So what about those hidden potential toxins ……

By Jo Marshall, CVT, NREMT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist at Pet Poison Helpline®

Dog and PillOn many, many occasions we get calls from a well meaning pet owner that has given their pet something or the pet has gotten into something that seems so ordinary that how can it possibly be a concern?  Here are some of the “hidden toxins” or unexpected poison concern for our pets.

Pepto Bismol is one of the frequent flyers on this list. Who would have thought that something that is meant to settle one’s stomach would cause huge concerns in dogs and cats.  Most people are unaware that Pepto Bismol contains Bismuth Subsalicylate, better know as aspirin. Aspirin can result in gastrointestinal distress, ulcers, and damage to the liver and kidneys.

Aspirin is hiding a lot of things listed as some sort of salicylate (i.e. methyl salicylate, Benzyl salicylate, etc., etc., there is a boat load of them). So, where do we see salicylates hiding?  Not surprisingly it is seen in arthritis creams and topical pain creams. Really any topical anti-inflammatory cream is very likely to contain this ingredient. Some products that can contain salicylates that are a little more of a surprise are sunscreens, shampoos, acne medications, topical wart removal and corn removal medications, some make-up and concealer products and Oil of Wintergreen – cats are highly sensitive to this one. Trust me; there are a whole lot more, these are just the more common ones that we get calls about or that we can see significant concerns with toxicity.

Another hidden toxicity lately seems to be xylitol! Most people are aware of the fact that sugar-free gums and mints generally contain xylitol. But lately it is cropping up everywhere. Xylitol reduces dental tooth decay, reduces plaque formation and has a significantly lower calorie count than many sweeteners. So given the dental health benefits, it is natural to find it in gums, mints, dental products, toddler training toothpastes, dental rinses, dental floss,  etc.  We are also finding it in vitamins (especially children’s gummy vitamins), medications, sinus/nasal  sprays, and all types of candies, chocolates, caramels, and sweetener packets.  This is by no means a complete list and with most exposures that we deal with, we have the philosophy that it is in everything until proven otherwise.

Why do we get so concerned about xylitol? Well, it can result in a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and in high-enough doses; we can see it cause liver damage. This is not one to mess around with because it can kill your dog! When looking at the label, look for xylitol or sugar alcohol on some products. It does not have to be a sugar-free product because we have found it in products that contain sugar. Some of the products that contain xylitol do not list the amount as this may be a proprietary ingredient, but they still may be toxic to your dog! It is one of those things that are all about the dose! When in doubt, give us a call and we can calculate the dose and determine the level of danger for your dog.

ALA or Alpha Lipoeic Acid – yikes! This is a deadly one for dogs and cats! Cats are very sensitive to ALA, ten times more sensitive than dogs!  What do we see with ingestions of ALA? Common signs are hypoglycemia or a drop in blood sugar, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, damage to liver and kidneys and death. Where do we find alpha lipoeic acid? It is an antioxidant and can be found in vitamins and dietary supplements, beauty products, and some diabetes medications. It can be listed on the label as ALA, alpha lipoeic acid,  Alpha-Lipoic Acid Extract, A Lipoeic acid,  or any version of ALA. When in doubt, this one needs to be checked out because of the very serious risks associated with this ingredient even with small ingestions!

Raisins, grapes and currants are getting to be more commonly known as a toxin to dogs. We can see renal failure with ingestion of even small amounts of raisins and grapes in dogs. But it is where we are seeing these ingredients crop up that are increasing the risks with exposure in dogs!  We have recently found raisin juice in whole wheat/grain breads, raisin paste is being found in granola bars, energy bars, breakfast bars, cookies and fruit cakes. We even saw some chocolates that contained currants and raisins with some of the exposures that we recently had over our Valentine’s Day chocolate rush! Watch the label for any ingredients that include, raisin, grape or currant. Many times these are used as a concentrate and can be very difficult to quantify but given that they can result in renal failure, these exposures need to be addressed immediately!

Batteries – we all know that batteries are very harmful to our pets when they are chewed or ingested because of the serious risks with corrosive injuries. But we do seem to forget the things that dogs can chew up that have batteries. We pick the pieces of that chewed television remote and discard it without thinking about the batteries. Electronics are a part of our every day lives and we seem to forget about the batteries in these exposures. We can find batteries in  everything from remote controls, children’s toys, medical devices such as glucose monitoring devices, cameras, cell phones, hearing aids and tools to name a few. When you have an electronic that has been chewed and taken apart, make sure you account for the batteries, too!

Lastly, let’s talk about those medications that we may give our pets because they are painful or have a health concern. I think the one that stands out in my mind more than any other is Naproxen (Aleve). We recently had a case where an owner ran out of their pet’s pain medication after a surgical procedure. They wanted their pet to be comfortable and meant no harm and gave the dog naproxen. Naproxen causes ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract and renal failure. In this situation a few doses amounted to serious renal damage. It is heart breaking to us to see these cases and our response to the caring pet owners that we speak with every day, please do not give your pet any medication that is not prescribed for your dog without checking it out with your veterinarian first!