A West Virginia emergency veterinarian explains some of the most common toxin ingestions she sees in canine clients
The world of veterinary medicine can be trying at times. Because of a shortage of doctors around the country and, commonly, non-emergency cases clogging up some already backed-up animal hospitals, some potential problems can be prevented by simply informing yourself.
One of those problems: accidental toxin ingestion.
“I usually see five to 10 cases of accidental toxin ingestion coming into our practice,” said Lindsay Vega, DVM, an emergency veterinarian in Morgantown, West Virginia. “Most people are uninformed that some food has serious negative effects on dogs, but after the first accidental ingestion they tend to be more aware.”
Below are three of the most common cases Vega sees on a monthly basis.
Chocolate is the most common toxin Vega sees on a monthly basis. From candy to brownies, to baking chocolate to, well, anything, dogs tend to have a nose for this sweet treat. Too much chocolate ingestion, however, can have serious ramifications.
“It can range from asymptotic to GI signs to mild to severe GI signs to tremors, seizures, cardiac problems, and death,” Vega said. “Make sure you have it in an area they can’t get to it, and it’s best to crate your dog when you’re not home.”
Another common toxin some may not know about is grapes and/or raisins.
According to Colette Wegenast, DVM, in a report by the American Animal Hospital Association, “The lightbulb moment came with the realization that tartaric acid and potassium bitartrate are uniquely present in high concentrations in grapes, and that dogs are [members of] a species that has been shown to be sensitive to tartaric acid—with acute renal failure reported in the older studies. Upon further investigation … tartaric acid and potassium bitartrate kept checking off the boxes in support of the theory that they’re the toxic principles in grapes and raisins.”
Vega concurred, with some additional suggestions for dog owners.
“It can cause no issues to acute kidney injury or failure,” she said. “Make sure they’re kept behind cabinet doors or contained properly. Also, watch your kids or guests and make sure they aren’t inadvertently feeding your dog food or sweets with raisins in them like cookies, raisin bread, trail mix, et cetera.”
The third common toxin Vega sees on a regular basis comes from Xylitol, a sugar substitute used frequently in chewing gum.
While not toxic to humans, Xylitol causes a dog’s pancreas to release insulin, which drives blood sugar down. While this significant drop in blood sugar is known as hypoglycemia, it can also lead to acute liver necrosis.
“Usually dogs just find gum,” Vega said. “Keep your purse closed and away from your dog if you have gum in it, and be especially sure to watch your dog in the car if you have it in the glove box. Also, keep an eye on your children. If they have gum in their room or like to carry it around, inform them of the dangers gum can pose to your pet.”
An important note about toxins
If you ever suspect your dog has ingested a toxin, first contact the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 and walk them through your concerns. They will direct you on what to do.
Please note, never induce vomiting. Follow directions from the poison helpline or a veterinarian if they direct you to contact one.