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Toxins Around the Home that can Poison your Pet

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-10-26 (Rev. 2016-06-11) - Hazards and poison toxins around the home and garden that can kill or sicken your pets. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Pet Poison Helpline.
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Quote: "There have been anecdotal reports of a dog dying after ingesting cocoa bean shell mulch, and this has been rapidly circulating on the Internet."

Summertime brings new opportunities for potential pet exposures to harmful and dangerous substances. During the summer months, Pet Poison Helpline (PPH) is inundated with calls involving yard and garden products (including bone meal, fertilizers, and insecticides), mulch and compost pile ingestions, and exposures to outdoor plants and mushrooms.

Summer Toxins and Hazards for Pets

While summer is meant for relaxing at the lake with friends picnicking, watching fireworks, and cleaning up and readying yards and gardens for the upcoming growing season, it's potentially fraught with toxic exposure to your pets! Summertime brings new opportunities for potential pet exposures to harmful and dangerous substances. During the summer months, Pet Poison Helpline (PPH) is inundated with calls involving yard and garden products (including bone meal, fertilizers, and insecticides), mulch and compost pile ingestions, and exposures to outdoor plants and mushrooms. As with all poisonings, early recognition and decontamination (including emesis induction and activated charcoal administration) are key to a successful outcome. Here is some basic information for you to know about when dealing with these exposures.

Compost bins or piles:

While we applaud you for composting, make sure to do so appropriately - your compost shouldn't contain any dairy or meat products, and should always be fenced off for the sake of your pets and wildlife. These piles of decomposing and decaying organic matter and molding food products have the potential to contain tremorgenic mycotoxins, which are toxic to both pets and wildlife. Even small amounts ingested can result in clinical signs within 30 minutes to several hours. Clinical signs include agitation, hyperthermia, hyper-responsiveness, panting, drooling, and vomiting, and can progress to serious CNS signs (including in-coordination, tremors, and seizures!). Rule-outs for this include toxins that cause "shake and bake," such as metaldehydes (snail bait), strychnine, organophosphates, and methylxanthines. Prompt decontamination is the key if the patient isn't demonstrating clinical signs yet - this includes inducing vomiting and giving activated charcoal. Once the patient is symptomatic, aggressive supportive care includes the use of IV fluids, temperature regulation, cooling methods (cooling down to a temperature of 103.5 degree F/39.7 degree C), IV muscle relaxants (i.e., methocarbamol), and anticonvulsants (i.e., diazepam, phenobarbital).

Slug and Snail Baits:

Slug and snail baits are commonly used on the West coast and in warm-weather conditions, and are available in a variety of forms (pellets, granular, powder, and liquid). The active ingredient is typically metaldehyde, which is toxic to all species (particularly dogs).2 When ingested, metaldehyde toxicity results in clinical signs that earned it the nickname "shake and bake." Within 1 to 2 hours of ingestion, clinical signs of salivation, restlessness, vomiting, and in-coordination are seen, which then progress to tremors, seizures, and secondary severe hyperthermia. Treatment consists of early decontamination, supportive care, temperature regulation (cooling down to a temperature of 103.5 degree F/39.7 degree C), anticonvulsants, and muscle relaxants. Generally, the prognosis is favorable if treatment is quickly and aggressively implemented.

Mole and Gopher Bait:

Surprisingly, most veterinary professionals aren't very familiar with mole and gopher baits, which typically contain zinc phosphide. Other types may contain bromethalin. Neither of these active ingredients have an antidote and both can result in rapidly developing, life-threatening symptoms. Zinc phosphide is often manufactured in a poisoned "peanut" form but can also be found in a pelleted or powdered form. When zinc phosphide combines with gastric acid, it results in rapid phosphine gas formation within the stomach. This toxin is made worse by the presence of food in the stomach, so make sure acutely poisoned pets aren't fed anything when this toxicity occurs! This gas causes severe gastrointestinal inflammation, abdominal distension, and cardiovascular insufficiency (similar to symptoms of a GDV or bloat). Pulmonary congestion and edema may also occur. Clinical signs develop rapidly within 15 minutes to several hours and include vomiting, salivation, abdominal discomfort, bloating, depression, labored breathing, tremors, and weakness. Once clinical signs have developed, the prognosis is guarded. A word of caution to veterinary staff: second hand phosphine gas exposure can result in significant health risks to healthcare providers working in unventilated areas. By the time the phosphine gas odor has been recognized (which smells like rotten fish and garlic), there has already been significant exposure to staff. So, whenever inducing emesis in a patient with this toxicity, do so in a well ventilated, outdoor area, and contact Pet Poison Helpline for more information on treatment.

The other toxin is bromethalin, a neuro-toxin, which is found in a pelleted grain or as a gummy worm-shaped strip. These lanced gummy worms are placed underground as mole bait. Dogs can readily dig this product up and ingest it. Because cats aren't typically digging outside, there are fewer exposures to cats - that said, cats are very sensitive to bromethalin also. Bromethalin results in signs of cerebral edema (mentally obtunded, seizures, abnormal pupils, etc.), in-coordination, and paralysis. As no antidote is available, treatment is centered around aggressive decontamination to limit absorption, supportive care, and drugs to decrease cerebral edema (i.e., mannitol). The prognosis is based on the amount ingested and the severity of clinical signs. The more severe the symptoms, the more guarded the prognosis becomes.

Plants:

Most garden and food producing plants are non-toxic to pets, and only result in mild gastrointestinal upset when ingested. That said, here are a few common summer plants that can cause concerns when eaten by pets:

Tomato plants are in the Nightshade family and contain tomatine. Tomatine is found in concentrations of up to 5% in the leafy greens, the fruit blossoms, and in small green tomatoes; this concentration rapidly decreases as the tomato ripens. When stems, vines and green fruit are ingested, clinical signs can include gastrointestinal irritation, ataxia, and weakness. Treatment is purely supportive with an overall good prognosis.

Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, calcium oxalate and potassium oxalate and can result in oral and gastrointestinal irritation causing vomiting and diarrhea. Treatment includes symptomatic and supportive care. Onions and garlic, when ingested in large amounts, can result in Heinz body formation and anemia. Cats are more sensitive than dogs to Allium toxiciosis. Clinical signs are generally secondary to the anemia, with resultant weakness, lethargy and pale mucous membranes.

Grapes (or raisins) grown in home gardens can present significant concerns when dogs ingest them. Although the mechanism of action is not clearly understood at this time, grapes can result in anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, and potentially severe acute renal failure. The toxicity is not necessarily dose-dependent, and symptoms can occur with even small ingestions. Decontamination, aggressive supportive care, IV fluid therapy, and BUN/creatinine monitoring is recommended.

Mushrooms:

There are various types of mushrooms located throughout the United States that may be non-toxic; however, other types of mushrooms may be gastric irritants, hallucinogenic, or hepatotoxic (from cyclopeptides, hydrazine toxins, isoxazoles, or psilocybin compounds). The frequency of mushroom toxicity is low, but the lack of readily available identification of mushrooms lands all ingestions in the category of toxic until proven otherwise. With ingestion of any mushroom, immediate emesis is recommended, provided the animal is alert, asymptomatic, and able to adequately protect his or her upper airway. Gastric lavage may be necessary for animals already exhibiting clinical signs. Clinical symptoms are dependent on the species of mushroom ingested, the specific toxin within that mushroom, and the individual's own susceptibility. Early clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, ataxia, CNS depression, tremors, and seizures, with liver and renal damage occurring later. One can collect all the pieces of the mushroom in a paper towel, place them in a labeled (DO NOT EAT! POISONOUS) paper bag, and refrigerate the sample for future possible identification.

Mulch Products:

Cocoa bean mulch, a byproduct of chocolate production, is the discarded hulls or shells of the cocoa bean. This mulch is frequently used for home landscaping and is often very fragrant, especially when first placed in the yard and warmed by the sun. This tempting smell of warm chocolate often attracts and encourages dogs (Labradors!) to ingest the mulch. Through the processing procedure of creating cocoa bean mulch, much of the methylxanthine poison is removed, but still potentially contains 0.19% to 2.98% theobromine and 0.5% to 0.85% caffeine.2 All animals can be affected by methyxanthylates, but dogs tend to have more frequent exposure opportunities to the chocolates, coffee beans and cocoa mulch that contain them. Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, tachycardia, tachypnea, and potential seizures.1,2 Symptoms are dose-dependent and an accurate dose is very difficult to determine because of the variation of the concentration of methyxanthylates from one mulch product to next.

There have been anecdotal reports of a dog dying after ingesting cocoa bean shell mulch, and this has been rapidly circulating on the Internet. That said, how toxic is this stuff, really? The first report of this poisoning was actually reported by Pet Poison Helpline's Drs. Lynn Hovda and R. Kingston at the 1993 International Congress of Clinical Toxicology. Dr. Steve Hansen from ASPCA published this again 10 years later (Clin Tox 2003;41:5). Recently, Dr. Hansen stated that the cause of the one fatality ( a young Labrador) was "highly suspect." While theobromine and caffeine (methylxanthines) can be toxic, clinical signs are usually more PROGRESSIVE - such as vomiting, diarrhea, more vomiting, trembling, a racing heart rate, and then seizures in very high doses. Cocoa bean mulch is very unlikely to result in sudden death without showing other signs. Nevertheless, play it safe and don't allow pets to ingest this product! Typically, after a first rain, the smell dissipates, making the mulch less attractive to pets.

Salt water toxicity:

While it's probably not at the top of your toxin lists, salt water is a dangerous poison, particularly if you take your dog to the beach! If your dog loves to play on the ocean beach, heed caution. Dogs don't realize that salt water is dangerous, and excessive intake can result in severe hyponatraemia, or salt poisoning. While initial signs of hyponatraemia include vomiting and diarrhea, salt poisoning can progress quickly to neurologic signs like walking drunk, seizures, progressive depression, and ultimately, severe brain swelling. Hyponatraemia needs to be treated very carefully with IV fluids and aggressive sodium monitoring. Pet owners can help avoid this problem by carrying a fresh bottle of tap water and offering it frequently to their pet while they are playing on the beach.

Fertilizers:

Fertilizers come in a variety of forms - granular to water soluble - and are soil amendment products routinely used in lawn, garden and farming. There are virtually hundreds of products and product formulations or mixes out there, and most contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in various concentrations. The three numbers that you see listed behind a fertilizer name (i.e., 10:20:10) represent the concentration of these three elements. Typically, limited ingestions of these ingredients generally do not result in significant concerns and are a relatively low level toxicity risk. With most cases of fertilizer ingestion, clinical signs are limited to gastrointestinal irritation and foreign body obstruction risk (particularly if organic compounds such as bone meal are mixed in, adding in a risk for pancreatitis!). Keep in mind that there are some fertilizers that contain iron, along with other herbicide and pesticide additives, and these pose additional concerns and can result in significant health concerns.

Herbicides:

Herbicides rarely result in concerns when used and applied according to the label directions, provided pets have been kept off the treated surfaces until the applied product has dried completely. However, when applied inappropriately, or when pets chew containers of concentrated product, there is a significant increase in the likelihood of potential toxicity. Clinical signs are dose and product dependent. Glyphosate and 2,4-D are two of the most commonly used herbicides. Ingestions of glyphosate concentrates can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia and lethargy.1,2 With ingestion of concentrated 2,4-D, clinical signs include vomiting and weakness. While there are no antidotes for these products, prompt, supportive care (including IV or SC fluids and anti-emetics) generally provide a good prognosis.

Pesticides:

Today's pesticides are much safer than products used 30 years ago. Examples of newer pesticides include fipronil, imidicloprid, sulfuramide and hydramethylnon. Many of these products have very low percentages of the active ingredient and are poorly absorbed systemically in mammalian species. Pesticides typically have wide margins of safety and are relatively low risk to pets. Like herbicides, when these products are applied appropriately and according to the label directions, these are minimal concern to pets. That said, these products often are mixed with bone meal, which makes it attractive and palatable to dogs. While the bone meal does not pose a significant toxicity concern, it can result in gastrointestinal irritation, severe pancreatitis and a possible foreign body obstruction (as it creates a big "ball of bone" in the stomach). More importantly, this increase in palatability can greatly increase the amount of the pesticide ingested.

Organophosphates and carbamates are dangerous pesticide exposures because they are competitive inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase. These pesticides are easily and rapidly absorbed from a variety of routes.4 The anti-cholinesterase properties result in clinical signs with an easy-to-remember acronym SLUDGE: salivation, lacrimation, urination, defecation, and gastroenteritis. Other clinical signs include weakness, bradycardia, mydriasis or miosis, ataxia, paralysis, and respiratory depression. Death typically occurs from severe bronchial secretions, resulting in the patient drowning in their lungs and secondary, severe hypoxemia. The two antidotes are pralidoxime chloride (2-PAM) and high-dose atropine.2 These antidotes must be given rapidly for the best prognosis. Rapid decontamination in asymptomatic animals includes inducing emesis, gastric lavage, and activated charcoal. Once patients are clinically symptomatic, aggressive supportive care, oxygen saturation monitoring, anti-convulsant therapy, diphenhydramine for tremors, IV fluid therapy, and intensive monitoring is necessary.

Fireworks:

These can result in burns; injury to the mouth, eyes, or paws; and possible heavy metal toxicity if ingestion. Fireworks can contain iron, copper, barium, mercury, phosphorus and magnesium in the coloring agents.1 The amount of heavy metal varies widely, depending on the type of fireworks, quantity ingested, and coloring agent used. Clinical symptoms seen with fireworks ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, tremors and seizures. Induction of emesis and activated charcoal are not recommended and animals should be immediately evaluated at a veterinary clinic for injury.

Blue-green algae or Cyanobacteria:

Growth of toxic algae can be found in both fresh and salt water throughout the warm regions of the world. Blue-green algae becomes concerning when algae accumulates on the surface of the water during hot, dry weather with wind that can shift concentrated algae mats along the shorelines.1 Affected water may have the appearance of pea soup with thick layers of algae on the surface. Blooms of blue-green algae can contain hepatoxins and/or neurotoxins, depending on the species. Exposures occur when dogs ingest or swim in water that contains the cyanobateria. Clinical signs with the hepatoxin variety are vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, shock, icterus, and potentially death within 24 hours to several days. Clinical signs seen with ingestion of the neurotoxin species occur acutely with onset of tremors, lethargy, seizures and respiratory distress and death within a hour.

Spring and summer preventative wellness visits to the clinic are the perfect time for client education - these visits also serve as an opportunity to reminder pet owners about potential hazards that may have been out of sight during the colder months of the year. Education of staff and pet owners has proven to be the best method of preventing exposures to potentially harmful substances in animals. This coupled with information on when to seek prompt veterinary intervention and care will help keep your patients happy and healthy through the busy summer months ahead!

Fall Toxins:

Chocolate:

While the occasional chocolate chip within one cookie may not be an issue, we worry about certain types of chocolate - the less sweet and the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pet. Baker's chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. Other sources include chew-able, flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. The chemical toxicity is due to a methylxanthine (like theobromine), and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, inflammation of the pancreas (i.e., pancreatitis), an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and rarely, even death. With Halloween right around the corner, make sure your kids know to hide the stash from your dogs. (Dogs make up 95% of all our chocolate calls, as cats are usually too discriminating to eat chocolate!) In smaller dogs, even the wrappers from candy can result in a secondary obstruction in the stomach or intestines.

Table food:

While you may think you are "loving" your dog by giving him table scraps from Thanksgiving dinner, it could be very unsafe for your pet. While there's not a "toxicity" issue from fatty table foods (such as bacon, gravy, turkey skin, grizzle, etc.), it can result in a gastroenteritis (such as a mild vomiting or diarrhea) to a severe, fatal pancreatitis. Other table food like corn-on-the-cob can result in a severe foreign body in your dog's intestines, resulting in projectile vomiting, diarrhea, and may require an expensive intestinal surgery. Desserts made with xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener, or foods containing grapes or raisins can also result in toxicity. Xylitol results in an acute drop in blood sugar and even liver failure at high doses, while grapes and raisins can result in severe, fatal acute kidney failure. When in doubt, don't let your pet get any table food!

Mouse and rat poisons (rodenticides):

As we prepare to winterize our garage, cabin, or house, keep in mind that there are some more dangerous rat poisons to pick from than others. Always make sure to place these poisonous baits in areas where your pet can't reach them (i.e., high up on shelves, hidden behind work spaces, etc.). Currently there are four separate categories of rodenticides available for general use. Each has a different and unique mechanism of action. This results in four different sets of clinical signs in both the target rodent population and our curious pets who might consume them. All of these rodenticides also pose the potential for "relay toxicity"- in other words, if your dog eats a whole bunch of dead mice poisoned by rodenticides, they can get the secondary effects from this. This is most commonly seen in birds of prey (i.e., raptors), so we generally recommend avoiding them in the first place!

Long-acting anticoagulants (LAACs):

By far the most well-known and perhaps most widely used rodenticides are the LAACS. This family of rodenticides works by causing internal bleeding and preventing the body from clotting normally. Common signs include coughing (blood in the lungs), large and soft lumps under the skin, vomiting, nose bleeds, bruised skin, exercise intolerance, weakness, bloody urine, bleeding from the gums, and inappetance. With LAACS, it takes 2-5 days before the poison actually takes effect and before clinical signs of bleeding, but chronic ingestion shortens the time period. If there is any suspicion of ingestion, a prothrombin test, usually referred to as a PT test, supports the diagnosis (it takes 48 hours after ingestion before this PT test will be abnormal). Fortunately, prescription-strength Vitamin K1, the antidote, is routinely found in most veterinary offices.

Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3):

One of the most dangerous rat poisons out there is a Vitamin D3-based rodenticide. This type basically increases calcium blood levels so high that it causes a secondary kidney failure. With this type of rat poison, only a tiny amount needs to be ingested before it causes a problem, and long-term, expensive treatment is usually necessary. This is the type to avoid in your garage, as it has no antidote!

Bromethalin:

This rarer type of rat poison doesn't have an antidote and results in brain swelling. If toxic amounts are ingested, we see clinical signs of walking drunk, tremors, and seizures. Treatment is symptomatic and may require an extended amount of time in the veterinary hospital due to long-lasting effects (days up to a week).

Phosphides:

This type of poison is more commonly seen in mole and gopher poison, and typically doesn't come in the classic blue-green or yellow blocks or pellets. Phosphide rodenticides typically come in a poisoned "gummy worm" form that you put in the dirt. These types of phosphide poisons result in phosphine gas in the stomach, resulting in severe bloat, profuse vomiting, abdominal pain, and potential lung and heart complications. Like cholecalciferol poisons, it only takes a small amount of poison to cause a big problem! Make sure to keep these toxins away from your pets, as this type can be poisonous to you too (if you inhale the phosphine gas if your dog vomits!).

Mushrooms:

There are various types of mushrooms located throughout the United States that may be non-toxic; however, other types of mushrooms may be irritating to the stomach and intestines, while some types of mushrooms may be hallucinogenic or result in liver failure (i.e., acute hepatic necrosis). While the likelihood of mushroom toxicity is low, it's very difficult for veterinarians and pet owners to be able to readily identify the exact species of mushroom that is in your yard, and mycologist (mushroom experts) aren't readily available! Because mushrooms can be so toxic, it's important to immediately bring your dog to a vet right away for decontamination (inducing vomiting and giving activated charcoal to bind up any poison), provided your dog is alert, asymptomatic, and able to adequately protect his or her upper airway (i.e., voice box). Sometimes stomach pumping (i.e., gastric lavage) is even necessary in severe cases. In general, clinical signs seen from mushroom ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, walking drunk, depression, tremors, and seizures, with liver and kidney damage occurring later. One can collect all the pieces of the mushroom in a paper towel, place them in a labeled ("DO NOT EAT! POISONOUS") paper bag, and refrigerate the sample for future possible identification by a mycologist.

Compost bins or piles:

While we applaud you for composting, make sure to do so appropriately - your compost shouldn't contain any dairy or meat products, and should always be fenced off for the sake of your pets and wildlife. These piles of decomposing and decaying organic matter and molding food products have the potential to contain tremorgenic mycotoxins, which are toxic to both pets and wildlife. Even small amounts ingested can result in clinical signs within 30 minutes to several hours. Clinical signs include agitation, hyperthermia, hyper-responsiveness, panting, drooling, and vomiting, and can progress to serious CNS signs (including in-coordination, tremors, and seizures). Rule-outs for this include other toxins that can cause similar signs, such as metaldehydes (i.e., snail bait), strychnine, organophosphates (the ingredient in some types of fertilizers), and methylxanthines (i.e., chocolate). Prompt decontamination and treatment is necessary!

The best thing any pet owner can do is to be educated on common household toxins (both inside the house and out in the garden!), and to make sure you pet proof your house appropriately. Make sure to keep all these products in labeled, tightly-sealed containers out of your pet's reach. When in doubt, if you think your pet has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 with any questions or concerns. Please be advised there is a $35/per incidence fee, but it may save your pet's life!

Spring time toxins

Tulips and Hyacinth:

Tulips contain allergenic lactones while hyacinths contain similar alkaloids. The toxic principle of these plants is very concentrated in the bulbs (versus the leaf or flower), so make sure your dog isn't digging up the bulbs in the garden. When the plant parts or bulbs are chewed or ingested, it can result in tissue irritation to the mouth and esophagus. Typical signs include profuse drooling, vomiting, or even diarrhea, depending on the amount consumed. There's no specific antidote, but with supportive care from the veterinarian (including rinsing the mouth, anti-vomiting medication, and possibly subcutaneous fluids), animals do quite well. With large ingestions of the bulb, more severe symptoms such as an increase in heart rate and changes in respiration can be seen, and should be treated by a veterinarian. These more severe signs are seen in cattle or our overzealous, chowhound Labradors.

Daffodils:

These flowers contain lycorine, an alkaloid with strong emetic properties (something that triggers vomiting). Ingestion of the bulb, plant or flower can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even possible cardiac arrhythmias or respiratory depression. Crystals are found in the outer layer of the bulbs, similar to hyacinths, which cause severe tissue irritation and secondary drooling. Daffodil ingestions can result in more severe symptoms so if an exposure is witnessed or symptoms are seen, we recommend seeking veterinary care for further supportive care.

Lilies:

There are dangerous and benign lilies out there, and it's important to know the difference. Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies contain oxalate crystals that cause minor signs, such as tissue irritation to the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and esophagus - this results in minor drooling. The more dangerous, potentially fatal lilies are true lilies, and these include Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies - all of which are highly toxic to cats! Even small ingestions (such as 2-3 petals or leaves) can result in severe kidney failure. If your cat is seen consuming any part of a lily, bring your cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for medical care. The sooner you bring in your cat, the better and more efficiently we can treat the poisoning. Decontamination (like inducing vomiting and giving binders like activated charcoal) are imperative in the early toxic stage, while aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, kidney function monitoring tests, and supportive care can greatly improve the prognosis.

Crocus:

There are two Crocus plants: one that blooms in the spring (Crocus species) and the other in the autumn (Colchicum autumnale). The spring plants are more common and are part of the Iridaceae family. These ingestions can cause general gastrointestinal upset including vomiting and diarrhea. These should not be mistaken for Autumn Crocus, part of the Liliaceae family, which contain colchicine. The Autumn Crocus is highly toxic and can cause severe vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage, and respiratory failure. If you're not sure what plant it is, bring your pet to their veterinarian immediately for care. Signs may be seen immediately but can be delayed for days.

Lily of the Valley:

The Convallaria majalis plant contains cardiac glycosides which will cause symptoms similar to digitalis (foxglove) ingestion. These symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, a drop in heart rate, severe cardiac arrhythmias, and possibly seizures. Pets with any known exposure to this plant should be examined and evaluated by a veterinarian and treated symptomatically.

Fertilizers:

As we gardeners work on our rose garden, be aware of those fertilizers. While most are not very toxic (resulting in minor gastrointestinal irritation when consumed), some fertilizers can be fatal without treatment. Here are a few ingredients to be aware of so you know what toxins and symptoms to watch out for.

Blood meal:

This is dried, ground, and flash-frozen blood and contains 12% nitrogen. While it's a great organic fertilizer, if ingested, it can cause vomiting (of some other poor animal's blood) and diarrhea. More importantly, it can result in severe pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas. Some types of blood meal are also fortified with iron, resulting in iron toxicity, so make sure to know what's in your bag of blood!

Bone Meal:

This is made up of de-fatted, dried, and flash-frozen animal bones that are ground to a powder. This "bone" is also what makes it so palatable to your dog, so make sure to keep your pet from digging in it and ingesting the soil. While this also makes a great organic fertilizer, it can become a problem when consumed as the bone meal forms a large cement-like bone ball in the stomach - which can cause an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract - resulting in possible surgery to remove it!

Rose and plant fertilizers:

Some of these fertilizers contain disulfoton or other types of organophosphates (OP). As little as 1 teaspoon of 1% disulfoton can kill a 55 lb dog, so be careful! Organophosphates, while less commonly used, can result in severe symptoms [including SLUD signs (which abbreviate for salivation, lacrimation, urination, and defecation), seizures, difficulty breathing, hyperthermia, etc. In some cases, it can be fatal!

Pesticides/Insecticides:

Most pesticides or insecticides (typically those that come in a spray can) are basic irritants to the pet and are usually not a huge concern unless a pet's symptoms become persistent. Some may contain an organophosphate which can be life threatening when consumed in large quantities. It is always best to speak to a trained medical professional if there are any questions.

Iron:

This is commonly added to fertilizers, and can result in iron toxicity (from ingestion of elemental iron). This is different from "total" iron ingestion, and can be confusing to differentiate. When in doubt, have a medical professional at Pet Poison Helpline assist you with finding out if the amount ingested was toxic or not. Large ingestions can result in vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and potential cardiac and liver effects.

The best thing any pet owner can do is to be educated on the household toxins (both inside the house and out in the garden!) - that way you make sure how to pet proof your house appropriately. Make sure to keep all these products in labeled, tightly-sealed containers out of your pet's reach. When in doubt, please feel free to call Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 with any questions or concerns if you're worried that your pet could have inadvertently gotten into anything! Please be advised there is a $35/per incidence fee. For further information regarding services, visit the PPH website at www.petpoisonhelpline.com

References:

Lieske CL: Spring-blooming bulbs: A year round problem. Veterinary Medicine 580-588;2002.

Burrows GE, Tyrl RJ: Toxic plants of North America. Iowa State Press. Ames, IA. 2001. Pp. 773-776, 778-780.

Poppenga R H: Toxic household, Garden and Ornamental Plants. Western Veterinary Conference; 2002.

Pet Poison Helpline Case Database: Unpublished data, Bloomington, MN, 2004 - 2009.

Plumlee KH: Clinical Veterinary Toxicology, St Louis, MO, Mosby, 2004. pp322-325. Peterson ME,

Talcott PA (eds): Small Animal Toxicology, ed. 2, St Louis, MO, Elsevier Saunders, 2001.

Gfeller RW, Messonnier SP: Handbook of Small Animal Toxicology and Poisoning, St Louis, MO, Mosby, 1998.

Burrows GE, Tyrl RJ: Toxic Plants of North America, Ames. Iowa , Iowa State University Press, 2001.





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