Common Toxin Emergencies

November 12, 2018

Common Toxin Emergencies

Long weekends always remind me of the most common emergencies seen by veterinarians.    

Dogs, particularly puppies tend to chew things up and ask questions later. Cats are more investigative, so prefer to eat plants rather than food substances.  I thought I’d review a few just to remind you what you should be keeping away from your companions to avoid medical emergencies

Chocolate toxicities are very common, especially around Easter and Christmas. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa beans and cocoa butter and contains theobromine and caffeine. Mild effects of small amounts of chocolate are vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy, but larger doses can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate, tremors and potentially death when ingested at a toxic dose. 

The general rule is the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it could be.   . Call your veterinarian with as many details as possible with the amount and type of chocolate that has been consumed and he/she will let you know if medical care is needed. Typically this consists of making your dog vomit, giving activated charcoal to prevent further absorption, supportive care and monitoring. is a chocolate toxicity calculator that can come in handy as well. 

Onions (including garlic, leeks, shallots and chives) can cause damage to the red blood cells in both dogs and cats. This toxicity is most commonly seen when a dog or cat is fed a small amount over time with their meals, perhaps with table scraps, gravies, etc.  Clinical signs may be weakness, pale mucous membranes, vomiting and diarrhea. 

Macadamia Nuts may cause gastrointestinal upset, weakness, tremors and increased body temperature in dogs. These signs typically occur within 12 hours of ingestion.  With support, the prognosis in most case is extremely good and most dogs return to normal within 24-48 hours. 

Rising Bread Dough can be life threatening. The animal’s body heat will cause the dough to rise in the stomach. Ethanol is produced during the rising process and the dough can expand exponentially.  Signs could be extreme abdominal pain and bloating, retching or vomiting, weakness and lethargy. Immediate medical attention is required as sometimes cool water can halt the rising process before it causes an intestinal obstruction and surgery is required. 

Grapes and Raisins has been shown to cause kidney failure in dogs when eaten in quantity.  The amount and the mechanism by which it cause toxicity is unknown, so any amount could potentially be dangerous. Inducing vomiting and administering charcoal to prevent further absorption is advised. This should be followed by IV fluids to support the kidneys. 

Tobacco products luckily taste terrible, but the toxic dose is very low (0.5-1.0 mg/pound) and the lethal dose is 4 mg/pound.  With the advent of e cigarettes, we are presented with this more commonly. The good news is it has to move past the stomach to be absorbed, so if we know about it right away, we can make them vomit and then there is very little risk of toxicity. 

To give you some idea of how much nicotine is contained in common substances

 Cigarette butt: 2-8 mg

Chewing tobacco: 6-8 mg per gram

Gum: 2-4 mg per piece

E cigarette cartridge: 6-365 mg

E juice to refill E cigarettes: 36 mg/ml

Clinical signs can include tremors, drooling, hallucinations, twitching, racing heart rate. 

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute and the use of it has recently expanded and is found in many sugar free gums, candies and other foods. Dogs are very sensitive and consumption of a small amount can rapidly lead to life threatening low blood sugar and liver toxicity. 

Marijuana toxicities are on the rise, due to increased availability for both medical and recreational marijuana, as well as the novel forms such as foods, pills, oils, and tinctures.  Marijuana affects receptors in the brain which alter normal neurotransmitter function. Highly concentrated sources can be extremely dangerous to your dog or cat. Clinical signs can be seen within minutes to hours. Classical signs of poisoning include a dazed expression, glassy eyes, incoordination, dribbling urine and low body temperature. Severe signs include hyperactivity, vocalization and can advance to coma. 

Pet Poison Helpline is a great resource. The website has a list of common toxins and what effects (if any) you might expect. You can also call the helpline for support for a fee of $59 US and any further advice needed is free, which means you can get initial first aid information before seeing your veterinarian and your veterinarian can then consult with a toxicology specialist for your pet.       (855) 764-7661

Come, Sit, Stay, Heal at RainTree Veterinary Hospital