Poisonous to Pets: Common Household Toxins
August 09, 2012
For the past two weeks, Pet Talks have addressed poisonous foods
and medications common in most homes. This week the focus is on
miscellaneous poisonous items around the house including plants,
pennies, and insecticides.
There are several plants that can be toxic to pets. Lilies, for
example, are toxic to cats. The ingestion of any part of any type
of lily can lead to kidney failure. The clinical signs can include
vomiting, depression, or loss of appetite. If you suspect your cat
of ingesting lilies, you should contact your veterinarian
immediately. There is no antidote, and intense supportive care is
needed for cats to recover.
Also, sago palms are a common decorative house plant that is
toxic to pets. The seeds, leaves, and cones of the plant can cause
acute liver failure. The most common symptoms are vomiting,
diarrhea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of the skin and eyes.
"If your pet ingests sago, and they show the clinical signs of
poisoning, the prognosis is guarded to poor" Dr. Dorothy Black,
clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM),
explained. "There is no antidote and supportive care is extensive
and includes blood transfusions."
While lilies and sago palms are very toxic, Black explained that
poinsettias are usually "non" to "mildly" toxic. Pets ingesting
this plant either have no clinical signs or gastrointestinal
"Poinsettias are usually referred to as highly toxic, but they
really aren't," Black said. "So feel free to display the
poinsettias at Christmas!"
It may be surprising to some people, but pennies minted after
1981 contain significant quantities of the metal zinc. When
ingested, excess zinc is absorbed through the gastrointestinal
tract and causes red blood cells to break apart. Pets, then, become
anemic showing signs of lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, port/wine
colored urine, and yellowing of the skin and gums.
"Removal of the penny and aggressive supportive care with blood
transfusions usually allows for a successful recovery," Black
Chemicals and Insecticides
A dangerous chemical common in many garages is Ethylene glycol.
It is found in radiator coolants, brake fluids, and many other
household products. When ingested it causes the pet to appear
intoxicated and, as the toxin is metabolized, it leads to kidney
failure. Although there are medications that can inhibit the toxin
and prevent kidney failure, it must be administered within the
first three to six hours post-ingestion. If kidney injury is
already present prognosis is guarded, but with immediate treatment
prognosis is good.
Ant bait is used extensively in Texas, especially pyrethrin and
pyrethroid containing products. When ingested in significant
quantities, these chemicals can cause total body tremors and
seizures in cats and dogs, and their body temperatures can become
markedly elevated. Supportive care, including muscle relaxants and
anti-seizure medications, are required until the pet can metabolize
"Not all ant baits contain pyrethrins, some are safe for pets,"
Black said. "Read the labels carefully before you make a
Other insecticides that contain organophosphates are highly
toxic substances. When ingested these insecticides can cause severe
clinical reactions, including salivation, tearing, urination,
defecation, vomiting, respiratory distress, tremors, seizures, and
"Drugs exist to counteract the toxin and are used in addition to
extensive supportive care," Black said. "But successful recoveries
require prompt treatment."
Rat bait is another household danger. It is offered in three
main varieties: anticoagulant, bromethalin, and vitamin D analog
(cholecalciferol). All three types can lead to death of dogs
and cats that ingest them. Anticoagulant rodentecides
(brodifacoum, bromadiolone, warfarin) lead to uncontrollable
bleeding. Although there is no antidote, if the pet is
brought immediately to the veterinarian, treatment and
decontamination can prevent bleeding from accidental ingestion.
Bromethalin toxicity leads to progressive neurologic signs such as
difficulty walking and can progress to seizures and death. There is
no antidote, only supportive care. Also, cholecalciferol bait
causes renal failure and is highly toxic. As with bromethalin,
there is no antidote, only supportive care. Dialysis can be
attempted if clinical signs are present.
"If you think your pet has ingested any of these toxic
substances, contact your veterinarian immediately. Treating your
pet quickly after ingestion is key to a successful recovery," Black
For additional information on substances that are toxic to pets,
please consult the resources below.
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
$65 consultation fee
Pet Poison Hotline
$39 consultation fee per incident
ABOUT PET TALK
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be
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