Five common poisonings in pets

by | General Pet Care |

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We love our pets … with all the fun … and the not-so-fun things they do! Despite constantly keeping an eye on our companion animals, they can still sometimes manage to access substances that are really dangerous for them. Here are 5 common poisons that pets may encounter.

Rat poison (rodenticide):

To eliminate unwanted small rodents, exterminators or homeowners often use poison or rodenticide baits. For our pets, who like to snoop around, these baits can be mistaken for treats, since they often have a very good taste. This is how they are attracted to ingest the poison, putting their lives at risk.

Why are these substances dangerous? Most rat poisons are anticoagulants which, depending on the type, work at different speeds. As a result, animals who ingest them are at risk of internal and external bleeding. Dogs or cats may experience visible external hemorrhaging, lethargy, depression and loss of appetite. The amount needed to cause the signs of hemorrhaging  depends on the product ingested. Signs of poisoning  typically occur within two to five days of ingestion. When internal or external hemorrhaging is severe , it can even lead to shock and death.

As soon as ingestion is suspected, you must seek veterinary attention to have your pet examined and treated. If treated early with the antidote, your pet  can make a full recovery.

Chocolate:

Chocolate is a well-known cause of pet poisoning. Chocolate is toxic to animals because of a group of chemicals called  methylxanthines which  contain theobromine and caffeine. The amount of methylxanthine contained in chocolate is determined by the type of chocolate. Baking chocolate contains the most, followed by dark chocolate, and milk chocolate. White chocolate contains much less theobromine and is generally considered non-toxic to companion animals.

The theobromine contained in chocolate stimulates the central nervous system and heart muscle. Two to four hours after ingestion, the animal may appear agitated, vomit or have diarrhea. In addition to faster breathing, the heart beats faster and urination is increased. A few hours later, the animal may develop seizures and a heart rate disturbance (arrhythmia). If left untreated, chocolate poisoning can be fatal. Death can occur within 18 to 24 hours after the onset of cardiac arrhythmia.

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for chocolate intoxication. The treatment is based on the clinical signs that the pet displays. So, if your dog has eaten chocolate, contact your veterinarian or emergency service immediately, making sure to specify the type of chocolate ingested (dark, milk), as well as the amount.

Ethylene glycol:

Ethylene glycol is mainly found in automotive antifreeze formulations, such as radiator and brake fluids. Ethylene glycol poisoning  is common in small animals because these solutions have a sweet taste that is appealing to them.

When ingested by an animal, ethylene glycol is rapidly absorbed, and signs of poisoning   can quickly appear. Between 30 minutes and 12 hours after ingestion, affected  animals show depression, lack of coordination, loss of balance, faster breathing and vomiting. Soon, they start to drink a lot of water, urinate a lot and become dehydrated.

In dogs, 12 to 24 hours after ingestion, cardiac and pulmonary signs appear. These are caused by a blood electrolyte imbalance (metabolic acidosis). Finally, 24 to 72 hours after ingestion, dogs show acute kidney (renal) failure. In cats, these signs can appear as early as 12 hours after ingestion.

Unfortunately, ethylene glycol poisoning  is sometimes difficult for owners to detect and animals are often seen at a very advanced stage of poisoning . Do not hesitate to seek veterinary attention quickly if you suspect your pet has ingested ethylene glycol, since the chance of recovery is good if treatment is started within eight hours after ingestion for dogs and three hours for cats.

Cannabis:

Although second-hand smoke poisoning  is rare (unless the smoke has been blown intentionally into the animal’s face), the ingestion of cannabis in the form of butts, resin, joints or cakes is toxic to animals. The poisoning  is caused by the cannabinoid substances contained in cannabis, mainly THC. The toxic dose varies greatly from animal to animal. Signs of THC poisoning  are numerous and affect several systems: the nervous system (loss of balance, tremors, alternating periods of agitation and lethargy, dilation of pupils, convulsions), the cardiovascular and respiratory system (faster or slower heart and breathing rates), the digestive system (vomiting, hypersalivation), as well as the control of body temperature (hypothermia or hyperthermia).

As with chocolate poisoning ,  there is no antidote for cannabis poisoning . If your pet has ingested this substance, contact your veterinarian immediately. If the ingestion is recent, your veterinarian may induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal, which will decrease the absorption of the active chemicals  and may reduce the duration of the poisoning .

Chewing gum (xylitol):

Should you be concerned if your dog steals your pack of gum and swallows it? Yes! It’s an emergency if it contains xylitol! In fact, it is not the actual chewing gum that is toxic, but the product used to sweeten it called  xylitol. This sweetener is also found in many other common foods, such as sugar-free candy, chocolate bars, toothpaste and human chewable vitamins. Xylitol is extracted from birch bark and has a sweetening power and taste that closely resembles white sugar. In humans, ingestion is safe, but in dogs this sugar substitute causes a high release of insulin. Affected  animals develop severe hypoglycemia, usually within 10 to 60 minutes after ingestion. Other signs include vomiting, decreased activity, muscle weakness, staggering gait, lack of coordination and convulsions. Since some animals do not show signes  of poisoning  until 12 to 24 hours later, seek veterinary attention immediately if your animal has ingested food or chewing gum containing xylitol, even if no signs of poisoning  are yet visible.

In addition to these five common types of poisoning, don’t forget that many other products are toxic for our pets, including coffee, tea, grapes, alcohol, avocadoes, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic, etc. Finally, without being toxic, other products that are also considered dangerous include stone fruits, yeast dough, dairy products, raw meat, bones, fatty foods, etc. For more information, please contact your veterinarian.

Dr Andrée-Anne Blanchet, M.Sc., DVM
Royal Canin Canada

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