toxic for cats include the Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies – these can cause minor signs such as tissue irritation to the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and esophagus. Clinical signs of drooling, pawing at the mouth, foaming, and vomiting may be transiently seen.
If your cat has eaten a lilly and you are not sure what sort it is then you should assume it is toxic and see a vet immediately.
One of the most immediate symptoms of lily poisoning is the sudden onset of vomiting. In addition, cats that are experiencing lily poisoning will often exhibit signs of depression, diarrhoea, dehydration, and lack of appetite. If the condition is left untreated, death can occur within four to seven days of ingestion (sooner if the cat consumes a larger amount of the plant).
With lily toxicity, the best thing you can do is prevent cats from being exposed to the lilies in the first place. We strongly recommend that people with cats as pets should never have lilies in the house. If you are confused as to which lillies are safe and which are toxic, it may be safer to exclude all lillies from your home and garden – it’s simply not worth the risk!
If a cat does ingest any part of a lily plant, it is best to get them to an emergency veterinarian clinic as soon as possible. We try to prevent toxicity by (sometimes) making cats vomit and giving them intravenous fluids. We monitor the damage to their kidneys with blood tests and hope to see your feline friend recover. The most important thing to remember is not to wait until your cat is showing signs of illness. Lillies are so toxic to cats that by the time they are showing signs of illness the toxicity can be very advanced. So any concern about a cat that may have eaten lillies should trigger an immediate visit to a vet.
Snail Bait – The Garden Menace
Snail bait, or snail pellets, are used in gardens to control pests – namely, snails and slugs. As a common gardening product, there is a risk of household pets also ingesting the bait.
Most snail bait contains a toxin called metaldehyde. If ingested by your cat or dog, this toxin can prove deadly.
Signs that metaldehyde has been ingested include sudden anxiety and twitching, fever, racing heart rates, heavy breathing, vomiting and diarrhoea. These symptoms may quickly progress to severe muscle tremors and seizures. High enough doses of metaldehyde can also cause permanent liver damage or death.
There is no antidote for metaldehyde toxicity. Treatment involves removing the toxin from the body and controlling the clinical signs, so it’s vital to get your pet to an emergency veterinarian clinic as soon as possible.
We usually remove the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract by giving a general anaesthetic and then lavaging (pumping) the stomach, and also giving enemas. We will often administer activated charcoal to bind any remaining toxin.
The tremors and seizures are treated with anti-seizure medications and muscle relaxants.
We provide support for the heart, kidney and liver by administering IV fluids. In some animals whose clinical signs are severe, it may be necessary to perform blood tests and induce a coma to control the clinical signs.
Some pets eat a snail bait containing a toxin called metiocarb. This causes similar signs. We can treat this toxin in a similar way and signs often abate in 24 hours or so.
Paracetamol – Safe Medicine for Humans, Not for Animals
You may think that paracetamol is one of the ‘safest’ pain relief medications, and couldn’t possibly be harmful to animals. Some pet owners may even administer paracetamol to their cats or dogs, thinking it will relieve any pain symptoms from other problems.
Don’t ever be tempted to do this. Paracetamol is toxic to both cats and dogs, although cats are more susceptible to paracetamol poisoning because they have a deficiency of liver enzymes that can cope with the drug, and feline haemoglobin is more susceptible to oxidative damage. In dogs, much higher doses of the product are needed to induce toxicity.
Toxicity can cause severe kidney and liver failure in both animals.
For both cats and dogs, symptoms of poisoning generally begin within hours of ingestion. They include depression (progressive), vomiting, abdominal pain, dark-coloured urine. Cats may also present with lack of appetite, drooling, blood in the urine, brown or blue mucous membranes with difficulty breathing, dark chocolate-coloured blood and urine.
Paracetamol in toxic doses can most commonly cause problems with the liver. Treatment includes decontamination (trying to minimise absorption), intravenous fluids (to support the liver) and liver protection medications.
Prevention of a problem is much more successful than trying to treat a problem once it has occurred.
To be on the safe side, keep all household medicines out of reach of pets – just as you would keep them away from children. If you suspect your pet has ingested paracetamol seek emergency veterinary attention immediately.
Ibuprofen, Aspirin and Other Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Another common household medication that is safe for humans but not for animals are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Humans frequently use NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen for pain relief.
Pet owners should never give any medication to their dog or cat without consultation with their veterinarian – don’t ever give your dog or cat any form of human NSAIDs as they can be highly toxic and even fatal.
When pets ingest even small overdoses of an NSAID it can result in severe stomach ulcers, causing signs of vomiting, bloody vomitus, diarrhoea, black-tarry stool, weakness, pale gums, abdominal pain, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
With larger ingestions kidney failure, liver failure and neurological problems such as tremors and seizures can develop.
Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs in toxic doses can most commonly cause problems with the gut (ulceration and bleeding) and kidneys. Treatment includes decontamination (trying to minimise absorption), intravenous fluids (to support the kidneys) and gastroprotectants (to try to prevent gut ulceration).
Remember, prevention of a problem is much more successful than trying to treat a problem once it has occurred.
If you think your dog or cat may have ingested ibuprofen, aspirin or any other NSAID, seek emergency veterinarian treatment immediately. To prevent this from occurring, remember to keep ibuprofen and aspirin products in the medicine cabinet far away from your pets’ reach.
Chocolate – The Perfect Treat for You, Not for Your Pet
Have you ever been tempted to give your pet a part of your biscuit or cake as a treat? Well don’t! Many pet owners are unaware that chocolate can be extremely harmful to dogs and cats in a number of ways.
Chocolate is directly toxic because it contains a substance called theobromine, which is found in the cocoa component of the chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa the more theobromine is present. This makes baking chocolate the most dangerous for pets, followed by semi-sweet and dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and then chocolate flavoured cakes or cookies.
The other problem with chocolate is the fat and sugar content, which can create a temporary upset stomach for your pet. A sudden high-fat meal can also incite pancreatitis in some dogs. Vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain can progress to more serious metabolic problems.
Signs and symptoms of theobromine toxicity include vomiting and diarrhoea, hyperactivity, tremors or seizures, and very fast heart beat progressing to abnormal rhythms. In severe cases, chocolate poisoning can cause death.
If you find your dog or cat has eaten a small quantity of chocolate, and you know the incident has only recently happened, it is possible to induce vomiting before too much becomes absorbed.
However, if the chocolate was eaten some time ago or in sufficiently toxic quantities then hospitalisation and supportive care is often required until the chocolate has worked its way out of the system. In these cases you will need to seek emergency veterinarian treatment.
Marijuana – Never a Good Idea for Pets
It might seem an odd item to include in this list, but veterinarians report that they are encountering more incidents of marijuana poisoning in pets, mostly dogs. It’s usually an accident, when an animal ingests marijuana contained in edibles, or eats some leaves of the plant.
The cannabis plant contains more than 60 cannabinoids, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being the most toxic. THC affects receptors in the brain which alter normal neurotransmitter function and affects the nervous system.
Marijuana toxicity often occurs because dogs are quite small compared to humans but have a big appetite. Dogs can develop signs of toxicity if enough is marijuana is ingested.
Signs of intoxication in pets can include vomiting, disorientation, dilated pupils, depression, ataxia (stumbling/incoordination when walking), low body temperature, depressed breathing, and uncontrollable urination.
If your cat or dog is exposed to marijuana and showing signs of toxicity they should be taken to an emergency vet clinic immediately. They will often require intravenous fluids and other forms of supportive care while the drug works its way out of their system. Severe cases can require more intensive treatment.
Other Common Foods that are Toxic to Cats and Dogs
You may be surprised by the amount of common food items in your kitchen and pantry that can be moderately toxic to your pets – you probably use many of these daily.
The following list includes food and products that are potentially poisonous to cats and dogs:
- Macadamia nuts
- Bread dough (anything with yeast)
- Any product containing xylitol, such as some sugar free chewing gums and mouthwashes
Now that you are aware of these common items make sure you keep them away from your pets’ areas and food bowls, and don’t ever be tempted to feed them these items as ‘treats’.
We hope this fact sheet has raised awareness of the potential dangers of common household items and products. Like you, we want our animal friends to be safe, and believe preventing emergencies from occurring in the first place is better than any treatment or cure.