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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 20 February 2001 Issue:


XXX - Emergency! XX - Highly Dangerous X - Dangerous

This is primarily a problem of dogs and cats that roam freely around the farm or neighborhood with easy access to "road kill," garbage cans, etc. However, any animal that eats decaying, rotten carcasses or other food material (i.e., left-over hamburger) that has been contaminated by bacteria and bacteria-produced toxins is susceptible to this poisoning. The toxicity of the rotten food lies largely in toxins produced by bacteria in the food material which are then delivered in the meal to the dog or cat and cause severe gastrointestinal upset. Clinical signs can include vomiting, diarrhea (which may be bloody), fever, abdominal pain, and weakness. Severely affected animals can go into shock and even die as a result of the absorbed bacterial toxins.

For those animals who are not restricted in their activity it is impossible to prevent possible garbage poisoning (as well as the all too common "hit-by-car" injuries which are a much more common and deadly risk for free-roaming animals). However, if your animal has "escaped" and you suspect he or she has gotten into something very unappetizing (frequently the odor of the meal is obvious even before the pet throws it up!) be aware that this type of poisoning can be quite serious and follow up with your veterinarian if you see any signs of illness (repeated vomiting, lethargy, depression).

XXX - Emergency! XX - Highly Dangerous X - Dangerous

Teflon toxicity occurs most often in pet birds and in the 1990 AAPCC report on small animal poisoning, resulted in 5 of 425 fatalities. The problem arises when pots or pans containing either Teflontm or Silverstonetm are left on a hot stove until heated to >280 degrees Celsius (generally when a pan is forgotten on a hot stove for some time until it is "white hot"). The result is the release of toxic particles into the air that cause severe damage to the bird's lungs when inhaled. Birds are unable to clear the toxic particles by exhaling, coughing, etc. and are therefore more susceptible to this type of poisoning.  Although hard to avoid as it results from an accident, it might be a good idea to house pet birds a distance from the kitchen (especially if you tend to be an absent-minded cook!) 

CHOCOLATE (Drug class: Methylxanthines) - X
XXX - Emergency! XX - Highly Dangerous X - Dangerous

It often surprises pet owners to discover that for animals, chocolate is poisonous in sufficient dosages. Specifically it is the drugs in chocolate, theobromine and caffeine (of the drug class methylxanthines), that are toxic to pets. Only a moderate amount needs to be eaten by an animal, typically a dog, in order to be poisonous (approx. 1/2 oz. of baking chocolate per pound of body weight and less in some animals). With the poison in this case being so appealing, overdose is not a rare occurrence. Poisonings of this type typically occur during the holiday seasons of Easter, Christmas and Halloween. Depending on their appetite and the specific ingredients contained in the recipe, some dogs have ingested a toxic dose of chocolate by eating an entire pan of brownies or another chocolate dessert, particularly one containing baking chocolate. Fortunately, the animal frequently vomits soon after which reduces the amount of poison in the stomach available to act on the body and decreases the toxicity somewhat. If clinical signs are seen, these can include vomiting, excessive urination, hyperactivity, fast breathing, weakness and seizures. While rare, death can occur, usually due to the adverse action of methylxanthines on the heart.

Many people unknowingly feed their dogs chocolate treats (candy bars, cookies, etc.) without obvious illness resulting; the lack of clinical signs is due only to the relatively low dose of methylxanthines in small amounts of milk chocolate. It is certainly better for your pet to stick to treats he or she will like just as much (freeze-dried liver pieces come to mind - yummy!) and avoid chocolate-containing treats where the dog is concerned. Also be aware that an accidental overdose of cake, bars, etc. containing chocolate can pose a significant risk to a dog. If this should happen to your pet, make note of the amount of chocolate used in the recipe, the approximate amount eaten by your pet and give your veterinarian a call to determine if the dose was sufficient to cause any problems.

To Be Continued In Next Edition

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT This guide was generously prepared by Julie Dahlke, DVM, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. She compiled information on poisons which are commonly accessible to pets and which cause their owners great concern. This is not an exhaustive guide to companion animal poisons but instead a useful, readable reference designed for the pet owner. Dr. Dahlke thanks Dr. Mike Murphy, a veterinary toxicologist and Ms. Lynn Lawrence, both of the University of Minnesota for their assistance in the development of this guide.

Source:AVMA poison guide

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