Common Canine and Feline Toxicities
By Trey Stephenson
Most dog and cat owners are aware that certain substances are toxic to their pets. However, it may be both surprising and enlightening to know what the most commonly occurring pet toxicities actually are. There is an abundance of substances that can be not only toxic, but even fatal to our pets. In order to simplify things, these toxicities can be broken down into four categories which will encompass most, if not all, toxicities encountered and most certainly the commonly occurring ones. These four categories include medications, food items, chemicals, and others.
The first category is definitely one of the most widely occurring toxicities although not something we may immediately think of when imagining toxic substances. Pets can receive an overdose of a medication which when used properly should be safe to them. In excessive amounts; however, the same medication can go from being therapeutic to highly toxic. An example of this is pyrethrin and pyrethroid insecticides, that are often found in flea treatments and shampoos, which can be toxic to dogs if more than the proper dosage is administered. Human medication is very often a cause of pet toxicity. Many people are aware that prescription medication may be harmful for their pets, but even over-the-counter drugs such as Advil and Tylenol can be toxic. Cats are especially sensitive to acetaminophen which is the active ingredient in Tylenol. It is always best to assume that all medications have the potential for toxicity in our pets and it is important to store them in a location in which they are unable to access them.
Another category of toxic substances is food items. Some of these toxicities are well known while others are rarely talked about at all. Chocolate is one that likely comes to our minds when imagining a toxic food item. Chocolate indeed is quite dangerous for pets as it contains theobromine and is capable of causing severe side effects and even death to dogs and cats with relatively low amounts of ingestion. One other food item that is less often mentioned, but extremely dangerous as well is something called xylitol, which is an artificial sweetener used in chewing gum and other foods as well. Dogs in particular are quite sensitive to the effects of xylitol and it can cause them to have extremely low blood sugar levels and severe liver damage, even liver failure and death.
Chemicals of various types are another sub-category that can contain several frequently encountered toxicities of dogs and cats. This category contains numerous toxic agents, but two of the most observed problems come from ethylene glycol and rodenticides. Ethylene glycol is sold in stores as antifreeze and is found in many people’s garages or used in their cars. Dogs will readily consume dangerous amounts of it if they are able to find it. This toxin can cause permanent kidney damage and death. It is important to store this chemical in a safe place where no pet can access it and to regularly check under your vehicles to ensure that there are no pools of any kind of fluid which could potentially be antifreeze. Rodenticides are another word for rat poison. These products are not only deadly to rodents, but also to our pets. It is best to consider using other methods of rodent control in order to ensure that your pets have no way of coming into contact with it.
Other toxicities include everything that doesn’t fit neatly into the previous three categories. Plants fall into this category except for those which are used for food items used in pet food or that are safe for pets. Sago palm trees are highly toxic to dogs although many people aren’t aware of this. If you have pets it is best to avoid keeping these plants in areas where your pet can reach them. Heavy metal poisoning is also a frequent occurrence with pets. Dogs commonly eat pennies and modern pennies coined after 1982 are predominantly made of zinc. Zinc is highly toxic in large quantities. While it is difficult to avoid using pennies it is best to store them in areas where your pets cannot reach them.
The purpose of this article was to highlight some of the most commonly occurring canine and feline toxicities and not to provide a complete list of all of the possible toxins. There are an abundance which are not listed here, but it is important to remember that any substance unless otherwise known has the potential to be toxic to pets.
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