Top 10 Dog Toxins of 2014

By Jo Marshall, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

The Stats of Pet Poison Helpline®!

Every year we run the statistics on the calls we take here at Pet Poison Helpline®. How may exposures, what types of exposures, what specifically by species do we see in the bulk of our calls. This helps us in what we do in several ways. First and foremost is education! We educate our staff and have monthly continuing education  and a good deal of that time is dedicated to the newer toxins that come to light along with evolving and more successful treatments for those more common or ever changing toxins that we deal with daily. The second part of this education is for the pet owning public and the veterinary staff that we work with every day. If we can educate you, the pet owning public and your veterinarian, we can help limit these exposures. Sometimes it is impossible to eliminate the exposure, but with providing the education that we do, many more pet owners know where the risks lie and get treatment in a timely basis and we can change the prognosis from poor  to excellent for that poisoned pet!

So let’s start with the dogs! Yikes – what these guys get into everyday, unbelievable!  I am not surprised at the top call that we get for dogs after my last phone shift when I had a dog that ingested a 3 pound milk chocolate Valentine Heart! Yep – you got it!

Duke chocolateNumber 1 is Chocolate and it is the number one most prevalent call that we get for dogs! There is dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, bakers chocolate, cocoa powder, brownies and chocolate upon chocolate! And the dogs find them all! We see huge increases in chocolate ingestion calls at Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter – I guess that means dogs celebrate these holidays, too! In all seriousness, if there is chocolate anywhere within reach, your dog can and will eat it. Chocolate ingestions can be very serious for dogs. Keep in mind that that signs of chocolate toxicity may be delayed by many hours, especially with large ingestions. We can see signs occur many hours after ingestion. Once we see clinical signs, they need veterinary care. Chocolate toxicity is one of those exposures that is best treated before signs occur and can hopefully be prevented.

Number 2 on the list is Rodenticides. More specifically rat and mouse poisons.  Most people believe that dogs will not eat poisons or things that taste bad. Most rodenticides are treated with something that makes rodenticides bitter to prevent children from ingesting them. That does not work for dogs and they certainly do not read the label. I believe that any dog is capable of eating these products. The reason may be different than you think,  but most dogs are hunters by nature. That block of rodenticide can sit in that corner for 6 months with your dog never showing any interest and as soon as it is visited by a mouse, it has a whole new smell and attraction for your dog!

Number 3 is Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen.  Some of these exposures are accidental and some are not. We get many calls were these drugs are administered to the dog by a well-meaning pet owner desperate to find some comfort for a painful pet.  Please check with your veterinarian before you give your dog any medication!  A dog is not a small person and they are not tolerant to some of the medications that we tolerate well. That being said put your medications, your purse, your workout bag and backpack out of reach! We have many, many exposures that occur when the purse is set within reach and it has a plastic baggie of Ibuprofen pills stashed inside. I do not know why, but that seems to be the first thing your dog will eat!

Number 4 would be Insecticidal Products such as ant bait stations. Depending on the active ingredient, ant bait stations are generally not a huge concern. They almost always contain a food source. Why else would ants visit them? This food source can drive your dog to get pretty aggressive with chewing these bait stations. We have had calls with dogs eating boxes of these little gems and plastic ingestion can be a real concern!

Gum PackNumber 5 on the hit parade is Xylitol! Oh xylitol – where will we find you next! Xylitol is a sugar-free sweetener that is expanding its scope almost daily. It is very popular because is promotes dental health in sugar-free products. Originally, this consisted of gums, mints, and dental products. Now we are finding it in vitamins, food, candy, and prescription and non-prescription medications, and a whole lot more! This is one of those ingredients that require us to put on our detective hats almost daily. We never know where it will show up. Last week I found it in dental floss and a decongestant nasal spray.

Number 6 would be Household Cleaners. This group contains every thing from toilet bowl cleaners, bleach, antibacterial spray, disinfectant products are a few. Basically it includes anything that you use in your home to clean. Recently laundry pods have become more of a concern as they gain popularity. Our human poison control colleagues identified a huge increase in exposures to the laundry pods likely because of how candy like they appear to children. They have devastating affects because of the concentration of the laundry detergent in the pods, but also because they are easily aspirated or inhaled into the lungs when chewed by both children and pets.  We see signs as minor as gastrointestinal upset to burns and pneumonia.  That being said, all cleaning products have potential risks to our pets when ingested or with dermal exposure so they are best kept out of reach of  children and pets alike!

Number 7 would be Antidepressants!  As use of antidepressants has increased in both people and pets, so has the number of accidental exposures in our pets. Some of these exposures are simply a dropped pill but others are entire bottles of pills being ingested.  Regardless, this is one of those medications that is all about dose. The higher the dose, the bigger the problem!  We can see a myriad of clinical signs with these drugs and specifically with the SSRI class of antidepressants,  we can see lethargy, ataxia (walking like they are drunk)   sedation, agitation, tremors (whole body shaking), vocalization, hyperthermia (fever), mydriasis (dilated pupils) , vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heat beats) , tachypnea (panting), weakness, and possibly seizures.

Number 8 is Fertilizers and Plant Food.  Our yard/garden product exposure season is just starting! Yes,   we have seasons in poison control. This is the time of year where people are putting fertilizers on their yards in hopes of that lush green landscape with no weeds. Dogs tend to be our heavy-hitters in this exposure although; it is not exclusive to dogs. In my humble opinion, I believe we have seen an increase in this type of exposure in recent years because of the organic products that we are now using. Many of the organic products contain animal meals of some sort. These may be bone meal, blood meal, feather meal, fish meal, etc., the list goes on and on.  Remember that dogs are carnivores by nature and it is right up their alley to eat these products and eat very large quantities.  They tear open bags in the garage and lick it out of your garden when you fertilize your plants.  Many of these are not poisonous, unless iron is listed on the ingredient list but because of the large quantities ingested, they can cause gastrointestinal upset and most significantly, we see these form obstructions. They are not digestible and literally form stones in the digestive tract. Unfortunately, many of these end up being surgical cases to remove the obstruction.

GrapesNumber 9 – Grapes and Raisins! This is one of those frustrating exposures for us.  Why, you ask? Well, for a few reasons. First, we do not know the toxic component or principle of raisins or grapes. We just know that it can cause renal failure.  Because of the seriousness of acute renal failure – all of these are potentially life-threatening. The second frustrating fact about raisins and grapes is that they do not seem to affect every dog and we cannot predict which dog will be affect. Consequently, every exposure is considered potentially life threatening.   Thirdly, it is another one of those ingredients that are showing up in unusual places.  Last week I had a dog that ingested a granola bar and the owner called because she was concerned about the chocolate. The chocolate was not enough to be a concern but as I went over the ingredient list, I found raisin paste listed and the dog needed to go into his veterinarian for care to protect and monitor his kidney function for a few days. The key here is that no matter the quantity, if your dog is the dog that will be affected by raisins or grapes, this is life-threatening.

Number 10 is Dewormer Products!  Dogs are not small cattle or small horses and should never be given horse or cattle deworming products.  They may contain the same active ingredients but the concentration can be 100 times the concentration that is safe for a dog.  These exposures occur can occur in several ways but the most common would be  with owners using cattle or  horse products to deworm their dog. Other exposures that are common are with horse owner’s deworming their horse and the paste is spit out and the dog laps it up off the barn floor,  or the medication is within reach of the dog and the container is chewed and a large dose is ingested.  These are terrible cases to manage and the call from the owner is usually very distressing because one of the clinical signs can be acute blindness.  As we explore possible exposure histories with these distraught owners and come to the dewormer, owners are always surprised at the severity of the toxicity and the clinical signs.  These are life threatening exposure so again; please do not administer any medication to your dog without first checking with your veterinarian.

There you have it – the Top 10 Toxicants for dogs for 2014!  If you have dogs, hopefully this will serve as a great educational opportunity to avoid these common exposures or if you have an exposure, please call (800-213-6680). We are the experts and would be happy to help you determine if your pet needs care at home or if they need to see their veterinarian. We have your back 24/7!