Toxic Substances, Plants, and
antifreeze | gasoline,
kerosene, and motor oil | yard chemicals | cleaning
products and batteries | anticoagulant
rodenticides | lead | zinc | human
medications | animal medications | flea
and tick products | chocolate | garbage
| toxic plants | plants that
affect the gastrointestinal system | plants that cause
mouth and tongue irritation | plants that cause
mechanical or contact injury | plants that affect the
nervous system | plants that affect the heart and
circulatory system | mushroom poisoning | toad
poisoning | salamander poisoning | snakes
Introduction: There are many things
that are potentially toxic to pets. Numerous household items, such as chemicals,
cleaners, medications, plants, and even some foods, can harm cats. In general,
if something is bad for a person, it will also be dangerous for a pet. There
are, however, some compounds that are safe for humans yet are toxic to animals.
The best way to keep a pet safe is to assume that any product that is not known
to be harmless is potentially dangerous, and steps should be taken to prevent
any petís access to it. It is crucial to keep pets away from potential toxins,
both inside and outside of the house.
Over 90% of pet poisonings reported to poison control centers occur in the
home and result from animals ingesting toxic substances. Do not assume that cats
"know" when an item is bad for them. Cats cannot differentiate between
harmful and safe substances. As a matter of fact, some of the most deadly
substances actually smell good and taste good to pets.
Cats often have greater access to toxins than dogs. Many are allowed to roam
outdoors without supervision. They may enter neighborsí yards and
outbuildings. Their curious nature, large territories, and desire to explore
expose them to toxins both indoors and outside. Cats can climb into areas and
have access to substances that would be out of the reach of most dogs. Also,
their grooming habits increase the possibility of accidental ingestion of toxins
that accumulate on the fur or feet. In addition, cats are more sensitive to many
toxins than dogs. Their relatively small size and inability to detoxify
compounds and chemicals result in poisonings from compounds that may not bother
To help prevent a pet from getting into toxic substances, get down to pet
level and look for items that need to be locked up and kept from a pet. When
considering a catís safety, think of the adjustments one would make for a
small child. Inexpensive child safety locks can keep pets out of cupboards and
cabinets. Screen doors or locked doors can keep animals away from work areas and
laundry rooms that are stocked with poisons. Potentially toxic substances should
be locked up, out of sight, and out of the smell zone of a pet. Because cats
jump, it is often necessary to lock cleaners and other items into closed
cabinets to prevent access.
If a pet gets into a potentially poisonous substance, immediate veterinary
attention should be sought. Do not wait to see if the pet gets sick. By that
point, it may be too late to intervene. Instead, call a veterinarian
immediately. If the veterinarian is unavailable, locate an emergency veterinary
clinic or call a poison hotline. The veterinarian may offer advice, such as to
induce vomiting, rinse the mouth or skin, or come immediately to the animal
hospital. Do not attempt to treat the pet without help. Do not induce
vomiting without the veterinarianís instructions. Improper treatment may
actually make the problem worse.
It is very important to save the container and label of any poisonous item
that a pet has ingested, chewed, or touched. The containers may list active
ingredients, potential toxins, and treatments. For example, if a pet eats rat
poison, it is important for the veterinarian to know the exact brand and name of
the poison, not just the fact that it was a rat poison. If a pet has consumed
plant material, save the leaves, stems, flowers, and branches. Different toxins
may be found in different parts of the same plant. The veterinarian has the best
chance of administering appropriate therapy if the toxic ingredients can be
Introduction: The following list of
potential toxins does not contain all possible toxins for pets. There are
hundreds of herbicides, insecticides, household compounds, cleaners, chemicals,
poisons, and drugs that can make a pet very ill or cause death. Most reported
poisonings in pets are in the categories of insecticides, plants, rodenticides,
medications, and house and yard chemicals. This is a list of common poisons that
are found in many homes:
is only one of the many compounds used in engines that is toxic to animals.
Gasoline, along with petroleum distillates such as oil and kerosene, is
poisonous if it is ingested, inhaled, or comes into contact with the skin.
Gasoline removes the fats from the surface of the skin and can be absorbed
across the skin into the body. It is also absorbed through the lungs. Animals
that ingest these substances or have them spilled on their skin typically also
inhale the fumes at the same time. Other common toxic petroleum distillates
are paint thinner and charcoal lighting fluid.
- Antifreeze: Ethylene glycol is extremely toxic to animals. It is
the most common antifreeze used in cars and can also be found in de-icers
and some photographic solutions. Consuming tiny amounts can lead to kidney
failure and death. The liver breaks down the chemical into crystals that
settle in the kidneys and cause severe kidney damage. Ethylene glycol has a
sweet taste that attracts animals, so pets may actually chew into containers
of antifreeze. Pets will even lick antifreeze off of the driveway if any
leaks from a radiator or is spilled during work on a car. Even licking a
small amount of antifreeze off the driveway is enough to make a pet very
ill. Cats can be killed by consuming as little as 1-2 mL/kg of body weight.
This means that a cat can potentially die from drinking less than one
teaspoon of antifreeze.
Clinical Signs: The initial symptoms of anti-freeze poisoning appear
within 30-60 minutes after consumption. They include vomiting, excitement,
tremors, staggering, thirst, depression, and trouble breathing. As the toxic
crystals damage the kidneys, additional signs occur. These include loss of
appetite, drooling, and inability to urinate. This progresses to weakness,
delirium, convulsions, coma, and death.
Diagnosis: Animals that have consumed ethylene glycol should be seen
immediately by a veterinarian. This is an emergency situation that requires
immediate treatment. Do not wait to see if signs develop. Diagnosis is based
on the history of consumption of any amount of antifreeze, signs, physical
examination, and certain diagnostic tests.
Treatment: Do not attempt to treat this at home. The veterinarian will
immediately start emergency procedures to prevent absorption of the chemical
into the catís liver and kidneys. To recover, cats must be treated within
hours of ingestion of antifreeze. Animals that are not treated immediately
usually die of kidney failure resulting from the poisoning. Treatment may
include steps to reduce absorption of the chemical, such as inducing
vomiting, gastric lavage, and administration of activated charcoal. Pets
seen immediately after intoxication can be treated with ethanol. Antizol-Vet,
the antifreeze antidote for dogs, is not licensed for use in cats. Pets are
maintained on intravascular fluid therapy and may be treated with thiamine.
Prevention: Antifreeze poisoning can be prevented by making sure pets
never have access to antifreeze. Closed containers of antifreeze should be
stored out of reach of cats. Any spills or puddles should be immediately
cleaned up. Open containers should never be left on the driveway when
working on the radiator. Animals should be confined if open containers of
antifreeze need to sit out for any length of time.
If possible and recommended by the car manufacturer, purchase antifreeze
that is advertised as safe for pets and contains propylene glycol instead of
ethylene glycol. Although propylene glycol has been associated with
toxicities in cats, including red blood cell and nervous system changes, it
does not cause the fatal kidney damage associated with ethylene glycol.
- Gasoline, Kerosene, and Motor Oil:
Clinical Signs: Signs of gasoline inhalation include flushing of the skin,
muscle twitching, depression, dilated pupils, eye irritation, convulsions,
confusion or delirium, and death. If the gasoline is ingested, the animal may
drool, vomit, twitch, and have convulsions. Damage to the liver and kidneys
may result in vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and eventual
death. Ingestion of oil or kerosene can cause vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty
breathing, weakness, depression, and coma. Inhalation of any of these
substances can rapidly lead to lung damage and pneumonia.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on physical examination, signs, and history
of exposure. The owner may see the cat ingest the toxin or find a spilled can
of gasoline and an animal that has gasoline or other toxic product on its
Treatment: Treatment for inhalation poisoning involves removing the animal
from the source of the fumes. The animal should be brought into fresh air
immediately. Substances should be removed from the skin if contact has been
made. Do not induce vomiting if these products are ingested. Antidotes may
include milk or egg whites. Veterinary care may include steps to reduce
absorption, such as using activated charcoal, along with intravascular fluid
therapy, oxygen, antibiotics to treat the pneumonia and skin infections, and
supportive care. Animals that have inhaled or swallowed large amounts of
gasoline may not respond to therapy.
Prevention: Keep all fuels and petroleum distillates away from pets. Open
containers should not be left unattended, and all containers should be sealed
and stored in areas inaccessible to animals. Any spills should be cleaned up
at once. Oil drained from automobiles should be properly disposed of
immediately. Never leave pets with access to drained oil, kerosene, lighter
fluid, or paint thinners.
Yard Chemicals: Insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can be
extremely dangerous if consumed by pets. They contain a variety of chemicals
that can be ingested directly from the containers. Poisoning can also occur
if a cat walks through a recently treated area and then grooms itself.
Insecticides account for approximately one-third of all reported animal
poisonings. It is important to follow all label directions when using yard
and lawn products. Keep empty bottles for a few days so that complete label
directions are available in case of poisoning.
Clinical Signs: The signs of poisoning depend on the chemical ingested.
They can include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the feces,
depression, drooling, rear limb weakness, generalized weakness, respiratory
distress, coma, and death. Long term reactions to poisoning can include
anemia and changes in white blood cell numbers. Insecticides can also cause
skin irritations if the pet walks across recently treated areas of the lawn
or contacts undiluted product.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on the history of exposure, signs of
poisoning, and examination. Owners may find a chewed-open bottle of product
and a sick pet. Some poisonings can be confirmed with blood tests.
Treatment: Treatment may not be helpful. Most chemicals do not have
specific antidotes, so supportive care is given until the product is
eliminated from the body. Treatment may include rinsing the chemical off of
the animal, administering medications to prevent absorption or speed
elimination of the product from the body, and symptomatic treatment to
diminish the signs of illness. Hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy
may be needed. Some cases are fatal or result in chronic illness.
Prevention involves limiting pet access to all yard chemicals. Products should
be properly diluted before applying to the yard. All manufacturersí label
warnings should be followed. Follow label recommendations regarding water
application to recently treated areas. Pets should be kept off recently
treated lawns. Make sure the lawn is dry and the product is absorbed before
allowing the pet access to it. Keep cats indoors when yard chemicals are being
used. Do not ignore the small warning flags placed on recently treated areas
by lawn care companies. Keep pets off treated lawns in public areas or
neighboring yards. Do not allow pets to play near or drink from run-off ponds
or ditches that may contain high concentrations of yard chemicals. Do not
allow cats to consume small insects that may have been killed by insecticides.
Cleaning Products and Batteries: All
household cleansers should be considered dangerous to pets. Pets may sample
open containers of liquids or drink from buckets of diluted cleaners. Kittens
may try to play with cleaning buckets or mops saturated with cleaners. They
may chew and swallow batteries.
The signs of poisoning will depend on the product ingested. Batteries and many
cleaners contain corrosive agents that burn any tissue they touch. Animals may
have irritated, red, swollen areas around the mouth and throat. There may be
vomiting, diarrhea, muscle twitching, weakness, difficulty breathing, and
Diagnosis is based on history of exposure, signs of illness, and physical
examination. X-rays may help identify pieces of batteries in the
gastrointestinal tract. Owners may find a chewed-open bottle of cleanser and
an ill pet. Owners may observe their pet drinking from a bucket of diluted
cleanser or chewing on batteries.
Although treatment cannot be accomplished at home, initial therapy may be
started before traveling to the veterinary hospital. Do not induce vomiting.
Do not administer any therapy or antidotes without first identifying the exact
toxin and consulting with a veterinarian. Find the bottle of product that
caused the poisoning and read the ingredient label. It is not enough to know
that a product is a floor or toilet bowl cleaner; the exact chemical must be
known to ensure proper treatment.
Initial home therapy, after discussion with a veterinarian, may include
flushing skin burns with water or administering a solution of egg whites in
warm water for products that have been swallowed. Acids, such as batteries,
may be treated with 15 mLs of milk of magnesia or 4 egg whites per quart of
warm water. Ammonia and caustic alkaline products may be treated with egg
whites in water, followed by a 1:4 solution of vinegar or lemon juice and
water. Detergents should be rinsed off with soap and water if they are on the
petís skin, or treated with milk, egg whites, and water if swallowed.
Antidotes for bleach include milk, eggs, or milk of magnesia. It must be
stressed again that it is of critical importance to confer with a
veterinarian prior to administering any home remedy. No oral medications
should be administered to an unconscious animal or one that cannot swallow.
Improper therapy may exacerbate the problem and interfere with further
Once at the animal hospital, the veterinarian may be able to administer
neutralizing agents to control further irritation. Other treatments include
intravascular fluid therapy, medications to control swelling and pain,
antibiotics, wound therapy, and supportive care.
Prevention: The petís access to these substances must be avoided.
Bottles of cleansers should be kept in closed cabinets and out of the reach of
pets. Diluted cleaning solutions should be disposed of as soon as possible,
and buckets should be thoroughly rinsed and dried. Cleaning tools should be
stored away from pets. Do not allow kittens and cats to play with or chase
mops and brushes that are being used for cleaning. Batteries should be kept in
closed containers, and old ones should be disposed of properly. Do not throw
old batteries into wastebaskets where a pet may find them. Toilet bowl lids
should be kept closed to prevent consumption of contaminated water from the
bowl. Dishwashers should be kept closed to prevent ingestion of the detergents
left in the dispensers. Pets should be kept off of any wet, recently cleaned
areas to prevent exposure to active cleansers.
Anticoagulant Rodenticides: Rat and mouse poisons, called
rodenticides, are extremely dangerous for pets. The poisons are designed to
kill small mammals. Cats are simply larger mammals and may easily become ill
from these poisons. Most rodenticides, including warfarin, fumarin,
brodifacoum, and bromadiolone, work by interfering with the production of
compounds called clotting factors. Without clotting factors, bleeding occurs
with even the most minor of injuries. For example, rodents often bleed to
death as a result of a simple bump that would normally cause a just a small
Rodenticides are equally effective at causing internal bleeding in pets.
Small amounts of rat poisons can be lethal. Several small doses consumed
over many days can actually cause more severe poisoning than one large dose
of poison, but even one dose of an anticoagulant rat poison can lead to
massive bleeding. Depending on the actual rodenticide, less than 1 ounce of
bait can poison a 10-pound cat. The consumption of rodents that have been
killed by rodenticides can also cause poisoning. Cats may kill and consume
poisoned rats or eat poisoned dead rodents. There have been reports of cats
being poisoned after consumption of just one rat that has died from a
Clinical Signs: The effects can take
several days to be noticed. They can include bleeding under the skin, into the
eyes, from the nose, near the gum line, or any other place on the body. The
cat can pass blood in the urine, feces, or vomitus. The gums and sclera may
look very pale. Weakness, changes in respiration, difficulty breathing,
depression, and death can follow.
Animals that have consumed rat poisons or eaten poisoned rats should be
brought immediately to the veterinarian. Because it will take several days for
bleeding to be evident, do not wait to see if signs of poisoning appear.
Diagnosis is based on physical examination, history of consumption of rat
poison or poisoned rodents, and blood tests. Blood tests will include a
complete blood count, along with coagulation profiles and specific clotting
factor assays. It is critical for the veterinarian to know the exact rat
poison to institute correct therapy.
Treatment is started immediately and depends on the type of rodenticide and
the length of time that has passed since consumption of the poison. Cats that
are seen immediately may be treated to reduce absorption by inducing vomiting
and gastric lavage. After the rodenticide has been removed from the animalís
system, cats exposed to anticoagulants are treated with a specific type of
vitamin K, vitamin K-1. Other types of vitamin K are not effective. Vitamin
K-1 facilitates the production of the bodyís clotting factors. Immediate
treatment can prevent the need for weeks of continuous medication.
Once symptoms occur, treatment is less successful and can take many weeks.
Treatment of a cat that is bleeding may include blood transfusions and several
weeks of vitamin K-1 therapy. Treatment of animals poisoned by newer, stronger
anticoagulant rodenticides may not be successful. It is critical to bring the
product label so that the veterinarian knows which bait has been consumed. The
newer anticoagulant rodenticides may stay in the body for many weeks and
require much more aggressive therapy than older, less potent products. Cats
that have consumed the more potent anticoagulants should be treated with oral
vitamin K-1 for a minimum of 4-6 weeks.
Prevention: Rodenticide poisoning can be avoided by preventing consumption
of rat poisons or poisoned rodents. The poison is often flavored or added to
grain mixtures that attract both rodents and pets. The plastic or cardboard
bait containers are easily torn open by even the youngest kittens. It is
safest to totally avoid the use of these substances in households with pets.
Humane live traps or spring loaded rodent traps that kill immediately should
be used instead of rodenticides. Additional steps, such as keeping food
sources in rodent-proof bins and cleaning food dispensers routinely, should be
implemented to reduce rodent numbers.
Rodenticides That Do Not Contain Anticoagulants: There are other
newer rodenticides that do not contain anticoagulants. These include
cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and a rapid acting single-dose poison called
bromethalin. These poisons may cause severe damage to the nervous system,
heart, liver, stomach, intestines, and kidneys. Blindness, coma, and death
can also occur. There are no antidotes to these toxins.
Older less commonly used rodenticides include strychnine, sodium
fluoroacetate, and zinc phosphide. Sodium fluoroacetate is rarely used and
only available to licensed, commercial pest control companies. Most
strychnine baits available to the general public have been replaced with
zinc phosphide. However, all three chemicals may occasionally be found and
will cause severe poisonings. Ingestion of rodents killed by these poisons
can also cause toxicity in cats. The taste of the baits may attract cats.
Clinical Signs: Cholecalciferol containing poisons produce signs of
hypercalcemia, including loss of appetite, depression, vomiting, muscle
weakness, and constipation. Renal, cardiac, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal
changes are caused by excess calcium deposition. This can lead to death.
Bromethalin rapidly effects the nervous system and causes tremors,
incoordination, hyperexcitability, increased body temperature, ataxia, and
depression. Large doses lead to seizures and death.
Strychnine causes signs of skeletal muscle excitation. Increased muscle
contractions can lead to seizures within minutes to hours.
Strychnine-poisoned cats will act apprehensive, agitated, and excited. They
may have tremors, drooling, muscle spasms, and collapse. Signs are
exasperated by light, motion, noise, and touch. Death can occur following
paralysis of the respiratory system.
Zinc phosphide toxicity signs develop within minutes to hours and include
changes to the stomach, intestines, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Affected cats experience abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, depression,
vomiting, anxiety, and seizures. Death can occur from an inability of the
cardiovascular system to function correctly or from ongoing organ failure.
Sodium Fluoroacetate causes vomiting, nervousness, apprehension, staggering,
urination, defecation, seizures, vocalizing, cardiac changes, and collapse.
Death often follows.
Diagnosis: The rodenticide poisonings are diagnosed by history of
exposure and signs of illness. Some may be diagnosed with specific tests.
Cholecalciferol poisons cause serum calcium elevations which are identified
with blood tests. Bromethalin can sometimes be identified in tissue samples
sent to certain laboratories, but diagnosis is typically based on history
Diagnosis of strychnine poisoning is based on exposure to the baits or
poisoned rodents, along with the signs of poisoning. Dye markers placed in
the baits may color any vomitus green or pink. In addition, the distinct
signs of poisoning often lead to immediate diagnosis. These signs appear
within minutes to hours and are characterized by over-excitement of the
nervous system. The most important diagnostic sign is painful, tetanic
convulsions that last approximately one minute and are either worsened or
triggered by touch, light, or noise.
Zinc phosphide exposure can be confirmed by identifying the compound in
stomach contents or looking for elevated blood levels of zinc. Sodium
Fluoroacetate poisoning is diagnosed by signs. There are special laboratory
tests available at some facilities that can detect the compound in blood.
Treatment: There are no antidotes. These toxins are treated with steps
to limit absorption, such as gastric lavage and administration of charcoal,
and supportive therapy. Additionally, cats with cholecalciferol toxicity are
treated with prednisolone to reduce intestinal absorption of calcium and
calcitonin to reduce absorption of calcium from bone. If the cat survives,
treatment is continued for several weeks. There is no effective treatment
for bromethalin toxicity.
Cats with strychnine toxicity are kept under general anesthesia to control
seizures for approximately 24 hours or until the strychnine is eliminated
from the body in the urine. They should be kept quiet and away from light
and noise. Cats with zinc phosphide toxicity are also treated to control
shock and seizures, minimize acid-base imbalances, and manage ongoing liver
and kidney problems. Cats with sodium fluoroacetate toxicity may be treated
with a product called glycerol monoacetate, but treatment is usually not
Prevention: As with all rodenticides, prevention is accomplished by
stopping any access to the baits or rodents killed by the baits. Baits are
attractive, easily opened, and readily consumed. Cats are curious, agile,
excellent climbers, and able to squeeze into narrow spaces. Pet owners
should consider these characteristics and abilities when deciding on
measures to control rodent populations. Rodenticides should never be placed
in any area that a cat may access. It is much safer to avoid the use of
rodenticide baits than to try and prevent cats from finding them.
Lead: Lead poisoning in pets can be a relatively common occurrence.
Lead can be found in older paints and lead fishing sinkers. In addition,
lead is found in many common substances including insecticides, linoleum,
shower curtain weights, drape weights, lead shot, putty, ceramics,
batteries, and some glazed china. Many pets have chronic exposure to lead
caused by chewing on lead-based paint that is chipping off painted surfaces.
Some are acutely poisoned following ingestion of lead weights,
lead-containing golf balls, or insecticides. While grooming, cats may poison
themselves if they swallow contaminated lead paint or dust that has settled
onto their coats.
Signs may vary depending on the amount of lead ingested and the length of time
of exposure. Gastrointestinal signs may include vomiting, diarrhea or
constipation, stomach pain, and loss of appetite. Neurological signs are often
present and may include whining, nervousness, lack of coordination,
wobbliness, depression, blindness, obsessive circling, convulsions, paralysis,
and coma that leads to death. Some animals may have pale gums that can
Diagnosis is based on history of exposure, signs of illness, and physical
examination. Blood tests will show anemia and changes in the red blood cells.
Tests of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord will also show
abnormalities. Specific tests can measure the level of lead in the blood and
lead to the definitive diagnosis of lead poisoning.
Treatment depends on length of time of poisoning. Recent poisonings respond to
treatments to prevent absorption of the lead, along with procedures to remove
lead objects from the stomach or intestines. Small lead items such as curtain
weights may be removed via endoscopy or surgery from the gastrointestinal
tract. Chronic cases of lead poisoning are treated with drugs to control
neurologic signs, nursing care, and antidotes to reduce blood levels of lead.
Specific antidotes are available to treat lead poisoning. Calcium disodium
edetate (Ca EDTA) alone or in combination with dimercaprol (BAL) is used. D-penicillamine
(Cuprimine) may be used orally later in the therapy. Succimer (meso-2,
3-dimercaptosuccinic acid), given orally, has been used successfully in
experimental settings. Thiamine hydrochloride has been used to help control
Prevention: Prevention involves limiting access to substances that contain
lead or lead salts. Lead shot, sinkers, and weights should be kept away from
curious pets. Insecticides should be locked away. Pets should not be fed on
ceramic plates that may be poorly glazed. Lead paints should be replaced with
non-toxic paints. Procedures that are followed to prevent lead poisoning in
children will also protect pets.
Zinc: Although zinc poisoning is much less common than lead
poisoning, zinc has been associated with toxicity. Found in pennies and
often in the screws that secure pet crates, zinc can be swallowed by curious
pets. Other sources of zinc are cosmetics and ointments that contain zinc
Clinical Signs/Diagnosis: Signs of zinc toxicity can include loss of
appetite, weakness, and depression. Gums may be pale, white, or have a
yellow tinge. Vomiting, depression, and lethargy may occur following
ingestion of products that contain zinc oxide. Diagnosis is based on signs,
a history of exposure, and examination. Owners may have seen the pet swallow
items containing zinc or have lost the screws to a carrier. Zinc causes
anemia, which can be identified with blood tests. Specific blood tests can
demonstrate zinc in the blood. Radiographs may show the zinc-containing
items in the gastrointestinal tract.
Treatment: Treatment involves removal of the foreign objects via
gastroscopy or surgery and supportive care. Care may include intravascular
fluid therapy, calcium disodium edetate administration, and blood
transfusion for extremely ill animals.
Prevention: Zinc toxicosis can be prevented by keeping all
zinc-containing objects away from pets. Young cats are the most likely to
swallow these items, but even older pets are known to consume small objects.
Pennies should be kept off the table and floor and stored in closed
containers or banks. Zinc fasteners on pet crates can be replaced with
plastic ones. Ointments and cosmetics should be kept in closed drawers or
cabinets. A few simple precautions can protect pets from zinc poisoning.
Human Medications: Both prescription and non-prescription
medications can make pets quite ill. Due to differences in metabolism, some
medications used by people are toxic for pets. Even those human medications
that are used for pets must be given at very different dosages to pets than
people. Human medications, including over the counter remedies, should only
be given to pets when a veterinarian specifically recommends the medication
and gives an exact dose. In addition, "folk," herbal, plant,
homemade, and "natural" remedies can be toxic to pets. Just
because a product is made with herbs does not mean that it is not potent and
Common medications that can adversely affect pets include over-the-counter
pain medications, such as aspirin and aspirin substitutes, lotions,
ointments, and prescription medications. Other products include medications
for cough, allergy symptoms, diarrhea, constipation, and anxiety. Even human
medications that may be tolerated by dogs can make cats ill. Cats are less
able than dogs to metabolize and excrete medications, so they are more
likely to be poisoned by medications.
Clinical Signs: The signs of illness following consumption of
medications can vary depending on the product consumed. Some potential
symptoms may include vomiting, drooling, loss of appetite, diarrhea,
depression, bleeding, staggering, seizures, coma, and death.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on history of ingestion of the product,
symptoms, and physical examination. In some cases, special blood work can be
done to test for the presence of specific medications.
Treatment: Do not attempt treatment at home. Home treatment can make
some cats worse and interfere with veterinary care. Veterinary treatment may
include induction of vomiting and supportive care. Most medications do not
have antidotes. Symptomatic nursing care is provided until the substance is
eliminated from the body. Some medications are lethal if ingested.
Prevention: Prevention involves keeping all human medications away from
pets. Medications should be kept in closed cupboards that pets cannot reach.
Old medications should be flushed down the toilet and the toilet should be
repeatedly flushed until all the tablets are gone. Do not leave discarded
medications in the trash where they can be found by pets. Ointments and
lotions should also be stored properly.
Pain medications: Over-the-counter pain medications for people are
usually in a class of medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs and include medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
These drugs should only be used under the direct advice and supervision of a
local veterinarian. Used inappropriately, these medications can cause severe
toxicity. Cats require much lower doses of these medications than humans do.
If treated with the amounts given to people, the animals can become very
ill. Even those animals treated at lower doses are at risk for developing a
variety of problems, including stomach irritation, stomach ulcers, bleeding,
kidney disease, and liver problems. Do not use these medications without a
veterinarianís knowledge and recommendation. Do not increase the dosage or
frequency of administration without consulting a veterinarian. Stop all
medication and contact a veterinarian if any unusual side effects or signs
Aspirin should never be administered to a cat without a veterinarianís
advice. Cats are slow to metabolize aspirin, so it lasts approximately six
times longer in cats than dogs. If used in cats, veterinarians will
prescribe very small amounts given very infrequently. Cats that are
inappropriately given aspirin can become ill within a matter of hours and
display vomiting, depression, changes in respiration, and fever. These signs
may progress to coma and death. There is no antidote and supportive
treatment may not be successful.
Acetaminophen is a commonly used analgesic for humans. It is extremely toxic
to cats and should never be given to a cat. A single 500-mg tablet will
cause severe toxicity in a cat; two tablets within 24 hours will most likely
cause death. Cats that are poisoned by acetaminophen show signs with in an
hour or two of consumption. Severe damage to the red blood cells causes
vomiting, depression, respiratory problems, swelling of the face and
extremities, and a muddy, brown coloration of the gums and urine. Treatment
involves steps to reduce absorption, the use of an antidote, beta-acetylcysteine
(Mucomyst-Mead Johnson), vitamin C, and supportive care.
In summary, never treat an animal with products made for people unless
instructed to do so by a veterinarian. All doses of human medications
given to pets should be reviewed with the veterinarian. Never increase the
frequency of administration or the amount given without a veterinary
Animal Medications: Pet medications can be toxic if administered at
the incorrect dose or if given to the wrong species of pet. For example,
some medications used for dogs are poisonous to cats. In addition, the risk
of accidental overdose is increased when using highly palatable, chewable
medications. Common medications that can cause toxic overdoses include pain
medications, heartworm medications, cardiac drugs, and antibiotics.
Clinical Signs: The signs of toxicosis depend on the drug ingested, the
amount ingested, and the species of animal involved in the poisoning. Some
signs may include diarrhea, vomiting, passing blood in the vomitus or feces,
nosebleeds, and loss of appetite. Collapse, neurological signs, coma, and
death may also occur.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on signs of poisoning, a history of
exposure to the medication, and physical examination. Some overdoses can be
confirmed by blood tests. Many times, owners find a bottle of chewable
medication opened and the entire contents consumed by the animal.
Treatment: Treatment depends on the medication consumed and the amount
of time that has passed since consumption of the medication. Acute cases may
be treated with methods designed to limit absorption and speed elimination
of the drug. Other cases may require supportive nursing care and medications
to reduce the signs of illness.
Prevention: Prevention involves limiting access that pets have to
medications. Do not assume that medication is safe because it has been
prescribed for one pet. All medications should be kept out of the reach of
pets, which may mean storing them in a locked cupboard. Never increase the
amount of medication given to a pet without consulting a veterinarian.
Flea and Tick Products: Flea and tick killing products can cause
severe, unwanted side effects in pets. These products are available as dips,
sprays, shampoos, spot-on topical solutions, and collars. All forms of the
products can cause poisoning in pets. Many cases of toxicity caused by these
insecticides could be avoided if label directions are followed exactly.
Label directions will list the species that the product is intended to be
used for, the amount to use, the method of administration, the frequency of
administration, and the active ingredients.
Because a manufacturer may give the same name to products with different
ingredients, labels may be confusing. A flea product made for cats may have
the same name as a flea product with different ingredients made for dogs,
with only the word "cat" replacing "dog" on the new
product label. This can be extremely dangerous, because many dog flea and
tick products are toxic to cats. This is true of flea spot-on products that
use highly concentrated permethrin as the active ingredient. Cats have been
poisoned by rubbing against, sleeping next to, or grooming a recently
treated dog. Cats that are erroneously treated with the products can die
from the poisoning. Always read labels carefully. Do not ever use an
insecticide labeled for a particular species of animal on another species
without consulting a veterinarian.
Clinical Signs: The signs of flea and tick product toxicity may include
tremors, salivation, depression, skin irritation, loss of appetite,
vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, and seizures. Difficulty breathing,
coma, and death can follow. Signs often appear within minutes after using
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is typically based on signs, physical examination,
and a history of exposure to flea and tick products. Owners may notice signs
immediately after administering a flea dip or moments after applying a
topical spot-on product.
Treatment: Treatment involves removing as much product as possible from
the animal. Animals can be bathed in soap, detergent pet shampoos, or
diluted dish detergent and rinsed copiously to remove shampoos, sprays,
dips, and topical solutions. Collars should be removed. Veterinary treatment
may involve gastric lavage and the use of laxatives to remove the toxin,
along with intravascular fluid therapy and medications to control seizures
and neurologic signs. Depending on the exact chemical involved, atropine
sulfate may be needed. Pralidoxime chloride (2-PAM) is used for some
Prevention: Careful use of flea and tick products can prevent accidental
poisonings. All label directions should be read and followed carefully. Do
not use the products on sick, debilitated, pregnant, or nursing pets without
a veterinarianís advice. Do not use products more frequently or in greater
amounts than the label advises. Do not use dog products on cats. Do not use
products on pets that are younger or weigh less than the minimums listed on
the label. Keep all product packages out of the reach of pets to prevent
accidental exposure or consumption. Trim flea and tick collars so that pets
cannot chew on any excess left hanging from the collar. Avoid the use of
collars on young animals that pull and chew on the collars. Consult a
veterinarian if questions arise about a product before using it.
Do not use insecticides intended for yards, lawns, plants, rugs, or houses
on pets. Even if the products list ingredients that are similar to pet flea
and tick remedies, those made for use on inanimate objects or in the
environment are typically much more potent than those designed to be used on
pets. Do not use any chemicals designed to kill other insects, such as ants,
bees, or cockroaches, on pets. Exposure to any of these products through
contact or consumption can cause severe poisonings. Signs, diagnosis, and
treatment are similar to those for pet flea and tick products. Do not allow
pets near recently treated areas and follow all label directions regarding
proper use and ventilation after use. Do not allow pets to contact any areas
that are still wet from insecticides. Remove all pets from the house during
treatments with flea foggers or sprays. Never use these chemicals in place
of flea and tick products labeled for use on pets.
Chocolate: Many animals love the taste of chocolate. However,
chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine that causes
over-stimulation of an animalís body. All body systems, including the
gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and
nervous system, are affected by theobromine. The more concentrated the
chocolate, the larger the amount of theobromine present and the greater the
risk to pets. Unsweetened bakerís chocolate is much more dangerous than
chocolate ice cream. Baking chocolate contains approximately nine times as
much theobromine as milk chocolate.
The toxic dose of chocolate for a cat is 100-300 milligrams per kilogram of
body weight (approximately 45-136 mg/lb.). This means that about 1 ounce of
milk chocolate per pound of body weight can make a cat ill. In contrast, it
only takes less than 1/2 ounce of semi-sweet chocolate per pound of body
weight, and as little as 1/8 ounce of bakerís chocolate per pound of body
weight to poison a cat.
The signs of chocolate intoxication vary, but can include vomiting, diarrhea,
nervousness, pacing, frequent urination, muscle tremors, rapid breathing, and
a rapid heart rate. Seizures, depression, and death can result from the
consumption of large amounts of chocolate. Symptoms depend on the amount and
type of chocolate eaten, as well as the size of the cat.
Diagnosis is based on a history of chocolate consumption, the symptoms, and
physical examination of the pet. Owners may find an empty box of chocolate and
an ill pet. Some owners may notice symptoms after sharing chocolate with their
The first step in treatment is to remove any remaining chocolate to prevent
further consumption. Next, assess the amount of chocolate consumed. A cat that
has eaten only tiny amounts of chocolate baked into a bakery item may not
require any treatment. If unsure, contact a veterinarian. If the cat has
consumed potentially toxic amounts of chocolate, seek immediate veterinary
care. Veterinary treatment may involve the induction of vomiting, gastric
lavage, the administration of charcoal to absorb toxins, the use of
medications to control seizures and elevated heartbeat, and supportive care
until the toxin is eliminated from the animal.
Chocolate toxicosis can be prevented by keeping all forms of baking chocolate,
chocolate candy, and baked items that contain chocolate away from pets. Do not
share chocolate foods with pets. Use chocolate-flavored substitutes when
cooking treats for pets. Do not assume that tiny bits of chocolate are okay
for a pet. One cannot be sure how even small amounts will effect an animal;
all chocolate should be kept away from pets.
Garbage: Rotting and spoiled foods are an excellent source of
toxins. Bacterial overgrowth in decaying meats and dairy products can lead
to poisoning of cats that ingest them. Clostridium, Campylobacter,
Salmonella, and Yersinia are some of the bacteria that will
rapidly multiply in rotten foods. In addition, toxins from the bacteria can
produce severe illness and lead to death. Animals that are fed old garbage
or spoiled "left-overs" may be poisoned. Meat and dairy products
left in compost piles also contribute to this type of poisoning. Pets that
have access to and consume the carcasses of dead animals may also become
Clinical Signs: Signs include severe vomiting, diarrhea (with or without
the presence of blood), dehydration, nausea, pain, and collapse. Clostridial
toxicosis can cause paralysis, coma, and death. Other bacterial toxins may
cause wobbling, difficulty breathing, and convulsions.
Diagnosis is based on history of exposure, signs of illness, and physical
examination. Laboratory tests may be helpful in reaching a definitive
diagnosis. Owners may find overturned garbage cans and an ill pet. Pets may
vomit partially digested meats or animal parts that point to the cause of
Treatment: Treatment is based on
limiting absorption of the toxin, including gastric lavage, and providing
supportive therapy until the toxin is eliminated. Fluid therapy may be needed.
Clostridium toxicosis may be treated with antitoxin if diagnosed early in the
course of poisoning.
Prevention is accomplished by keeping cats away from spoiled and rotting
foods. Kitchen waste should be kept out of the reach of pets. Garbage cans
should be tightly sealed and inaccessible to pets. Pets should not be fed old
or decaying foods. If the food is considered too old for a person to consume,
it is too old to be fed to a pet. In addition, meat and dairy products should
not be added to compost piles. Decomposing meat and cheese not only attract
rodents but also are a major source of toxins for pets that dig through the
compost and consume the foods. Cats should not be allowed to consume road kill
and the carcasses of dead animals.
Introduction: There are many different plants both inside and outside the
house that can be toxic to pets. There are over 700 plants in the United States
that are known to cause illness; these plants contain hundreds of different
types of toxins. Many common household plants contain chemicals that are toxic
if consumed. Others contain toxins that can irritate skin and mucus membranes.
Typical poisonous plants that may be found in a home include iris,
philodendrons, jack in the pulpit, and rubber plants. Common yard vegetation
that is very poisonous includes oleander, laurel, yew, and azalea. It may be
necessary to keep only non-toxic plants, such as oat grass, in the house if a
pet is likely to chew. This is often the case with young, bored cats but not
typically a problem with older, well-adjusted animals.
It can be very difficult to keep all poisonous plants away from cats. Steps
should be taken to remove poisonous plants from the house and yard. Because
different plants may produce similar signs of poisoning, yet require different
treatments, it is critical to save all remaining parts of a plant that a pet has
ingested. These plant parts may be needed for identification to decide if an
antidote is available and to choose the proper course of treatment.
There are many books written on poisonous plants. It would be a wise idea to
keep an illustrated book of common poisonous plants. This will aid in
identification in case of accidental poisoning.
The signs of plant poisoning depend on the plant that has been chewed or
consumed. Signs may include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, twitching,
nervousness, coma, and death. The most common houseplant poisonings occur after
ingestion of plants in the family Areaceae. Plants in this family,
including dieffenbachia, philodendron, elephantís ear, and rhubarb, contain
irritating calcium oxalate crystals. If chewed, the crystals cause salivation
and swelling of the mouth, tongue, and throat. The pet may not be able to
swallow, have blisters, and difficulty breathing. Eye and skin irritation can
occur if the plant juices touch these areas. Other plants cause different signs
that correlate to the body organs or system that are affected by the particular
plant toxin. Some plants affect only one body system; others affect multiple
organs and cause many signs of illness.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is usually based
on access to a plant, evidence of ingestion, and a sick pet. Owners often find
chewed vegetation and a salivating pet that is pawing at its mouth. Veterinary
diagnosis is based on a history of exposure, symptoms, and physical examination.
There are no specific tests to determine plant poisonings.
Treatment: Treatment is dependent on
the symptoms and may include rinsing the plant juice from the mouth, eyes, and
skin. Some animals require pain medication, general nursing care,
hospitalization, and intravenous fluid therapy. There are antidotes for some
plant toxins. Other plant poisons are so toxic that pets succumb despite
treatment. It is critical to provide the veterinarian with the plant and the
exact parts that have been chewed. Different parts of plants may contain
different toxins and require different treatments. In addition, it is inadequate
to use common names to identify the plants for the veterinarian. Using the plantís
common name can lead to confusion because similar names may describe very
different plants. The veterinarian must know the botanical name of the plant or
see the plant to achieve a proper diagnosis for treatment.
Prevention: Prevention is accomplished
by denying access to poisonous plants throughout a petís environment. If a pet
insists on chewing plants, provide ones that are harmless. Plants should be hung
up or kept out of the reach of cats. Because cats are adept at climbing and
jumping, it may be necessary to keep only non-toxic plants, such as oat grass,
in the house if a cat is likely to chew. Because many cats enjoy chewing
on greenery and digging in the pots of soil, one can purchase pots of
pre-planted, non-insecticide-treated grass from pet supply stores and catalogs.
Do not assume that all plants with long grass-like leaves or stalks are actually
edible grasses. Purchase only oat grass labeled as edible for cats.
Yard plants should be labeled with both common and botanical names so that
toxic ones are easily identified in case of accidental ingestion. Yard waste and
clippings should be disposed of properly. Outdoor water bowls should be kept
clear of potentially dangerous plant clippings and leaves. The easiest way to
avoid outdoor plant poisonings is to avoid the use of toxic ornamental plants
and shrubs. Do not assume that a plant is safe if birds or wildlife eat it.
These animals may have different sensitivities than domestic pets or may
actually end up being poisoned as well. Do not allow pets to chew or eat any
plant parts, including leaves, stems, and twigs. Do not allow pets to consume
mushrooms, nuts, seeds, or flowers.
Common Plant Poisons: There are many different techniques to categorize
and identify poisonous plants. The following pages list plants by the body
system commonly affected by the poison. Some plants may affect more than one
body system and appear more than once. The list does not include all possible
- Plants that Affect the Gastrointestinal System: There are many
plants that can cause intestinal problems if swallowed. Most cause
intestinal upset that is treated symptomatically. There are no antidotes;
supportive care should be provided unless noted otherwise.
Berries - Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and pokeweed (Phytolacca
americana) berries can cause diarrhea if consumed. Uncooked elderberries
can cause severe diarrhea. There is no antidote. Treatment involves
symptomatic and supportive nursing care.
- Poisonous Shrubs - The family Ericaceae, including rhododendrons and
azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), are common house and garden plants.
Accidental ingestion leads to rapid signs of toxicity. Signs include
salivation, vomiting, depression, repeated swallowing, and loss of
appetite. Additional signs may include cardiac changes that can result in
collapse and even death. Similar signs are seen following ingestion of
laurel (Kalmia). Immediate death may occur if a cat eats laurel.
Fortunately, most pets will not consume enough to become ill. There is no
antidote. Treatment involves supportive care.
- Bulb Plants - The bulbs of all garden plants should be considered
potentially toxic if consumed. Common ornamental plants that are grown
from bulbs include tulips, daffodils, amaryllis, and iris. Cats that
consume the bulbs may suffer from abdominal pains, loss of appetite,
vomiting, and diarrhea. There is no antidote. Treatment involves
supportive and symptomatic therapy. Most animals survive the poisoning.
Common Plants Grown From Bulbs:
- Bean Poisonings - The castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) and
the precatory bean (Abrus precatorius) produce beans that cause
severe poisoning if ingested. The castor bean must be chewed or opened to
cause a problem. The precatory bean is so toxic that the consumption of
one bean can be fatal. Both plants may be used as ornamentals and may grow
wild in the southern states. Both types of beans may be dried and used in
jewelry. The dried beans also cause poisoning if chewed. Signs of
poisoning develop several hours after ingestion. Common signs include
fever, followed by increased thirst, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea,
increased heart rate, convulsions, paralysis, and death. There is no
antidote. Treatment may include inducing vomiting, gastrointestinal lavage,
symptomatic support, and intravascular fluid therapy. Therapy may not be
successful in some cases.
- Family Solanaceae - There are many plants in this family that are used
for food (potato, eggplant) and decoration (Jerusalem cherry, deadly
nightshade). All the plants contain an alkaloid toxin called solanine.
Pets may be poisoned if they consume the plant or the berries, especially
if the berries are not yet ripe. Signs of poisoning include loss of
appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition, some plants
in this group cause nervous system problems, including salivation,
drowsiness, trouble breathing, trembling, weakness, and coma. There is no
antidote. Treatment includes supportive nursing care and symptomatic
treatment of signs of toxicity.
Common Plants in the Family Solanaceae:
|Potato (if green and/or
- Walnuts and Acorns - Nuts from the black walnut tree (Juglans nigra),
the English walnut tree (Juglans regia), the horse chestnut tree (Aesculus
hippocastanum), and acorns from oak trees (Quercus spp.) have
all been identified as toxic to pets. Signs are consistent with
gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) and include
vomiting and diarrhea, possibly containing blood. Some animals may have
seizures. Acorn poisoning may also result in depression, signs of kidney
disease, and constipation. There is no antidote for animals that consume
these walnuts or acorns. Treatment involves symptomatic and supportive
- English Ivy - Hedera helix is a ground cover that has toxin in
both the leaves and berries. Ingestion causes salivation, increased
thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Coma and death may follow.
There is no antidote. Treatment includes supportive and symptomatic care.
- Holiday Plants - There are several ornamental plants and shrubs that are
brought into homes during the winter holidays. The brightly colored
flowers and berries may attract curious pets that find the new plants
interesting. This is particularly a problem with young animals. If
ingested, these plants can cause a variety of signs, including diarrhea
and vomiting. In addition, the irritating sap of poinsettia and other
members of the Euphorbia family can cause irritation of the eyes, tongue,
skin, and gastrointestinal tract. Treatment involves rinsing off any
irritating sap, along with supportive care and fluid therapy. There is no
Common Poisonous Holiday Plants:
|Snow on the
Plants that Cause Mouth and Tongue Irritation:
Plants that Cause Mechanical or Contact Injury:
- Family Araceae - This group of common houseplants accounts for the
majority of small animal poisonings. Curious, playful, or bored cats chew
on the plants and are exposed to the irritating toxins found in the
plants. Poisoning is a result of calcium oxalate crystals that form in
body tissues, along with enzymes that cause histamine release. This
results in immediate and severe signs of local irritation and
inflammation. Signs include salivation, mouth pain, swollen tongue and
lips, pawing at the face and mouth, and loss of voice due to vocal fold
swelling. Swelling of the tongue may last for several days and cause the
tongue to protrude from the mouth. Severe signs that require emergency
care include swelling in the throat and mouth that interferes with
breathing. If the sap lands on broken skin, mucus membranes, or the eyes,
irritation will result, causing dermatitis and eye irritations. There is
no antidote. Treatment includes the use of drugs to reduce swelling, such
as antihistamines and corticosteroids, along with supportive therapy.
Emergency care may be required to save the animalís life.
Common Plants that Contain Oxalates:
|Jack in the
Plants that Affect the Nervous System: There are many plants that
have toxic effects on the nervous system. They may block nerve impulses, cause
convulsions, alter behavior, interfere with muscle activity and breathing, or
cause immediate death. There are no antidotes. Treatment involves taking steps
to prevent absorption and speed elimination, along with supportive care. Some
of these toxicities cannot be successfully treated.
- Nettles - There are plants that protect themselves with small, hair-like
projections that contain irritants such as histamine, acetylcholine,
serotonin, and formic acid. Cats that run through these plants can pick up
enough nettles to cause signs of toxicity. These signs include salivation,
mouth pain, pawing at the mouth, tremors, vomiting, low heart rate,
difficulty breathing, and muscle weakness. Treatment may include the use
of atropine as an antidote, along with symptomatic care to reduce
inflammation/irritation and supportive therapy.
Common Plants that Cause Irritation:
- Plants with Mechanical Means of Injury - In addition to cacti, there are
many plants that use barbs, spines, awns, burs, and hooks to avoid being
eaten or to attach their seeds to passing animals for dispersal. Although
these plants do not carry toxic agents, they can harm pets. These small
foreign objects can cause mechanical injury by embedding into animals.
Many awns are equipped with barbs that allow them to move forward only;
they cannot be pulled out of the skin by the animal. They can migrate
through the skin, nostrils, ears, and other body orifices or be inhaled.
Common sites of entry include the ears, nostrils, and eyes. Once in the
body, the awns can migrate anywhere. Signs depend on the body system
affected and can include drainage from the nose, sneezing, facial rubbing,
head shaking, difficulty breathing, mouth or eye inflammation and
irritation, abscesses and draining tracts, and lameness. Treatment
involves identifying and removing the foreign object and treating any
wounds or infections that result.
Common Plants that Cause Mechanical Injury:
Convulsants - This group of plants causes convulsions. There are no
antidotes. Treatment involves symptomatic and supportive care.
- Plants that Cause Nicotine-Like Actions - These plants contain either
nicotine or similar substances that cause nausea, vomiting, salivation,
diarrhea, and nervous system signs of shaking, convulsions, muscle
twitching, weakness, and collapse. If large amounts are consumed and the
nervous system is depressed, difficult breathing and a low heart rate may
precede heart failure, coma, and death. Treatment involves removal of the
plant material from the digestive tract, along with supportive care to
ensure breathing and cardiac function until the toxin is eliminated from the
Common Nicotine-Like Plants:
Common Plants that Cause Convulsions:
Plants that Alter Awareness - This group of plants contains substances that
can cause an altered mental or behavioral state in pets and people, and may
cause other signs of illness in pets. Signs may include depression, muscular
incoordination, respiratory depression, and a decrease in body temperature.
Large quantities can cause the animal to become unconscious. Some plant toxins
may cause blurred vision, vomiting, diarrhea, and cardiac and respiratory
distress. Others cause delirium, convulsions, and coma. There are no
antidotes. Supportive nursing care and symptomatic treatment are the mainstays
Common Plants that Alter Awareness:
Plants that Affect the Heart and Circulatory System:
Yew - There are several varieties of yews (Taxus spp.), including
American yew, Japanese yew, English yew, and Western yew. The Japanese yew,
valued as an ornamental shrub, is an evergreen with red, berry-like fruit.
The fruits, bark, and leaves are extremely toxic. Very small amounts can
cause immediate death. The toxin, an alkaloid, may cause sudden death by
stopping the heart. The plant may still be in the mouth when death occurs.
Other signs may include trembling, muscular weakness, difficulty breathing,
diarrhea, and collapse. There is no antidote. Treatment involves supportive
and symptomatic nursing care.
- Plants that Cause Cardiovascular Changes - Several plants contain
chemicals that rapidly and significantly affect the heart. Signs initially
may include immediate nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. At times,
gastrointestinal signs are delayed for several hours. Respiratory distress
may follow. Cardiac effects include changes in heart rate and rhythm that
culminate in death. Treatment involves drugs that would be used to treat
an overdose of the cardiac medication, digitalis. This may include
intravascular fluid support and correction of electrolyte abnormalities.
Potassium chloride, atropine, phenytoin, oxygen, and cardiac drugs such as
propranolol or procainamide are also used. Treatment may not be adequate
to save the pet.
The most lethal shrub in this group is oleander. Minute quantities of the
plant can be lethal if ingested. There have been reports of fatalities in
people after using the branches as hotdog sticks.
Common Plants that Affect the Heart:
- Plants that Contain Cyanide - This group of plants causes death by
interfering with oxygen transfer from the blood to body tissues. Oxygen is
unable to travel from the blood into the cells. Most of the cyanide in the
plants is located in the seeds, but poisonings have been reported from
ingestion of other plant parts. Signs of toxicity include apprehension,
urination, defecation, muscle spasms, convulsions, labored breathing,
dilation of the pupils, coma, and death. Death may occur very rapidly
following ingestion of cyanide-laden seeds. Treatment involves the use of
antidotes containing sodium nitrate or sodium thiosulfate and steps to
remove the plant material from the gastrointestinal tract, along with
supportive and symptomatic care.
Common Plants that Contain Cyanide:
Mushroom Poisoning: There are over 3,000 species of mushrooms, most
of which cannot be identified without microscopic examination. Because most
pet owners are unable to identify individual mushroom species, all mushrooms
should be considered toxic to pets. Mushrooms and toadstools contain a number
of toxins that can cause gastrointestinal and nervous system problems. Signs
of poisoning depend on the particular mushroom consumed and include severe
abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation, irregular pulse, and
difficulty breathing. Central nervous system signs include excitement,
drowsiness, muscle spasms, coma, and death. Surviving animals may suffer from
chronic liver damage and require long term therapy. Treatment includes steps
to reduce absorption, such as the induction of vomiting and gastric lavage,
and the use of medications (possibly chlorpromazine and physostigmine) to
control specific signs.
Common Poisonous Mushrooms:
Poisonings Caused by Animals:
- Toad Poisoning: There are presently two species of poisonous toads
in the United States. These two toads, Bufo alvarius and Bufo
marinus, are found in Florida, Hawaii, and the southwestern United
States. Problems occur when pets play with, chew on, or try to swallow the
toads. The toads secrete toxins from glands located above and behind the
eyes. Toads sitting in water dishes may secrete enough toxin to cause
illness in a pet that consumes the water.
Clinical Signs: Signs of toxicity include drooling, spitting, vomiting,
and pawing at the mouth. The drool may be foamy and have the consistency of
shaving cream. Continued exposure can cause cardiac abnormalities that lead
to breathing difficulty, cyanosis of the mucus membranes, irregular
heartbeat, collapse, convulsions, and death within one hour.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on exposure to the toad and clinical
Treatment: Immediate treatment includes removal of the toad and flushing
the mouth of the pet with large amounts of water. Flushing should be done
across the mouth, not into the mouth, to prevent the animal from swallowing
additional amounts of toxin. Pets should then receive emergency medical
treatment, including steps to reduce toxin absorption, such as charcoal
administration, and supportive care. Drugs used may include atropine to
limit salivation and protect against cardiac arrest, propranolol to prevent
cardiac arrhythmias, and other cardiac drugs.
Prevention: Prevention involves preventing exposure of cats to the
poisonous toads. Cats should not be allowed to play with or catch toads.
- Salamander Poisoning: The California newt, Taricha torosa,
secretes a poison that can cause poisoning if the newt is picked up or
swallowed by a pet.
Clinical Signs: The poison causes weakness, incoordination, vomiting,
diarrhea, and paralysis.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on a history of exposure to the newt and
clinical signs of illness.
Treatment: Treatment includes removal of the newt, flushing the mouth
with copious amounts of water, and supportive care. There is no antidote.
Many animals recover without therapy.
Prevention: Prevention involves limiting petsí access to lizards and
salamanders. Pets should not be encouraged to play with or hunt lizards and
- Snakes: Venomous snakes in the United States include the pit vipers
(copperheads, water moccasins, rattlesnakes) and coral snakes.
Clinical Signs: Signs may vary in intensity depending on the amount of
venom injected into the bite, the size of the snake, the venomís toxicity,
and the species of snake involved. The toxin may effect the nervous system,
the blood system, or both. All bites produce severe local pain, swelling,
hemorrhage into the skin, and local paralysis. Animals generally exhibit
nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the nose, and blood in the stool. The bites
of the pit vipers produce similar effects, including local tissue damage,
red blood cell changes, clotting abnormalities, and cardiovascular changes
leading to shock. Signs of a coral snake bite may include local swelling,
severe pain, difficulty breathing, and paralysis of muscles resulting in
salivation, inability to swallow, total paralysis of the extremities, eyelid
paralysis, and collapse. If left untreated, animals will suffer from
convulsions, coma, and death.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on a history of exposure to a venomous
snake and physical examination. Fang marks may be found.
Treatment: Treatment should be instituted immediately. Prognosis is poor
if treatment is not started within four hours. Treatment of pit viper bites
includes antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids,
tetanus antitoxin, and crotalin antivenin. Supportive therapy must be
continued for several days following initial treatment. Coral snakebites are
treated with a similar protocol, substituting coral snake antivenin for the
pit viper antivenin.
Prevention: Snakebites can be prevented by keeping pets away from
snakes. Do not allow pets to wander freely and keep pets out of areas that
are good snake habitats. Most snakes will leave an area if given the
opportunity to escape, so do not allow pets to surprise or corner snakes.
Summary: There are thousands of potential toxins. Many of these poisons
have no antidote and can end a petís life. By keeping common household poisons
and plants away from pets, the risk of danger is substantially reduced.
Unfortunately, accidental poisonings do occur. If a pet is poisoned, immediate
care can help save the animal. Do not attempt home therapy without contacting
a medical professional for advice. Call a veterinarian or local emergency
clinic if poisoning is suspected. In addition, the ASPCA National Animal
Poison Control Center has a 24-hour, 7-day a week, emergency hotline. The phone
number is 1-888-4ANI-HELP (1-888-426-4435). A fee is charged for the
service. This is the only national animal-oriented poison information center in
the United States. Veterinarians and veterinary toxicologists answer the calls.
The number should be kept in a prominent place in case of emergency. Individual
states may have their own poison information facility.