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Summer Toxins to Avoid with Your Pet

By Renee Schmid, DVM & Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT Pet Poison Helpline

Behavior, Care & Wellness, Emergency Situations, Pet Services

Summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy nature and the warm sunshine with your pet. Pets are inquisitive creatures and love to investigate their surroundings. Unfortunately, this trait can lead pets down the path of injury and illness. The following information will help you to avoid many summer dangers that can affect your pet. If you believe your pet ingested any item of concern, it is important to call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 animal poison control center, at 1-800-213-6680 right away to have the risk of poisoning assessed.

Are mole and gopher baits safer than mouse and rat bait?

No. Mole and gopher bait is generally much more toxic to your dog and cat than most mouse or rat baits. It usually only takes a very small amount of these baits to cause significant, and sometimes fatal effects, even in large dogs. Most of these baits contain zinc phosphide or bromethalin. There is no antidote available for either of these ingredients and both can lead to rapidly developing, life- threatening signs of poisoning. Zinc phosphide baits are most commonly found in a “peanut” (pellet) form. Mole and gopher baits that contain bromethalin are often found in a worm or grub form.

What are the clinical signs of mole and gopher bait poisoning?

When bait containing zinc phosphide is ingested, it undergoes a chemical reaction with stomach acid to create toxic phosphine gas. This toxic gas will then cause vomiting, cardiovascular abnormalities, neurologic signs, as well as possible respiratory disorders. If untreated, these signs may lead to death. Signs will develop very quickly, usually starting with vomiting and excessive drooling, followed by tremors, difficulty breathing and a distended abdomen (bloat). Phosphine gas can be toxic to humans as well, making it important to keep your pet in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside, if vomiting develops. If you pet vomits in the car on the way to the vet, roll down the windows to avoid potentially breathing in the phosphine gas.

Bromethalin is a neurotoxin, and if ingested, cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) may occur. Other signs that may develop if a toxic amount is ingested include: mental dullness, incoordination, tremors, paralysis, and seizures.

How is mole and gopher bait poisoning treated?

While there is no antidote available for either zinc phosphide or bromethalin, aggressive treatment is very important to ensure the best chance of survival for your pet. Inducing vomiting is typically the first step in treatment but should not be done at home unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. Unfortunately, there is no safe way to induce vomiting in cats at home.

If vomiting cannot safely be induced, or if it has already happened, the next step may be administration of activated charcoal by your pet’s veterinarian to help minimize the amount of toxin absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. If zinc phosphide is ingested, pets will need to be monitored closely by your veterinarian for any stomach upset, bloat, cardiovascular abnormalities, neurologic signs, and respiratory distress. If bromethalin was ingested, multiple doses of activated charcoal and monitoring for the development of neurological abnormalities are needed. The pet should be hospitalized during monitoring.

How do snail and slug baits affect dogs and cats?

Some snail and slug baits are extremely poisonous to dogs and cats. They can contain metaldehyde or forms of iron and are typically available as pellets or granules. Metaldehyde poisoning causes clinical signs that have earned the name “shake and bake” due to the extreme tremors, seizures and high body temperatures that result. Other signs of poisoning include drooling, restlessness, vomiting, and difficulty walking. Treatment consists of intensive veterinary care, including treatment of tremors and seizures, temperature regulation, as well as supportive care to minimize prolonged signs. The iron-based baits tend to be safer than metaldehyde bait, but they can still cause stomach upset. Large exposures to iron-based baits can lead to iron toxicity which can cause signs such as your pet vomiting blood or having bloody diarrhea, cardiovascular effects, and liver failure. Treatment may include decontamination, medications to support the gastrointestinal tract, blood work monitoring, and potentially antidotal chelation therapy to lower concentrations of iron in the bloodstream.

Are compost bins dangerous to dogs and cats?

Composting is great when done appropriately. Your compost should always be fenced off to keep pets and wildlife safe. These piles of decomposing and decaying organic matter have the potential to grow a mold called Penicillium crustosum which produces a tremor causing toxin called Penitrem A. Such toxins are referred to as “tremorgenic mycotoxins” and are toxic to both dogs and cats, as well as people and wildlife.

What clinical signs occur with moldy food poisoning and how are they treated?

Eating even small amounts of moldy food containing tremorgenic mycotoxins can result in the development of clinical signs within only 30 minutes of ingestion. These signs include agitation, elevated temperature, panting, drooling, vomiting, hyper-responsiveness, and tremors which can lead to serious neurologic abnormalities including seizures.

Prompt decontamination includes inducing vomiting and giving activated charcoal. These should only done if the pet is not showing signs of poisoning. Once signs develop, vomiting should NOT be induced and intensive supportive care with a veterinarian is necessary to minimize the severity of clinical signs.

Are there garden vegetable plants that are not safe for dogs and cats?

For some people, one of the greatest enjoyments of the summertime is working in the garden and enjoying the rewards of their hard work when harvest arrives. However, there are plants and human foods that can be toxic to dogs and cats. These include:

  • Tomato plants (the unripe fruit), which cause gastrointestinal irritation, incoordination, and weakness
  • Rhubarb leaves, which cause kidney failure in large doses
  • Onions and garlic, which result in red blood cell destruction and anemia
  • Grapes or raisins, which cause acute kidney failure

If any of the above plants or foods are ingested, it is important to seek veterinary care right away to determine the treatment needed for your pet.

Are wild mushrooms safe for dogs and cats?

There are many mushrooms that are non-toxic. However, there are also mushrooms that can cause gastrointestinal irritation, neurologic abnormalities, and liver failure. Identifying mushrooms can be very difficult, and it is important to seek veterinary care for your pet right away if any wild mushroom is ingested. Mushrooms purchased at a grocery store for human consumption are not expected to be a concern in pets.

My pet loves to chew on mulch. Is there anything to worry about with this?

Many mulch products pose a foreign body and obstruction risk if ingested. Cocoa bean mulch may cause an additional problem due to the methylxanthine (theobromine and caffeine) content. Methylxanthines, in high enough doses, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, incoordination, tremors, elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure and seizures. Early and aggressive veterinary care is important to minimize the severity of poisoning.

Are there outdoor chemicals to be concerned with in the summer?

Many people use fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides throughout the summer months. All of these may pose a health risk to dogs and cats.

Gastrointestinal upset is very common with fertilizer ingestion. Fertilizers that contain iron can result in significant health concerns if a large enough amount is ingested. Fertilizers can also contain bone, blood, or feather meal, which pets find to be very tasty. Ingestion of these types of fertilizers can lead to stomach upset and potentially pancreatitis. If the product is moldy, there is the potential for your pet to develop neurologic signs, just like with ingestion of compost.

Herbicides rarely cause concerns other than mild gastrointestinal upset when used and applied according to the label directions, provided pets have been kept off the treated surfaces until the applied areas have been allowed to dry completely.

While pesticides are much safer than they were 30 years ago, there are still some ingredients that may be more problematic than others. The majority of pesticides will cause vomiting and diarrhea; however, in large doses, certain ingredients can result in more significant problems including neurologic abnormalities. Some of the more problematic pesticides can include ingredients such as bifenthrin, carbamates (aldicarb, carbaryl, methomyl), and organophosphates (acephate, disulfoton).

Due to the vast number of products available for lawn and pest control and the potential for harm to your pet, it is recommended to contact Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian to determine if your pet is in need of treatment.

Are blue green algae really a problem for my pet?

Blue green algae are actually bacteria that can be found in fresh or brackish bodies of stagnant water and they typically thrive in the warm summer months. While lakes are a common source for blue green algae, they are also found along streams and riverbanks. Typically, these algal blooms are seen in any body of water with excess nutrients from fertilizer/manure run off . Blue green algal blooms have the appearance of a green, blue green, rusty, or brown film or mat collecting on the water’s edge. Blue green algae can produce various toxins that can affect your pet’s central nervous system, skin, and liver. If your pet is exposed to blue green algae by swimming in, or drinking contaminated water, they can become quiet ill. Signs associated with exposure to blue green algae can develop quickly and include stomach upset, weakness, red skin, blister formation, tremors, seizures, coma, yellow skin or eyes, bleeding abnormalities, difficulty breathing, and even death.

Before you let your pet go near a body of water, take a few minutes to do some investigating. Blue green algae are present throughout the United States and its occurrence is not only limited to summer months. Most states have blue green algae bloom maps during the summer due to its higher prevalence in warmer months. If there is a blue green algae bloom in the area, signs are often posted near the water. If your pet does get into water that may contain blue green algae, rinse your pet thoroughly with fresh water as soon as possible, rinse out their mouth, and contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline.

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, MN is available 24/7 for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $65 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com

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