Common Toxins

The following provides a list of some of the most common toxins of small animals that we see as veterinarians. Certainly, there are many more, with ingestion of human medications being extremely common. If anyone in the house is taking medications of any kind (this includes over-the-counter medications), please treat them as though you have a 2 year old child in the house and lock them up! If you see or suspect that your dog has ingested something it should not have, please call your veterinarian immediately. With a lot of toxins, time is of the essence. If you can induce vomiting within the first hour of ingestion, you can oftentimes prevent many of the harmful side effects from occurring. Hydrogen peroxide is a useful thing to have in your house to help induce vomiting. Always speak to a veterinarian before using hydrogen peroxide, however, because some toxins cause more harm if vomited back up.

Antifreeze: contains ethylene glycol, which causes kidney failure. It is very sweet, so animals commonly lick it up from garage floors or driveways!

Aspirin or other NSAIDS (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatories )like Ibuprofen, Aleve. (also includes animal products Rimadyl, Previcox, Deramax, Metacam, etc): can cause stomach ulcers, which could possibly perforate the stomach wall, as well as having adverse effects on the kidneys. Unfortunately, it is a fairly common practice for people to “add a little aspirin to their dog’s water”, for arthritis. Not only can aspirin possibly cause problems, but it can also interact with drugs we prescribe. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your animal aspirin. If your animal ever ingests more than the prescribed dose of their pain medications, please call your veterinarian! Be sure to keep them out of reach, as they are often flavored to taste good.

Avermectins (Ex: Ivermectin, selamectin, moxidectin, milbemycin): are commonly used in heartworm preventions and dewormers. Toxicities are usually seen when people use large animal products on their dogs, as even just a small amount of the large animal products are extremely concentrated!

Foods That are Toxic:

  1. Chocolate– contains theobromine, which can cause heart arrhythmias and seizures.
  2. Grapes/Raisins– unknown what causes the toxicity at this time. Causes kidney failure, which may present itself as vomiting and increased thirst/urination.
  3. Sugarfree Chewing Gum with Xylitol– causes low blood sugar, liver failure and bleeding disorders.
  4. Coffee– contains caffeine, which can cause heart arrhythmias and seizures.
  5. Onions (including onion soup or soup mix)– contain n-propyl disulfide, which causes hemolytic anemia
  6. Bread dough– contains yeast, which causes the dough to expand in the stomach and cause symptoms of bloat. The yeast fermentation also releases ethanol, which can make the dog act “drunk”.
  7. Macadamia nuts– unknown what the toxic agent is, but causes weakness and tremors.
  8. Avocado- is toxic to birds.

Estrogen Pills or Creams: Creams used by owners can also be absorbed by their pets when are held. This can cause bone marrow toxicity, and can make a spayed female appear to be in heat!

Flea Products with Permethrins: toxicity usually occurs when a dog product is applied to a cat! Cats may develop tremors or seizures, can lead to death.

Illicit/Prescription Human Drugs:

  1. Barbiturates– cause weakness, incoordination, coma, depressed respiration, death.
  2. Benzodiazepines (Valium, anti-seizure medications, anti-anxiety medications)- cause depression, disorientation, vocalization, seizures
  3. Marijuana– restlessness, nervousness, depression, GI upset, incoordination, weakness.
  4. Opiods– GI upset, sedation, can compromise breathing, hypothermia, coma, seizures.
  5. Amphetamines (including Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, etc)- hyperexcitability, heart arrhythmias, tremors, seizures
  6. Cocaine– hyperexcitability, heart arrhythmias, seizures

Insecticides: that contain organophosphate and carbamate. They are used to control garden or residential insect pests. They can cause a variety of signs, including GI upset, difficulty breathing, seizures and death.

Lead: can be found in old paint, old toys, fishing sinkers, etc. It is a fairly common toxicity in birds, as there are old bird cages made of lead or painted with lead paint. It causes gastrointestinal and neurologic signs.
Moldy dog/catfood, or moldy bread/compost– contain aflatoxins, which can cause liver failure.

Paintballs: The paint solution draws water from the bloodstream into the gut, which can affect sodium levels and cause depression of the central nervous system.

Plants: Note: there are many, many toxic plants! These are just a few of the most common/serious ones that we see.

  1. Mushrooms-contain several types of toxins, varies from mushroom to mushroom. Causes mainly GI upset, liver toxicity, and neurologic effects. Can also affect the kidney.
  2. Lilies– toxin is unknown, but causes kidney failure in cats!
  3. Sago Palm (Cycad) – causes GI upset, with severe liver toxicity.

Rat Poison: contains warfarin, which depletes the body of Vitamin K and causes a bleeding disorder. Less commonly, it may contain cholecalciferol (Vit D3), which causes high levels of calcium and leads to mineralization of tissues and kidney failure.

Snail/Slug Bait: contains metaldehyde, which causes tremors, seizures and difficulty breathing

Strychnine: is found in baits used to control mice, porcupines, gophers. Causes rapid onset of muscle spasms and seizures.

Teflon Cooking Pans: Do not cook with a Teflon pan with a bird in the same room, as the fumes are toxic to birds!

Tylenol (Acetaminophen): causes methemoglobinemia, which turns the blood brown and makes it unable to deliver oxygen to the body’s organs. It also causes liver failure. Cats are especially sensitive.

Zinc: in pennies minted after 1982, galvanized steel hardware, some topical sunscreens, diaper rash creams. Causes hemolytic anemia (causes red blood cells to burst)

By: Ryan Roberts.
Peterson, M and Talcott, P. Small Animal Toxicology, 2nd Edition.