With summer winding down, it will be no time before dogs (and kids!) will be looking for the biggest pile of leaves to jump into. It’s also a time when there are new seasonal dangers we should be aware of. With Halloween and Thanksgiving right around the corner, make sure to educate yourself on the hazards your pet may encounter in or around your home. Our partners at Pet Poison Helpline® have pulled together a list of common toxins and pet poisons to watch for.
Chocolate: While the occasional chocolate chip within one cookie may not be an issue, we worry about certain types of chocolate – the less sweet and the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pet. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. Other sources include chewable, flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. Poisoning is due to a chemical similar to caffeine called theobromine. Ingestion of too much theobromine (or caffeine) results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, inflammation of the pancreas (i.e., pancreatitis), an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and rarely, death. With Halloween right around the corner, make sure your kids know to hide the candy stash from your dogs. (Dogs make up 95% of all our chocolate calls, as cats are usually too discriminating to eat chocolate!) In some dogs, even the wrappers from candy can pose a problem by causing a bowel obstruction in the stomach or intestines.
Table food: You may want to spoil your dog by giving him table scraps from Thanksgiving dinner but it could be unsafe. While there’s not a “toxicity” issue from fatty table foods (such as bacon, gravy, turkey skin, grizzle, etc.), it can result in signs from gastroenteritis (mild vomiting or diarrhea) to a severe, fatal pancreatitis. Other table food like corn-on-the-cob can result in a bowel obstruction in your dog’s intestines, resulting in projectile vomiting, diarrhea, and may require expensive intestinal surgery for removal. Desserts made with xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener, or foods containing grapes or raisins can also result in poisoning. Xylitol causes an acute drop in blood sugar and even liver failure at high doses, while grapes and raisins can result in fatal acute kidney failure. When in doubt, don’t let your pet get any table food!
Mouse and rat poisons (rodenticides): As you prepare to winterize your garage, cabin, or house, keep in mind that mouse and rat poisons can also be harmful to pets. Always make sure to place these poisonous baits in areas where your pet can’t reach them like high up on shelves, hidden behind work spaces, etc. Currently there are four common categories of rodenticides available for general use. Each has a different and unique mechanism of action. This results in four different sets of clinical signs in both the target rodent population and our curious pets who might consume them.
- Long-acting anticoagulants (LAACs): By far the most well-known and perhaps most widely used rodenticides are the LAACS. This family of rodenticides works by causing internal bleeding and preventing the body from clotting normally. Common signs include coughing (blood in the lungs), exercise intolerance, weakness, large and soft lumps under the skin, vomiting, nose bleeds, bruised skin, bloody urine, bleeding from the gums, and inappetence. With LAACs, it takes 2-3 days before the poison actually takes effect and signs of bleeding occur. If there is any suspicion of ingestion, a clotting test called a prothrombin test, or PT test, supports the diagnosis (it takes 36-48 hours after ingestion before a PT test will be abnormal). Fortunately, there is an antidote for this group of poisons—prescription-strength Vitamin K1, an inexpensive pill given 1-2 times per day for one month, is routinely found in most veterinary offices. Because this group of poisons is “long acting” the product can remain in your pet’s liver for months to years. Therefore, if your pet were to ingest this mouse poison a second time, it’s critical you inform your vet that your animal was previously exposed as the additional dose or mouse poison is compounded onto the previous one.
- Bromethalin: This type of rat poison is gaining popularity and is often sold in conjunction with bait stations. It works by causing swelling of the brain and spinal cord. If toxic amounts are ingested, signs of incoordination, paralysis, tremoring, or convulsing are possible. The dose required to cause poisoning is very small, especially for cats. Unfortunately, there is no antidote to this poison and treatment may require an extended amount of time in the veterinary hospital due to long-lasting neurological effects (days up to a week). PPH does not recommend the use of this product in a home with cats.
- Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3): One of the most dangerous rat poisons is a Vitamin D3-based rodenticide. This type increases calcium and phosphorus blood levels so high that it causes secondary kidney failure. With this type of rat poison, only a tiny amount needs to be ingested before it causes a problem, and long-term, expensive treatment is usually necessary. Due to the extreme difficulty in treating this type of poisoning, PPH recommends dog and cat owners avoid using this toxin on their property.
- Zinc phosphide: This type of poison is more commonly used in mole and gopher baits and is only labeled for outdoor use. Zinc phosphide ingestion results in the formation of toxic phosphine gas in the stomach, severe bloating, profuse vomiting, abdominal pain, and potential lung, heart, and liver complications. Like other rodenticide poisons, it only takes a small amount of poison to cause a big problem! Make sure to keep these toxins away from your pets, as this type can be poisonous to you too (if you inhale the phosphine gas if your dog vomits).