Audra Stillabower, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
Pet Poison Helpline
Since I started working at Pet Poison Helpline, I’ve often had questions from people who want to know what are the worst toxins that we get calls on. While there is a huge list of medications, plants and products that can be very toxic depending on the dose ingested, there are some toxins that can be extremely dangerous to pets in small amounts. These toxins typically necessitate a rapid trip to the veterinarian regardless of the dose ingested. I’ve compiled a list of some of the toxins we get calls on daily that normally require immediate veterinary attention.
BACLOFEN: Baclofen is a medication used in human medicine as a skeletal muscle relaxant. It controls spasticity caused by MS or other diseases of the spinal cord. It is also used by patients with Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s chorea. Baclofen can cause vocalization, hypersalivation, vomiting, ataxia, recumbency, lethargy, hypothermia, agitation or unresponsive, tachycardia or bradycardia, hypo or hypertension, and seizures in animals that ingest a toxic amount. Baclofen is almost always considered a medical emergency. Symptoms can appear rapidly, nor
mally less than two hours after ingestion and can last hours to days based on the amount ingested.
SAGO PALM: A sago palm is a palm tree found in tropical climates and can also be sold as an ornamental plant in other areas of the world. The sago palm is extremely toxic to dogs and all ingestions regardless of the amount are normally sent in to the emergency clinic. The seeds of the palm are the most toxic component; however all parts of the palm are toxic. As little as 1-2 seeds can pose a toxic risk to a dog. Sago palms can cause acute liver failure. Gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms can also be witnessed with an ingestion. Common symptoms can include vomiting (with or without blood), lethargy, diarrhea and anorexia. Less common symptoms include hyperthermia, dehydration, abdominal pain, tremors, ataxia, mentation changes, seizures and icterus. The onset of symptoms can be witnessed as early as 15 minutes and up to 4 hours post exposure. Death has been reported in other mammals such as cattle and sheep. It is presumed that sago palms are also toxic to cats.
5-FLUOROURACIL (5-FU): 5-fluorouracil is used in the treatment of various cancers. It is used as intravenous injections, topical solutions and creams. Any ingestion of 5-FU is considered a medical emergency. Common symptoms of 5-FU toxicity can include: vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, respiratory distress and uncontrollable seizures. Symptoms are normally rapid and can be seen within 30-60 minutes of exposure. Cats are highly sensitive to 5-FU.
IMIDAZOLINE DECONGESTANTS: Imidazoline decongestants are commonly found in nasal sprays and eye drops. It is a vasoconstrictor and relieves nasal congestion. In eye drops it helps alleviate redness. There are also newer ointments on the market used to treat rosacea that may also contain imidazoline. Imidazolines have a very narrow margin of safety and symptoms can be witnessed as early as 15 minutes from exposure. Common symptoms that can occur include lethargy, which is more common, or agitation can also be witnessed, hypertension and tachycardia are witnessed early after exposure but can rapidly transition to hypotension and bradycardia. Other symptoms that may or may not be witnessed include arrhythmias, vomiting, weakness, coma, tremors and seizures.
RODENTICIDES WITH CHOLECALCIFEROL (VITAMIN D3): There are many kinds of rodenticides on the market today that are toxic to pets but one of the most toxic in small amounts is cholecalciferol. Cholecalciferol in toxic doses can cause acute renal failure (ARF). Common symptoms of toxicity include anorexia, polyuria/polydipsia (PU/PD), followed by hyperphosphatemia, hypercalcemia, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, anorexia and soft tissue mineralization. As little as 3 grams of bait in a 10-pound dog can cause renal failure. Symptoms may not be immediately apparent. It can take 12-36 hours for symptoms to appear. Animals poisoned by cholecalciferol may potentially require weeks of treatment or monitoring.
While not all potent toxins may be listed here, some other common toxins that pose a serious health risk in small doses are:
- Illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.
- Yew bushes
- Lilies from the Lilium and Hemerocallis genus (in cats)
- Metaldehyde- used in snail and slug killer
- Snake venom
- Clonidine- antihypertensive medication
- Zinc Phosphide rodenticides
If you find yourself in a medical emergency, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week even on holidays to help with pet poison emergencies.