By: Wade Matthews, DVM
Both dogs and cats explore their world with their mouths. We see a lot of problems with pets ingesting things that are not meant to be eaten. They do not have the cognitive function to think about the consequences of their actions. Their motto is “if it looks or smells good eat it.” Some of the common poisons that present to a veterinarian are ethylene glycol (antifreeze), xylitol, chocolate and grapes.
One of the most common poisons that we see in practice is ethylene glycol (antifreeze) intoxication. This liquid has a sweet taste to it and pets love it. The chemical that lowers the freezing point of your radiator causes havoc with your pet’s kidneys after it makes them look like they are drunk. They will stumble and seem demented and sometimes will have vomiting, diarrhea or seizures. When ingested it causes the liver to change the alcohol in the anti-freeze to a solution that ultimately ends up as oxalic acid and aldehyde which are very toxic to the kidneys. The treatment for the disease if we can diagnose it soon enough is to give them intravenous ethanol. That is why we keep a bottle of vodka at the clinic, for anti-freeze treatment only of course. This treatment gives the liver something else to do so it can’t work on the anti-freeze and the poison is excreted. Some of the common poisons that are caused by well-meaning owners when they give their pet a “treat” are xylitol, chocolate, and grapes.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute that is used in gum and candies. It acts like insulin and It causes low blood sugar in dogs which can turn into seizures and death. It does not cause problems in cats. If it says “sugar-free” don’t give it to your dog or cat to be safe. This is not true of sucralose or maltodextrose.
Most all homes have chocolate in the form of candy or baking items. It contains methylxanthines, theobromine, and caffeine which if ingested in high enough concentration will cause increase heart rate, increase breathing rate, increase blood pressure and life-threatening heart arrthymias. Milk chocolate has much less of the poison than cocoa powder or Baker’s and dark chocolate, but to be safe no chocolate is safest. Thankfully milk chocolate needs to be eaten in fairly large amounts to cause life-threatening problems, but even a small amount of dark chocolate can create an issue. The mildest symptoms may be some nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea but it can progress to a life-threatening problem for your pet. Please do not feel safe about knowingly given them to your pet.
Grapes cause the same type of clinical signs as anti-freeze, but the exact chemical is still in question. It leads to kidney failure. While most reports involve the ingestion of large amounts of grapes there is one report where ingestion of 0.7oz of grapes lead to intoxication (kidney disease). So a no grapes or raisins policy is best.
Many of our owners have medical conditions of their own and need to take medicine for them. Many of these drugs we use in veterinary medicine, but a dogs mentality when something is dropped on the floor is “eat it fast before the mean owner takes away my treat.” There is a tremendous size difference in the vast majority of our pets and their owners, so dosing is quite different and at too high a dose most all medicines can cause a problem. Always read the label on medication to verify that the right species is getting the right drug.
Veterinarians are very helpful in answering questions about common poisons in pets. Your pet’s doctor also has the resources to investigate the less common intoxicants as well. There are actually veterinarians who specialize in handling these concerns and they are available to your doctor 24
hours a day. Despite all those resources, the best way to avoid problems is to avoid exposing your furry family to any of the items mentioned or anything your doctor has not discussed with you as a treat or medication!