Toxic Household products for pets

Is Your Pet Safe From These Potential Household Poisons?

Are you aware of the potential pet poisons lurking in your home or yard?

How about toxins in the food or treats you offer your pet, sometimes multiple times per day? Although you may not realize it, your pet’s health may be at risk from toxic exposure as a result of his day-to-day activities and dietary habits. National Poison Prevention Week 2015 is March 15-21, but your dog or cat is at risk for potentially fatal toxicity on a year-round basis. As a result, it’s critically important that all pet owners are aware of household and environmental toxins, clinical signs of toxicity, treatment options, and toxin avoidance.

Toxin Awareness

Home- Your shared home space is a place that should be a safe harbor from potential trauma and toxins for your pet, but there are actually many aspects of our accommodations that can be dangerous for cats, dogs, and other creatures.
  • Cleaning products used on floors, carpet, and upholstery- Phenols (which are typically found in cleaners with the word "sol" in the name), Phthalates, Formaldehyde (found in general household cleaners), Bleach, Isopropyl alcohol, Perchloroethylene (found in rug and carpet shampoos)
  • Spray and powdered air fresheners and potpourri- Spray air fresheners are especially toxic to birds while liquid potpourri can cause corrosive burns and severe organ system damage to cats.
  • Mothballs- Cats are more severely affected than dogs, but contact with or ingestion of mothballs by either species can lead to toxicity.
  • Potted house-plants or seasonal plants- Amaryllis, Autumn Crocus, Lily, Mistletoe, Pine, Tulip, and many other plants and their flowers can be mild to severely toxic if consumed.
  • Human prescription, over-the-counter, and recreational drugs- According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, of the nearly 180,000 cases of pets exposed to possibly poisonous substances in 2013 the most commonly reported toxicity resulted from ingestion of prescription human medications.
  • Human supplements- “Hangover Pills”, Iron, Kava, multivitamins, and others all potentially have toxic effects.
  • Veterinary drugs and supplements- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), narcotic pain medications, psychopharmaceuticals (SSRIs, etc.), flea and tick preventatives, and others that are made to be used for our pets can have mild to severe toxicity if inappropriately used or ingested.
Yard- We all want our pets to experience the joys of playing outdoors in our yards, but there are actually many toxins that can cause sickness or death on a single-ingestion basis or as a result of chronic exposure.
  • Herbicides and fungicides- Besides directly having toxic effects, contact with herbicides has also been linked to the development of cancer (Transitional Cell Carcinoma or TCC) in dogs.
  • Pesticides- Organophosphates and carbamates are especially dangerous to our canine and feline companions.
  • Fertilizer- mulch (coffee-ground, parasite laden manure, etc.), chemical (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, i.e. 30-10-10), heavy metals, and others may promote plant growth but they all can make a pet very sick if ingested.
  • Flowers, plants, and trees- Besides the flowers and plants that are brought into our homes, Avocado, Azalea, Sago Palm, and other plants’ stems, leaves, seeds, and more can sicken animals even if small quantities are ingested.
  • Mushrooms- Fortunately, many mushroom varieties are non-toxic to pets. Yet, it’s hard to tell toxic from non-toxic mushrooms, so ingestion of any mushrooms from the outdoors should be avoided.
  • Stinging and biting insects- Bites and stings from insects (ants, bees, hornets, etc.) can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis (“allergic reaction”).
Driveway/Parking Lots
  • Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol)- Known to cause severe kidney toxicity if even a few teaspoons are consumed, Ethylene Glycol can form a toxic puddle under any vehicle.
  • Rock salt- Both the skin and digestive tract can be mildly or severely irritated by rock salt.
  • Motor oil and gasoline- Besides the toxic effects of motor oil and unleaded gasoline or diesel, the toxic effects of such products can be compounded if they are mixed with Ethylene Glycol.
  • Human foods known to be toxic for pets- Alcohol, artificial sweeteners (Xylitol), bread dough, caffeine, chocolate, currants, grapes, macadamia nuts, raisins, onion family members, spices (cloves, nutmeg, etc.), and others all harbor toxic potential for our pets.
  • Chemical preservatives- BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), Propylene Glycol, etc.) added to pet foods and treats as preservatives have no place entering our pets’ mouths and have been linked to health problems like cancer (BHA and BHT) and anemia (Propylene Glycol).
  • Chemical contaminants (Melamine, etc.)- Who can forget the Melamine pet-food crisis of 2007? Certainly not we veterinarians. Melamine is a plastic compound that can elevate nitrogen levels and therefore the calibrated percentage of protein in food. Dogs and cats suffered kidney failure and death when they consumed kibble and canned pet foods having Melamine-contaminated wheat gluten.
  • Mold-produced toxins- Mycotoxins (aflatoxin, vomitoxin) produced by mold can accumulate in pet foods and treats, especially those made with feed-grade grains which have higher allowable levels of mycotoxins.
  • Pathogenic bacteria- Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other pathogenic bacteria can contaminate pet foods and treats and can even spread to and sicken humans.
Shampoo and topical products
  • Diethanolamine (DEA)- This plant-derived fatty acid was included in California’s list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity and has now been excluded from many pet shampoos.
  • Essential oils- Although they don’t sound dangerous, “essential oils”, including Tea Tree Oil, are toxic for dogs and even more so for cats.

Clinical Signs of Toxicity

There are many clinical signs our pets may exhibit upon being exposed to a toxic agent. Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):
  • Salivation
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Eye discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizure
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Vocalizing
  • Unusual behaviors
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Death

Treatment of Toxic Exposures

Should you have a suspicion or confirmation that your pet has incurred a toxic exposure, take immediate action by:
  • Calling your veterinarian or your local emergency veterinary hospital
  • Starting a consultation with ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline, as both resources are staffed with board certified veterinary toxicologists who can best guide your veterinarian on the most appropriate treatment
  • Avoiding D.I.Y. (Do it Yourself) treatments like using hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting or providing foods that have adsorbent properties unless a veterinarian guides you throughout the process

Toxin Avoidance

As the guardian of your pet’s health and welfare, it’s crucial that you think ahead in a manner similar to childproofing your home, car, and other spaces to avoid illness or death secondary to toxic exposure. My top tips include:
  • Keep your pet under your observation at all time (i.e. no wandering free unobserved in your backyard, at a park, etc.).
  • Walk your dog on a short, flat (non-extendable) leash instead of extendable lead.
  • Carefully evaluate all new spaces for potential toxins before permitting your pet to enter.
  • Use pet-safe products in your home, yard (non-toxic pest control), and car (antifreeze).
  • Read labels carefully and don’t permit your pet to eat any foods or treats you’d not eat yourself (i.e. feed human-grade foods instead of feed-grade foods).
  • Educate yourself about pet poisons through on-line resources (Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline)
  • Seek pet-product recommendations from your veterinarian instead of purchasing over the counter options.
Have a safe and non-eventful National Poison Awareness Week.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).
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