Dana Farbman, ASPCA Senior Manager, Professional Communications and Dr. Eric Dunayer, ASPCA Senior Veterinary ToxicologistMarch 20, 2008
Our furry friends are near and dear to our hearts, but sometimes they get too close for comfort to poisonous substances and other household dangers. In March 2008, in honor of National Poison Prevention Week, we invited Dana Farbman and Dr. Eric Dunayer of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center to answer some of your questions about toxic foods and products on our online community.
What are the signs of antifreeze poisoning? Is it curable? I ask because my cats live indoors and outdoors, and sometimes they like to leave the yard.
The signs of ethylene glycol antifreeze poisoning really depend on the amount of time that has lapsed since ingestion. Thirty minutes to an hour after ingesting antifreeze, grogginess, disorientation and lethargy may occur. The initial signs for ethylene glycol antifreeze may look like drunkenness. (The chemical ethylene glycol looks very much like ethanolthe chemical found in drinking alcoholto the body.) Vomiting, diarrhea and ultimately kidney failure will follow 12 to 24 hours later. Since there is a narrow window of opportunity for managing antifreeze poisoning before kidney damage occurs, it is critical to get your pet to a veterinarian for prompt treatment.
Is it true that Hartz flea products are dangerous? We recently purchased Hartz bird food for our parrot, and worried that it may also pose a health risk.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center receives calls regarding animals exposed to many different brands of flea and tick preparations. The potential for problems depends on a variety of factors, including but not limited to: the health status of the animal, species and or breed sensitivities, appropriate use of the product in question and the dose of the substance. Because of this, we strive to assess any suspected adverse effects from a product's ingredients on an individual basis, rather than make a generalization about the product itself.
The bird seed product you purchased for your bird should not pose a health risk from a toxicology or poison control perspective. If you are concerned about the nutritional quality of the product, your best bet for good information would be an avian veterinarian, who’s knowledgeable in the area of bird nutrition.
What are the effects of dogs eating cigarettes? And is it only the theobromine in chocolate that affects dogs, or do they have a problem with all dairy products? Thank you!
Cigarettes contain nicotine. If a dog eats too much tobacco, symptoms include vomiting, agitation, diarrhea and increased breathing rate. The dog can then develop weakness, muscle twitching, decreased breathing rate, and finally collapse, coma and possibly death.
Chocolates contain theobromine and, to a lesser amount, caffeine, a closely related chemical. Since most chocolates are also high in fat and sugar, we may also see an upset stomach and diarrhea. In severe cases, a dog might develop a condition called pancreatitis in which the pancreas becomes inflamed.
I'm a longtime cat mom, but I'll be getting my first dog soon. My cats are pretty finicky and don't get into garbage, but I know dogs are notorious for eating anything and everything! What else should I watch out for? Thanks!
Congratulations on the impending arrival of your new dog, Pune! Whether you’re adopting a puppy or an older dog, canine companions are intelligent and highly curious individuals who like to investigate new things with their mouths. Because of this, it is important to make sure that you "pet-proof" your home before your new furry family member's arrival. Here are a few tips:
Keep all medications for humans and pets in a secure cabinet above the countertop; childproof containers are unfortunately not dog-proof. Also, never give your pet any medication without the supervision of a veterinarian.
Be sure to read and follow all label instructions before using household cleaners, lawn and garden products or other chemicals to make sure you are using them appropriately in your pet's environment.
Get familiar with the plants in and around your home; keep any poisonous plants in an area away from pets, or consider replacing them with a nontoxic variety.
For more helpful tips on making your home safe for your new dog, be sure to visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center online.
When is it appropriate to induce a dog or cat to vomit, and what's the proper way to do so? Thank you!
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer about when to induce vomiting in a dog or cat. At the Poison Center, we consider many different things before we decide to induce vomiting. Things like the age and health of the animal, what was eaten, amount consumed, etc. There are substance like caustics, corrosives and petroleum distillates for which we don’t induce vomiting. I would recommend consulting with a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center before inducing vomiting to see if it is the proper thing to do.
For dogs, we use three-percent hydrogen peroxide at home. I don't recommend it for cats; they are more sensitive to hydrogen peroxide and can develop bleeding in their stomachs.
By the way, sticking a finger down a dog or cat's throat will not get him or her to vomit. But it could get you bitten.
I was recently treated for chronic exposure to lead that left me in a neuromuscular nightmare. Finally with the right treatment I have improved greatly. I think this is an area in animals that has long been ignored. What can you say about such exposure in animals, since I am sure it has been given little consideration?
I'm glad to hear you are doing better. Actually we do consider heavy metal exposures to animals. Dogs and cats may be more sensitive to such exposures because they are smaller than people. Also, especially with cats, heavy metal dust that gets on their coats is likely to be ingested when they groom.
Generally, if we diagnose a case of lead or other heavy metal toxicity in an animal in the house, we recommend the people be tested, too. And if a person is diagnosed, we recommend the animals be tested as well. Often when we have an animal who is sick with vague signs, we will recommend a heavy metal screen.
What can I tell people when they ask what cleaning products won't hurt their pets? Thanks so much!
Hi Michele! Most cleaning products can be used in households with pets, provided they follow label instructions for appropriate use. For example, if directions for a floor cleaner advise allowing the area to dry thoroughly before allowing pets or people back in, it is important to follow this direction in order to prevent accidental exposuresnot to mention a smudgy floor!
In addition, if using a cleaning product, make sure the container is out of reach of your pets, so they don't tip it over or end up lapping up its contents.
Is a solution of 20 Mule Team Borax in one gallon of water safe to use for cleaning and disinfecting around cats? I need to disinfect a room where a cat with ringworm has been.
As with any household cleaner, it is important to follow the product label instructions to ensure that you are using it appropriately. Provided it’s acceptable for use as a floor cleaner, and you dilute it according to the label as well as let the area dry thoroughly, we would not expect problems for your cat reentering the area.
I recently moved into an older home, and I'm worried about lead toxicity and my cat. Are there specific symptoms for which I should be on the lookout? Thanks!
Depending on the remodeling history of the building in question, not all structures older than 29 years contain lead paint. If you are concerned, you may want to verify the presence of lead by having the paint tested. The Environmental Protection Agency offers information to tenants and home owners about the hazards of lead, testing to verify the presence of it and what can be done to reduce the risk of exposure: www.epa.gov/lead
Depending on the circumstances of exposure, lead can be a significant threat to pets. Exposure to lead can occur through the ingestion of paint chips or inhalation of the dust produced when surfaces are scraped or sanded. Cats and dogs who have been exposed to large enough quantities of lead may exhibit gastrointestinal signs, behavior changes, signs of anemia and/or neurologic effects. A blood lead test is helpful in making a diagnosis, but lead levels may not indicate the total body burden of lead. We would recommend speaking with your cat's veterinarian about your concerns to get advice specific to your situation.
My two cats are big chewers, particularly of computer paper, newspaper and cardboard boxes. Other than the chewing being harmful to my sanity, is it harmful to them? Thanks!
Ingesting cardboard could be potentially harmful to your cats, especially if they swallow large amounts. These pieces could become lodged in the throat, posing a choking hazard, or could potentially lead to an intestinal obstruction. We would recommend not allowing your cats to chew on cardboard or anything other than a pet-safe chew toy.
I believe my horses ate a weed called "Fiddlenecks.” What should I do?
Fiddlenecks (Amsinckia spp.) can be a problem for horses. The weed contains chemicals known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids that damage the liver. A horse would have to eat a fair amount of the plant, including the seeds, which are the most toxic. The toxin's effects are cumulative, so a single feeding shouldn't pose a problem. It takes time to cause enough injury to the liver to manifest problems. It is best, of course, to prevent further exposure. Once the horse shows signs, there is no specific treatment.
I’ve heard people suggest sprinkling cayenne pepper around the yard to keep out cats. We have a problem with some neighbors’ cats, but we also have a dog. If we use cayenne in our yard, and the dog eats it, would she get hurt?
Eating cayenne peppers can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Eating very large amounts may be very irritating to the mouth, stomach and intestines, and can result in bleeding of the stomach or intestine. It is best to avoid it.
I’ve been told that any type of air freshener is bad for your cat. Is this true, and why?
Air freshener products can be used in households with cats or dogs, provided they are not sprayed or used in close proximity to the animal, and there is adequate ventilation in the room. If your cat has a history of respiratory problems such as feline asthma or allergies, please consult with your regular veterinarian to determine if using an air freshener is acceptable.
If you suspect your dog has bloat, is it a good idea to give him Gas-X (simethicone) on your way to the vet? Depending on the type of pill (gel cap, liquid or tablet), there are different ingredients listed like sorbitol, xantham gum, etc. Are these other ingredients safe for my dog? Thank you!
Gas-X is not likely to help a dog with bloat. It tends to break up little bubbles of gas, while a dog with bloat generally has a large accumulation of gas in his stomach. With bloat, the most important thing is to get the dog to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
What roach killers (if any) are safe to use around cats?
Roach killing sprays and baits, when used per label instructions, should not pose a problem for cats. Be sure to remove pet food bowls and toys before application, avoid over-spraying and allow treated areas to dry thoroughly.
In the case of baits, take care to place the bait stations in an area that can be reached by the bugs but not your cats. Areas such as secure cabinets behind your dishes, under the sink or at the back of your pantry are typically suitable for placement.
Last year many pets died and the cause was traced to wheat gluten in dog food. I also noticed that rice often has gluten. Isn’t rice of great nutritional value for dogs? Is it okay to give them rice and chicken?
Wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate were two key feed ingredients involved in the pet food recall crisis of 2007. Specific chemicals were added to them to make them appear to be of higher quality. The added chemicals were harmful, not the gluten itself. For a complete list of recalled foods and updated information, please visit the FDA website.
A diet of cooked rice and chicken can be eaten by dogs, but please consult with your dog’s regular veterinarian to get advice on the most appropriate diet that will meet his nutritional needs. Rice itself is not considered to be poisonous.
Do you know if there are any toxins that would cause sudden blindness?
There are certain toxins that may cause sudden blindness, but the condition is usually temporary. An antibiotic enrofloxacin (also known as Baytril) can cause blindness in cats. Ivermectin and isoniazid can also cause blindness, as well as other symptoms such as weakness, unsteadiness, and tremors and seizures, respectively.
My cocker spaniel went blind permanently, and I don’t know why. Is it common for cockers to go blind as they get older?
There are several reasons for blindness in dogs. Cocker spaniels are prone to glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye) and cataracts (whitening of the lens), both of which can cause blindness.
Does chocolate really kill dogs? What’s in it that’s so harmful?
Depending on the form involved, chocolate can contain high amounts of fat and caffeine-like substances known as methylxanthines. If ingested in significant amounts, chocolate can potentially produce clinical effects ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death in severe cases.
Typically, if the chocolate is darker it has a higher potential for clinical problems. White chocolate has the lowest methylxanthine content, while baking chocolate contains the highest. As little as 20 ounces of milk chocolate, or two ounces of baking chocolate, can cause serious problems in a ten-pound dog.
While white chocolate may not have the same potential as darker forms to cause methylxanthine poisoning, its high fat content can still lead to vomiting and diarrhea, as well as the possible development of life-threatening pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition of the pancreas.
Because of the potential for problems, it’s a good idea to keep chocolate goodies away from your pets.
Can poison ivy hurt my dog?
Usually a dog's coat protects him from toxic oils in poison ivy. However, the oils can remain on the coat and rub off on you, which is how my dog gave me poison ivy!
Is secondhand smoke really dangerous for pets, or is my dog an exception to the rule?
There are some indications that secondhand smoke can be a problem for dogs. Those with long noses may get cancer of the nose, where the toxins concentrate, while short-nosed dogs may be more prone to lung cancer. In any case, secondhand smoke can be a problem for dogs just as it for people.
In ailing cats, especially ones who already have asthma, smoke can aggravate their condition.