Sometimes our pets ingest items or substances that cause serious harm if not treated immediately. If you suspect your pet has ingested or come in contact with something toxic, there are steps you can take to minimize the effects.
Early treatment is key for a favorable prognosis in accidental ingestion and toxicity cases. Pet owners are encouraged to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Hotline at 855-764-7661 (fees apply for these hotlines). If calling, ask for your case number so it can be accessed at the hospital. These hotlines are a great resource for any animal poison-related emergencies and questions 24/7. If instructed to do so or if you feel the situation cannot wait, bring your pet to VREC or other veterinary clinic immediately.
According to the ASPCA-APCC Hotline, the top pet toxin cases involve:
10. Gardening products (fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides)
9. Insecticides (insect and pest poisons)
8. Plants (indoor plants, outdoor plants, bouquets)
7. Rodentcides (mice and rat poisons)
6. Household items (paint, glue, cleaning supplies)
5. Veterinary products (such as pet medications)
4. Chocolate (baked goods, candy)
3. Food (such as xylitol, grapes/raisins, onions/garlic)
2. Human prescription medication
1. Over the counter medications (pain relievers, cold medicines, herbal supplements)
Over the past 10 years we have received many calls and questions about toxicities and accidental ingestions, but a few stand out:
Lily Toxicity (Cats)
Lilies in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are can cause serious dangers to cats. Some common lilies toxic to cats include tiger lilies, stargazer lilies, day lilies, all Asiatic lilies, and Japanese show lilies. Easter lilies are also dangerous, and many accidental ingestions happen around the Easter holiday. What makes lilies especially dangerous is that all parts of a lily are toxic to a cat: the leaves, petals, pollen, stems, and even water in the vase has potential to cause harm.
The toxin, while still not fully understood, targets the kidneys and causes irreversible acute renal failure. Once ingested, toxins from lilies are rapidly absorbed in a cat’s body, and symptoms can start in as little as five minutes. During the first three hours, common clinical signs include vomiting, anorexia, depression, and hypersalivation (excessive saliva production.) Renal failure starts within 12 to 24 hours post-ingestion. At this phase, clinical signs are polyuria (increased urination), depression, and anorexia. If a cat is not treated the prognosis is grave.
While there is no “cure” for lily toxicity, there are treatments which will greatly improve the prognosis if administered promptly. Treatment involves decontamination such as inducing vomiting, gastric lavage, and administering activated charcoal with sorbitol. Cats are then started on aggressive fluid therapy (2-3x maintenance) for 48-72 hours. Gastroprotectants are also helpful (antiemetics, antacid, phosphate binders.) Some cats that recover from acute toxicity may be prone to developing chronic kidney disease later in life.
If you are uncertain if a lily is toxic, keep it out of your cat’s reach until you can contact your veterinarian or contact a pet poison hotline for more details.
Xylitol Toxicity (Dogs)
Xylitol is an all-natural sweetener that is used as a sugar substitute. It looks and tastes like sugar but contains less calories and has a lower glycemic index. Xylitol also contains anti-cavity properties.
Some common “sugar free” products containing xylitol are gums, candies, mints, toothpastes, and mouthwashes, but it can be in products like pudding, baked goods, home and beauty products, and peanut butter. Although xylitol can be considered a safe sugar substitute in humans, it is toxic to dogs. Just a few small pieces of sugar-free gum can affect dogs within a matter of minutes.
Human and canine blood sugar levels are both controlled by the pancreas and its ability to release insulin. Xylitol does not affect the release of insulin in humans, but triggers canines to release a large dose of insulin. This causes a spike in blood sugar and can result in hypoglycemia (a dangerous drop in blood sugar.)
As little as 50mg of xylitol per pound of body weight can cause hypoglycemia and its effects can begin to occur in as little as 10 minutes. While different brands contain different amounts, typically the range is 300 to 1500 mg per piece. To put this into perspective, if a piece of gum containing xylitol contains 1,000 mg, a 20 lb. dog may experience toxicity after ingesting just one piece.
Clinical symptoms develop rapidly – usually within the first 15-30 minutes after ingestion – and include vomiting, ataxia (lack of coordination), lethargy, tremors, seizures, vomiting, and coma. Untreated cases can develop liver failure in the days following the ingestion. The sooner a dog presenting with these symptoms is seen by a veterinary professional, the better the prognosis will be. If you suspect your dog has ingested any amount of xylitol, remain calm but do not hesitate to bring them to VREC immediately. There is no antidote for xylitol toxicity, but the prognosis is good for dogs that are treated quickly.
Prevent accidental ingestion by reading food labels. Look for xylitol in the ingredients of items for the home and pantry, especially if you purchase sugar-free items. It may be listed as a sugar alcohol or in the inactive ingredients section of the label. Keep all products that contain xylitol on a high shelf or secure the area with locks so pets cannot access them. If you keep gum or mints in your backpack/purse/briefcase, make sure they are secure enough that a curious pet cannot access the contents.
With so many states adopting new policies on drugs, their prevalence may put pets at risk. Some may have an aversion to seek care due to stigma or the fear of legal repercussions, but veterinarians provide care regardless of the situation. If you suspect your pet has ingested an illicit drug, please do not hesitate to bring them in for evaluation and treatment. Do not delay.
The prognosis for treating pets who have come in contact with illicit drugs is greatly improved the sooner proper treatment begins. By withholding information due to a misplaced fear of criminal charges, your pet’s diagnosis and treatment may will be delayed. Pets may also be subject to more unnecessary diagnostics and treatments if owners conceal information. Few veterinarians care about the illegal aspects of drugs – their goal is to treat pets to the best of their abilities. In suspected cases of exposure to drugs, an attempt should be made to provide the staff with information about the animal’s environment and amount of exposure. The time of onset of clinical signs, along with their type and duration, are also incredibly helpful.