The Animal Poison Control Center was started prior to my arrival as Head of the then-named Veterinary Biosciences department in the College of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. After I took office, the center was taken over by the ASPCA and has grown and become more effective as a result. The service answered more than 167,000 calls in 2014, all involving exposure of animals to possible toxicants. Nearly 16 percent of those calls were about pets getting into medicines intended for human use — the seventh year in a row that this type of exposure was the most common.
Here are the most common pet toxins of 2014 as reported by the ASPCA:
- Human prescription medications. Especially dangerous are ADD/ADHD drugs.
- Over-the-counter medications including herbal and natural supplements as well as cough, cold and allergy medications. Many of these contain acetaminophen and/or pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. All are highly toxic to pets. Glucosamine joint supplements are often flavored and will appeal to some animals, particularly dogs. Overdose can result in diarrhea and occasionally in liver failure.
- Insecticides, particularly insect bait stations, can result in bowel obstructions from ingesting the plastic shell containing the bait.
- Household items including paints and cleaning products.
- Human foods. Dogs were usually the culprits getting into serious trouble by ingesting large quantities of onions, garlic, grapes, raisins and particularly a sugar substitute xylitol found in sugar-free gum and other products.
- Veterinary medications, particularly chewable medications, are attractive to some pets.
- Chocolate, discussed in a previous column.
- Plants — a long list of plant poisons have been covered in past columns.
- Rodenticides — haven’t discussed these but toxicity is obvious.
- Lawn and garden products — these include fertilizers as well as weed killers, etc.
Other potential hazards include:
- Oxygen absorbers and silica gel packs often found in packages of pet treats, jerky and other edibles. These can result in iron poisoning.
- Toxic lily plants including the Tiger, Asiatic, Stargazer, Casablanca, Rubrum, Day, Japanese Show and Easter lilies. Some cats are attracted to these plants and a small amount can result in kidney failure. The Calla, Peace and Peruvian lilies are relatively non-toxic but can result in GI inflammation and upset. These were also described in previous columns.
- For reasons unknown, some cats are attracted to antidepressants such as Cymbalta and Effexor. Ingestion can result in severe neurological and cardiac toxicities.
- Cats are also more sensitive to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Don’t be tempted to treat your cat or dog with these agents.
- Glow sticks and glow jewelry contain dibutyl phthalate. If your cat’s mouth and/or skin are exposed from chewing on these objects it can result in a chemical burn.
- The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocado trees, particularly those from Guatemala, commonly found in our supermarkets, can be toxic to birds, rabbits and horses, resulting in respiratory distress, pulmonary congestion, pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart) and death from large doses. Dogs and cats seem to be much less sensitive to avocado toxicity.
- Raw bread dough made with live yeast when ingested, usually by dogs, can expand in the stomach, resulting in gastric dilatation that can be life threatening.
- Ethanol poisoning, inebriation, was recently discussed along with hops poisoning.
- Grape and raisin poisoning has also been covered previously.
- Macadamia nuts are attractive to some dogs but are not usually fatal. After ingesting a sufficient quantity, dogs may show weakness of the hind legs, demonstrate pain behavior, may show muscle tremors and/or develop a low-grade fever.
- Moldy foods can produce tremor genic mycotoxins. Since it’s not possible to determine whether a particular mold is producing these toxins, the safest thing is not to empty that container from the back of the refrigerator into your dog’s dish. Cats will just turn up their nose and walk away. Also be on the lookout for garbage, road-kill, fallen fruit or nuts that could be moldy. Don’t let your dog get to them.
As always if your pet is showing any kind of suspected toxicosis get it to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
— By Dr. David Gross
Dr. David Gross of Edmonds graduated from Colorado State University’s veterinary school in 1960 and was in private practice for 10 years. He retired in 2006 as Professor and Head of Veterinary Biosciences, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Gross is the author of “Animals Don’t Blush,” which describes the unique patients and even more unique clients of a veterinary practice in Sidney, Montana in the early 1960s.