Did you know that March was Pet Poison Prevention Month? As a veterinary technician, it is important to know common household toxins so you can inform owners of poisonous plants or chemicals which they may have in their home. Let’s do a brief review of common toxins which can be found in the home.
1) Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol)- commonly kept in the garage, this toxin has a sweet taste and animals are drawn to it. Ingestion of this toxin can cause ataxia, vomiting, metabolic acidosis, sometimes seizures, and leads to acute renal (kidney) failure.
2) Rodenticides (aka- “rat bait”)- Symptoms may vary depending on the active ingredient. Classically, the rat bait toxins contain anticoagulants. These inhibit vitamin K production and lead to uncontrolled bleeding. A prolonged Pro-Thrombin Time (PT) can be suggestive of this toxin. The PT may not elevated until more than 72 hours after the toxin ingestion, and the pet may not have clinical symptoms for 7 days or longer in some cases. Bruising or bleeding may be clinical signs.
3) Prescription medications- very commonly owners accidentally drop a pill on the floor and the pet eats it. Tell owners to always open their pill bottles over a cookie sheet or other surface to prevent the pills from falling on the floor or bouncing off the countertop, especially elderly clients who take many medications and may have more difficulty handling their pills. Often, these medications include blood pressure pills which can be very toxic, especially to tiny pets. Drug toxicities are among the most commonly reported in small animal practice.
4) Foods- chocolate is a common one that most people know about. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which cause CNS stimulation (hyperactivity, restlessness, tachycardia, or seizures). Grapes and raisins are toxic in some pets and ingestion can cause acute renal failure. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener often found in sugarless gums or candies and causes severe hypoglycemia. It can be fatal. Avocados are toxic to birds. When Teflon pans are heated, chlorofluorocarbon fumes may be released into the air and can cause sudden death or respiratory distress in birds.
5) Lawn pesticides- most of these chemicals can be toxic, so advise owners to only use pet friendly products and make sure they completely dry before the pet has access to the area. Also, snail bait is a major toxin and if ingested can cause seizures and death. (The snail and slug baits are usually metaldehyde based.)
6) Poisonous plants- there are many of these. Major ones include Oleander, Sago Palm, and lilies. Lily plants specifically can cause acute renal failure, especially in cats. It is very useful to put together a list of common household toxins and use it as a client handout. Keeping clients informed may prevent their pet from being exposed to a deadly toxin.
Prevention is the key!