Vet Chat #5 Common poisons

“Don’t feed avocadoes to dogs and cats because they are poisonous” does the rounds fairly predictably this time of year. Really?? The toxin in avocadoes, persin, which is especially toxic to birds and cattle, is not reported to be toxic to dogs or cats anywhere in the literature that I can see. I have surveyed a number of my colleagues and no-one has seen or treated an avocado poisoning in dogs or cats, although more than a few have removed the pit surgically from the intestines of pooches who have swallowed it whole (beware mango seeds as well!). While we’re discussing poisoning myths here’s another one: “Don’t feed lettuce to rabbits”. Lettuces are full of water and not very nutritional, so should not form a large part of the diet of bunnies, but it is quite OK for them to eat some every now and then. Lettuces don’t contain laudanum or any other toxin – this is often said but it is untrue.

So what everyday foods should we be wary of?

  1. Grapes, sultanas, raisins and currants can, but don’t always, cause acute kidney failure in dogs and cats. We are not quite sure of the toxic principle involved, and it may even be a fungal bloom. If your pet has eaten the raisin toast, please contact us.
  2. Lillies are highly toxic to cats and can be toxic to dogs as well. Pets suffer acute and sometimes fatal renal failure by even drinking the water collecting at the bottom of a lily pot.
  3. Chocolate contains theobromine in dogs this can cause gastrointestinal signs, hyperactivity, seizures and sometimes even death. Dark chocolate is the worst and as little as one to two squares can be toxic to a 10 kg dog. In addition, the high fat content of chocolate can bring on an attack of pancreatitis. If your dog has eaten chocolate, and you can estimate how much, there are handy on line calculators to predict severity of signs to expect. Ring us for phone advice on this one.
  4. Macadamia nuts contain an unknown poison that can cause ataxia (wobbly gait) and gastrointestinal signs in dogs– usually self-resolving over 2 – 3 days. Are cats affected? This has not been reported, but that may be because no cat so far has been silly enough to eat enough of the nuts…
  5. Paracetamol can cause liver failure and also kidney failure in small animals – please don’t medicate your pets with human drugs without our advice, and contact us if you think your pet needs pain relief.
  6. Lead – dogs and cats will eat old fishing sinkers that have been left lying around if they smell fishy enough. Lead poisoning causes gastrointestinal signs but also neurological signs which can present in many different ways. Some old houses dating back to the ‘50’s still have areas of lead based paint that animals can lick or chew – although this is very uncommon these days. We can treat lead and heavy metal poisonings but the best approach is prevention.
  7. Xylitol – a low calorie sweetening agent that is used more and more widely sugar-free chewing gum, lollies, breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, mouthwash, and toothpaste.  Xylitol is harmless to people,  but even small amounts  can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure or even death in dogs. Toxic doses have been estimated at 100mg/kg, which can be as little as 2 pieces of chewing gum to a twenty kg dog. Signs include vomiting weakness incoordination (difficulty walking or standing) depression or lethargy tremors, seizures and coma. Notify us immediately if you suspect xylitol poisoning !! There is no specific antidote, but we can give a glucose supplement, fluids and supportive care, and , depending upon how much xylitol has been ingested, we would hope to pull them through.