Winter is almost over and soon it will be spring, with all the loveliness it brings. No doubt you and your pets will be out enjoying the sunshine, flowers and all the new animals frolicking in the fields. But while you’re out and about, and indeed also at home, you should be aware of a number of Springtime Toxins that can be quite dangerous for your four-legged friends.
What is a Toxin?
If you’re unsure what exactly a toxin is, it’s probably worth explaining first! A toxin is any substance that causes harm inside an animal’s body. The harm that toxins can cause are as diverse as the number of toxins, but as a rough guide, toxins can cause damage to the kidneys, liver, local area, blood, or other organs. How much damage a toxin does to an individual varies depending on the type of toxin, the dose, the method of ingestion, the animal that ingested it and its age, health, gender, etc., and many other factors. Generally an animal with toxicosis (toxin-induced damage) will show acute toxicity within 24 hours of ingestion. Rarely, an animal can have chronic toxicosis, where long-term ingestion of small amounts of toxin build up and cause disease - this is more common in farm animals, but can occur in pets.
As mentioned above, toxins can get into the body via many methods. Most common is probably swallowed, but they can also be inhaled, absorbed through skin or mucous membranes, injected (such as via a needle, an insect stinger, or a sharp object), or it just does damage to the skin it touches. Some toxins may even be safe when first ingested, but are converted to their toxic form within the body.
Basically, toxicology is an imprecise science and it can be hard to predict how much damage ingestion of a toxin will do to your pet. This is why we tend to err on the side of caution - more on this later. As a pet owner, you don’t need to worry about what toxins do exactly - it is better to be aware of what substances contain toxins, what signs you need to spot that may indicate toxicosis, and what to do if it occurs.
If we asked you what’s the one toxic food every dog owner knows about, it would be chocolate. Chocolate, or more specifically theobromine, the toxic chemical in chocolate, can be deadly to dogs, causing vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, heart problems and even death if large amounts are consumed - so whether you have leftover Christmas chocolate (yeah right!) or early Easter eggs, please keep it well away from your dogs.
On top of chocolate, did you know that many other common foods are harmful to our pets? Both dogs and cats are intolerant to allium plants, which include foods like onions, garlic, leeks and chives. These vegetables can cause anaemia and collapse, so should definitely be avoided. Remember that a lot of food also contains these ingredients, so if you’re wanting to start a vegetable patch this spring, just be careful.
Grapes and raisins are also harmful to dogs, as they damage the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure. As above, don’t forget foodstuffs that might contain small amounts of these, such as cakes. Nuts in general aren’t harmful to pets (except as choking hazards), with the exception of macadamia nuts, which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness and collapse.
Finally, the substance toxic to all known animals that we inexplicably love to mix with Coca-Cola and party with - we’re talking of course about alcohol. We hope you know already that alcohol is toxic (ask anyone with a hangover!), and of course large amounts can be deadly. This applies to pets too, but our pets are less tolerant of alcohol than we are. What might be a small tipple for us could cause blood pressure drop, collapse and seizures in our pets. If you have alcohol out for an Easter party, please keep it away from your pets, and clean up any spills quickly!
Toxins Around the House
The kitchen isn’t the only place products toxic to pets can be found around springtime - the rest of the home contains hazards too. Many human products like toothpaste and chewing gum contain a sweetener called xylitol. Dogs are known to be highly intolerant to this, as it causes low blood sugar, collapse and liver damage in even tiny quantities; a single piece of chewing gum could potentially be deadly. Always check the label on products and be on the lookout for ‘xylitol’.
Perhaps for spring you’ve decided to freshen up the house with some nice flowers? A lovely idea, but consider that quite a few can be harmful to dogs and cats. Lilies you should be aware of, as they are toxic to cats especially - ingestion can damage the kidneys and lead to failure quickly. The plant itself is harmful, but cats tend to become ill from drinking the water they sit in. If you must have these plants in your home, put them up high with a cover over the vase to protect your cats. Likewise, spring favourites tulips can cause vomiting, depression and other symptoms if nibbled on, so keep safely out of paws reach!
Moving out into the garden and onto your vegetable patch (no alliums!), you might think it’s a good idea to get some compost to help your plants grow. It’s a good idea, but avoid any coffee or cocoa bean shell compost, as these ingredients are harmful to pets that might go sniffing around. Fertiliser is often treated with harmful chemicals as well, so consider whether it’s really necessary for your runner beans. You may also have some flowers growing in the garden, but be aware that rhododendrons and hyacinths are dangerous to dogs and cats, causing heart disease or seizures.
Okay, so the garden should now be mostly safe. So what about the garage? Garages are full of deadly chemicals which you hopefully should keep sealed and well away from pets. The only one we will mention here is antifreeze. Spring chills means you might still have some of this close to hand in the mornings, but did you know it is deadly to cats and dogs, as it causes vomiting and kidney damage even from a tiny amount. It has anecdotally been reported cats are attracted to the sweet taste of this chemical, but this is not certain. Regardless, keep bottles of antifreeze sealed tight and clean up any spillage you make straight away.
Toxins Out and About
Maybe the house isn’t so safe after all. Perhaps we should take the dog for a walk in the country? Well, unfortunately, pets may not be completely safe here either! Daffodils are the main thing to watch out for in spring, as dogs that ingest them can become lethargic or collapse. The same will also be true for any cut daffodils you have at home, so do be aware of this.
Next are bee stings. Now, bees and the chemicals they inject, if you or your dog are unfortunate enough to be stung, aren’t usually that dangerous, only causing a little pain and swelling. However, a few dogs are severely allergic to bee stings, and can go into an allergic shock if stung - this can mean they struggle to breathe and may collapse. Unfortunately, it is hard to know if your dog is allergic without having being stung previously, so it is probably a good idea to just keep their nose off of any bushes bees might be buzzing around!
Finally, and this one is more general, please be careful with your pets around human medicine - this applies to at home or out on the street. Dogs and cats are very different biologically to humans, and many drugs act very differently inside them. Even drugs we do use in pets, like aspirin, is in much too high a concentration in our tablets to be safe to use in pets. Never give your pet human medicine - if your pet is unwell, please contact us instead.
How to Help Pets with Toxicosis
Very briefly, we will discuss what you should do, and what we can do, in the unfortunate situation that your pet has ingested something toxic. If you suspect this, immediately ring us for advice. Give them as much detail as you can about what you think they have ingested. This includes the product, the ingredients, the quantity and so on. If your pet is unwell, tell them and they can give you advice on how to manage it. If they are worried, you will be asked to bring your pet in.
At the vets, most intoxicated pets will be made to vomit, with the hope that they will throw up the toxic product before too much of it is absorbed. Certain toxins have antidotes, but not all. Seriously ill animals may require fluid therapy, blood transfusions and strong pain relief. Unfortunately, beyond a certain point, there is nothing that can be done to prevent further toxicosis, and the symptoms must just be managed. With toxicities, the earlier it is noticed, the quicker treatment can be given and the better the outcome. So please keep an eye out and what your pet has in their mouth!
We hope that this article has been useful in listing some of the common Springtime Toxins you may see in the next few months, and what to do should the worst happen. Be cautious of what your pets can eat, keep this list in mind, and have a happy and safe spring with your pets!