Know your Poison!
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center – (888) 426-4435
We <ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center>are your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.“ from ASPCA website: “Got a Poison Emergency?
Pet Poison Helpline – (800) 213-6680
“Pet Poison Helpline is a service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for pet owners, veterinarians and veterinary technicians that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. Staff can provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $35 per incident includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680.
By Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS
1. NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen)—Topping our list are the common household medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include common names such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve). While these medications are safe for people, even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs, cats, birds and other small mammals including ferrets, gerbils, and hamsters may develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure.
2. Acetaminophen—When it comes to pain medications, acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) is popular. Even though this drug is safe for children, it is not safe for pets—especially cats. One regular strength tablet of acetaminophen may cause damage to a cat’s red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.
3. Antidepressants (e.g., Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)—While these and other antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Pets, especially cats, seem to enjoy the taste of Effexor and often eat the entire pill. Unfortunately, just one pill can cause serious poisoning.
4. ADD and ADHD medications (e.g., Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)—Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures, and heart problems.
5. Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)—These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect. About half of dogs that ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets. In cats, some forms of benzodiazepines can cause liver failure when ingested.
6. Birth control (e.g., estrogen, estradiol, progesterone)—Birth control pills often come in packages that dogs find irresistible. Thankfully, small ingestions of these medications typically do not cause trouble. However, large ingestions of estrogen and estradiol can cause bone marrow suppression, particularly in birds. Additionally, intact female pets are at an increased risk of side effects from estrogen poisoning.
7. ACE Inhibitors (e.g., Zestril, Altace)—Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure in people and, occasionally, pets. Though overdoses can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, and weakness, this category of medication is typically safe. Pets ingesting small amounts of this medication can potentially be monitored at home, unless they have kidney failure or heart disease.
8. Beta-blockers (e.g., Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg)—Beta-blockers are also used to treat high blood pressure but, unlike with ACE inhibitors, small ingestions of these drugs may cause serious poisoning in pets. Overdoses can cause life-threatening decreases in blood pressure and a very slow heart rate.
9. Thyroid hormones (e.g., Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid)—Pets—especially dogs—get underactive thyroids too. Interestingly, the dose of thyroid hormone needed to treat dogs is much higher than a person’s dose. Therefore, if dogs accidentally get into thyroid hormones at home, it rarely results in problems. However, large acute overdoses in cats and dogs can cause muscle tremors, nervousness, panting, a rapid heart rate, and aggression.
10. Cholesterol lowering agents (e.g., Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)—These popular medications, often called statins, are commonly used in the United States. While pets do not typically get high cholesterol, they may still get into the pill bottle. Thankfully, most statin ingestions only cause mild vomiting or diarrhea. Serious side effects from these drugs come with long-term use, not one-time ingestions.
Chocolate, Macadamia nuts, avocados… these foods may sound delicious to you, but they’re actually quite dangerous for our animal companions. Our nutrition experts have put together a handy list of the top toxic people foods to avoid feeding your pet. As always, if you suspect your pet has eaten any of the following foods, please note the amount ingested and contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
- Chocolate, Coffee, Caffeine These products all contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Note that darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest level of methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the highest.
- Alcohol Alcoholic beverages and food products containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death.
- Avocado The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocados contain Persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. Birds and rodents are especially sensitive to avocado poisoning, and can develop congestion, difficulty breathing and fluid accumulation around the heart. Some ingestions may even be fatal.
- Macadamia Nuts Macadamia nuts are commonly used in many cookies and candies. However, they can cause problems for your canine companion. These nuts have caused weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs. Signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and last approximately 12 to 48 hours.
- Grapes & Raisins Although the toxic substance within grapes and raisins is unknown, these fruits can cause kidney failure. In pets who already have certain health problems, signs may be more dramatic.
- Yeast Dough Yeast dough can rise and cause gas to accumulate in your pet’s digestive system. This can be painful and can cause the stomach or intestines to rupture. Because the risk diminishes after the dough is cooked and the yeast has fully risen, pets can have small bits of bread as treats. However, these treats should not constitute more than 5 percent to 10 percent of your pet’s daily caloric intake.
- Raw/Undercooked Meat, Eggs and Bones Raw meat and raw eggs can contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli that can be harmful to pets. In addition, raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin that decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin), which can lead to skin and coat problems. Feeding your pet raw bones may seem like a natural and healthy option that might occur if your pet lived in the wild. However, this can be very dangerous for a domestic pet, who might choke on bones, or sustain a grave injury should the bone splinter and become lodged in or puncture your pet’s digestive tract.
- Xylitol Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products, including gum, candy, baked goods and toothpaste. It can cause insulin release in most species, which can lead to liver failure. The increase in insulin leads to hypoglycemia (lowered sugar levels). Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination. Signs can progress to recumbancy and seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.
- Onions, Garlic, Chives These vegetables and herbs can cause gastrointestinal 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. Toxicity is normally diagnosed through history, clinical signs and microscopic confirmation of Heinz bodies. An occasional low dose, such as what might be found in pet foods or treats, likely will not cause a problem, but we recommend that you do NOT give your pets large quantities of these foods.
- Milk Because pets do not possess significant amounts of lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk), milk and other milk-based products cause them diarrhea or other digestive upset.
- Salt Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning in pets. Signs that your pet may have eaten too many salty foods include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death. In other words, keep those salty chips to yourself!”
(More about Xylitol below)
ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants – dogs / cats / horses
A surprisingly large number of common garden and household plants are toxic to pets, and reactions to toxicity range from mild to life-threatening. Pets, like young children, explore the world with their senses, and they are therefore vulnerable to accidental poisoning. Many of these plants make wonderful additions to the garden, but it is important to know which plants are toxic. If possible, avoid planting these where pets (or children) will have frequent unsupervised access to the plants.
The 12 plants listed below are responsible for the majority of calls to our Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) about possible plant poisoning. The list was compiled by Director of Pharmacy Dr. Valerie Wiebe. The toxicity of the plants below varies according to the species of animal exposed (cat, dog, bird, etc.), the amount of the plant that was ingested, andthe specific variety or species of the plant.
If you suspect your pet has ingested any of the plants below, call your veterinarian immediately. Do not wait to see if symptoms appear, because in some cases of poisoning, by the time symptoms appear it is too late to save the animal.
- Lilies (Lilium, all spp.): Ingesting any part of the plant can cause complete kidney failure in 36-72 hours. First symptoms appear in a few hours and may include appetite suppression, lethargy, vomiting. Cats are especially sensitive to lily poisoning, so be very careful to keep your cats away from liliies of any kind, including the Amaryllis, Easter lilies, and Stargazer lilies so often found in homes around the holidays.
- Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis): Ingesting any part of the plant can cause cardiac dysrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, weakness, and even death. (Photo courtesy of freebigpictures.com web site).
- Anemone (Anenome and Pulsatilla, family Ranunculaceae): Irritating to the mucus membranes, and can cause blisters, hemorrhagic gastritis, shock, convulsions, and death. (Photo is Japanese Anemone).
- Aloe Vera (family Liliaceae): Vomiting, depression, diarrhea, anorexia, tremors, change in urine color.
- Amaryllis (family Amaryllidaceaea, incl. Hippeastrum spp.) All species, including Belladonna Lily, are toxic, and especially dangerous to cats. The bulbs are the toxic part of the plant. The “Amaryllis” commonly seen during the December holidays are Hippeastrum species. Symptoms include vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hyper-salivation, anorexia, tremors. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Zagory, UC Davis Arboretum).
- Asparagus Fern (family Liliaceae): Allergic dermatitis, gastric upset, vomiting, diarrhea.
- Daffodil (Narcissus): Vomiting, diarrhea. Large ingestions cause convulsions, low blood pressure, tremors, cardiac arrhythmias.
- Philodendrons: Irritation, intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.
- Jade Plants (Crassula argentea): Vomiting, depressions, ataxia, slow heart rate.
- Chrysanthemums: Vomiting, diarrhea, hyper salivation, incoordination, dermatitis.
- Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum): The tubers or rhizomes contain the toxic glycoside cyclanin, a terpenoid saponin. Ingestion can cause excess salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, or even death in rare cases.
- Cycads (including Sago palm; cardboard palm; etc.): The “Sago palm” is a cycad, not a true palm, and all parts of the plant are poisonous. Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, melena (black “tarry” feces), icterus (jaundice), increased thirst, hemorrhagic gastritis, bruising, coagulopathy, liver failure, and death. A northern California police dog, a patient at one of our Companion Animal Memorial Fund donor clinics, died in November 2011 after ingesting parts of this plant.
Common plants that are highly toxic but only rarely ingested by pets include:
- Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia spp.)
- Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
- Daphne (Daphne spp.)
- Deathcamas & Meadow Deathcamas (Zigadenus venenosus)
- English yew (Taxus baccata)
- Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
- Jimson weed or Devil’s Trumpet (many common names) (Datura spp.)
- Nicotiana/Tobacco plants (all spp.)
- Oleander (Nerium Oleander)
- Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
- Pokeweed (Phytilacca americana)
- Tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)
- Western water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii)
- Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
(Note on photos: Not all plants have photos posted, either because they were not in bloom, or a good example with positive identification has not yet been located. Pictures will be added as they become available).
Xylitol, a sugar substitute, can be extremely harmful to dogs as it is absorbed very quickly into their system.
“Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, or polyol. It is used as a sugar-substitute, most commonly in gum and candy, but showing up more and more in other sugar-free products. It isn’t always well labeled, so you need to put on those reading glasses and read the fine print.
Reports of Xylitol Toxicosis are fairly new, simply because Xylitol hadn’t been used much in American products until about 2004. That’s when Trident starting adding it to some of its gum, followed in 2006 by Wrigley’s Orbit line. But more recently, it has started showing up in other products, like Flintstones vitamins and Jell-O. It has also been observed that Rescue Remedy pastilles (candies) now contain Xylitol. This recently caused a stir in the dog community because some dog owners give their dogs Rescue Remedy products, but the Pet liquid does NOT have Xylitol – just the human candies.” …..
“Why is it so dangerous to dogs? In humans (and apparently in cats), Xylitol is absorbed slowly and thus is not toxic. In dogs, on the other hand (and perhaps rabbits and ferrets as well), it is absorbed extremely quickly. The immediate result is that it fools the pancreas into releasing a huge spike of insulin, which is quickly followed by a precipitous drop in blood sugar (acute hypoglycemia) since there isn’t really any surplus sugar for the insulin to work on.” ….. “The next problem, which isn’t quite as well understood, is severe (and often fatal) liver toxicity and failure. There isn’t yet clear evidence of causation, and Dr. Olson suggested that these cases may be due to late discovery and a progression of the severe hypoglycemia rather than a direct connection to the Xylitol. Either way, it isn’t good. What makes Xylitol worth every bit of fear is that it takes only a small amount to cause significant harm, even in big dogs, and the harm can quickly be irreversible or fatal. To quote the VP Client Information Sheet on Xylitol Toxicosis (referenced below): “The prognosis is good for uncomplicated hypoglycemia when treatment can be instituted promptly. Liver failure and bleeding disorders generally carry a poor prognosis. Dogs that develop stupor or coma have a grave prognosis.”
Read more about Xylitol concerns:
By Poncie Rutsch April 20, 2015 11:39am ET
Veterinarians have long warned that pain medications like ibuprofen are toxic to pets. And it now looks like merely using a pain relief cream can put cats at risk.
That’s what happened in two households, according to a report issued Friday by the Food and Drug Administration. Two cats in one household developed kidney failure and recovered with attention from a veterinarian. But in a second household, three cats died.
When the veterinarians performed necropsies on the three dead cats, they found physical damage in the cats’ intestines and kidneys, evidence of the toxic effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, like Advil and Motrin, and naproxen, which is in Aleve.
Ibuprofen is the most common drug that pets eat, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, perhaps since many of the pills are candy-coated. In pets, the drugs can cause stomach or intestinal ulcers and kidney failure.
But these cats died by flurbiprofen, another NSAID. In the case of its most recent victims, the cat owner applied a lotion or cream containing flurbiprofen to treat muscle or arthritis pain. And it’s highly unusual for a cat to show up at the vet’s office; usually it’s the dogs that get into trouble from exposure to NSAIDs.
“I can’t even remember the last cat I’ve seen that got into ibuprofen or an NSAID,”Erica Reineke, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, tells Shots. “We’ve seen more cats that get into antidepressants.”
Reineke says that she probably treats a pet for some sort of ingestion problem every day, but usually it’s chocolate or chewing gum, or the owner’s medication. As little as 50 milligrams of ibuprofen for every kilogram a cat weighs can cause problems; for dogs, it’s 100 milligrams for every kilogram. Reineke says she’s never seen flurbiprofen toxicity in her office and would have a hard time estimating how much would be toxic to a cat or dog.
This isn’t an animal mistreatment issue — none of the cats died because owners were applying their medications to the cats. The owners reported using the product on their necks or feet, and somehow the animals were exposed. The third cat died after the owner had stopped using the medication.
The FDA recommends that pet owners store all medications away from pets and to discard anything used to apply the medication. If any furniture or carpeting becomes contaminated, clean it immediately.
And keep an eye on those pets – if they show signs of lethargy, vomiting or lack of appetite, go see a vet immediately.
Correction April 21, 2015
An earlier version of this story said that toxic levels of NSAIDS were found in cats. In fact, veterinarians found physical damage such as perforation of the intestines and kidney damage typical of NSAID toxicity.
Earlier in the year, after cats in two different households became ill, the FDA issued a safety alert for flurbiprofen-containing topical pain medications. Flurbiprofen is a human non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) applied to the skin to relieve muscle, joint, or other pain.
By Dr. Becker
The FDA’s safety alert was prompted by reports of five cats that became ill after their owners applied prescription topical medications on their neck or feet. The medications contained flurbiprofen and a variety of other active ingredients including cyclobenzaprine (a muscle relaxer), baclofen, gabapentin, lidocaine, or prilocaine.
Two kitties in one family developed kidney failure but recovered with veterinary care. Three cats in another household weren’t so lucky. Two of the three developed symptoms that included lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, bloody stools, anemia, and dilute urine. Sadly, both died despite veterinary care.
The third cat also died after the owner stopped using the medication. Veterinarians performed necropsies on all three kitties and found evidence of NSAID toxicity.
Since the pet owners applied the medicated cream or lotion to their own bodies and not directly to their cats, according to the FDA, it isn’t known exactly how the cats became exposed to the medication. However, it’s reasonable to assume one of three likely scenarios occurred:
- The owners applied their medications and then handled their cats without washing their hands
- The kitties licked the medication off their owners’ skin
- The cats rubbed up against their owners, transferring the medication to their fur, and then ingesting it during grooming.
Cats Are Highly Sensitive to NSAIDs
Oral ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) ranks high on the list of human medications ingested by pets. The pills are often candy-coated, which may be the attraction since most oral NSAID poisonings involve dogs. In cats and dogs, these drugs can cause ulcers of the stomach and intestine, as well as kidney failure.
It’s actually quite unusual for a cat to be brought to the vet’s office with NSAID exposure. Strangely, cats are more likely to ingest human antidepressants. Cymbalta and Effexor topped Pet Poison Helpline’s toxic antidepressants list in 2013. For some reason kitties are drawn to these medications, which can cause severe neurologic and cardiac effects.
Cats are more sensitive than dogs to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. As little as 50 milligrams of ibuprofen for every kilogram a cat weighs can cause problems. And because kitties are so sensitive, veterinary-specific NSAIDs like meloxicam should be used with extreme caution, if at all.
Top 10 Cat Poisons
According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the top 10 cat poisons are:2
- Topical spot-on insecticides
- Household cleaners
- Insoluble oxalate plants (dieffenbachia, philodendron, etc.)
- Human and veterinary NSAIDs
- Human cold and flu medications
- Glow sticks
- ADD/ADHD medications (amphetamines)
- Mouse and rat poison
Notice that another topical drug, this one intended for pets, is at the top of the Pet Poison Helpline list.
In 2013, four cats died from misuse of these flea and tick products. The four cats died in a four-week period after their owners treated them with spot-on products intended for dogs.
In one tragic case, the owners noticed fleas on both their cats, so they applied “just a drop” of a topical spot-on flea treatment on each kitty. Within hours both cats became very ill and one began convulsing. The owners rushed them to a veterinary clinic, but neither survived.
Sadly, the owners knew the flea treatment was intended for dogs, but figured a small amount would be safe for their kitties. The veterinarian who treated all four cats said, “I am very upset that the warning on the canine flea topical – ‘Do not use on cats’ – is so very small. I wish it said ‘This product could kill your cat’ in very large letters.”3
More Prescription Topical Products Dangerous to Cats (and Dogs)
In addition to anti-inflammatory pain creams, the following topical medications also pose a danger to pets:
- Prescription steroid-based creams. These are typically prescribed for itchy skin conditions when over-the-counter products aren’t working. Common topical steroids include betamethasone, clobetasone, clobetasol, hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, mometasone, and triamcinolone. If ingested, these products can cause the same symptoms in your pet as OTC preparations (increased thirst and urination, panting, vomiting, and diarrhea), but for a longer period of time.
- Hormone creams. Topical creams containing hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone can be absorbed through your pet’s skin in addition to being ingested. These compounds are endocrine disruptors that can cause changes such as mammary gland enlargement, and in sterilized females, signs of estrus and false pregnancy.
- Vitamin A compounds. These are called retinoids, and they’re prescribed to treat acne. Ingestion by a pet can cause stomach upset and in pregnant animals, birth defects in developing fetuses.
- Calcipotriene (brand name Dovonex.) This is a prescription ointment containing vitamin D used to treat psoriasis. Just a small amount of this ointment can be fatal to both dogs and cats; it also causes vomiting and kidney failure.
- 5-fluorouracil (brand names 5-FU and Efudex.) This prescription lotion is used to treat a condition called solar keratosis, which is precancerous sun damage, as well as skin cancer in humans. If ingested by your pet, it can cause uncontrollable seizures, bloody vomiting and diarrhea, and bone marrow suppression. This is an incredibly dangerous product to use around animals, as the majority who ingest it cannot be saved.
There are also a number of over-the-counter topical products that are toxic for pets.
How to Prevent Exposure to Topical Products
- Prevent your pet from licking after you’ve applied any product to your skin. Even if you use primarily organic, non-toxic products, it’s best to consistently discourage licking to keep your pet safe in all situations.
- Allow all topical products to dry or soak in completely – or cover the area of application – before having contact with your pet.
- Never apply a topical product meant for humans to your pet without first talking with your veterinarian.
- After applying any topical drug, over-the-counter, or prescription, wash your hands thoroughly before handling your pet. Store all such products well away from your pet.
- Contact your vet or an emergency veterinary clinic immediately if you suspect your pet may have ingested or come in contact with a potentially harmful topical product.