Category Archives: Toxicity

Cold weather and cabin fever

posted on January 31, 2019 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

With the polar vortex swirling freezing air around, there are a few safety and sanity tips we’d like to share with you!

Keep pets inside!  This may seem obvious to some, but it bears repeating.  While some dogs have thicker/double coats and are adapted to colder temperatures, these negative temperatures are too cold for all pets.  Frost bite is possible on sensitive skin such as paw pads.  Limit exposure to short bathroom breaks, and use protective wear such as booties, paw balms, and/or sweaters and coats.

If you have pets that cannot be kept inside, make sure they have access to shelter and unfrozen water.  Consider offering shelter in your garage or shed, or providing “nest boxes” for neighborhood strays.  Leaving pets outside in extreme cold temperatures, especially without adequate shelter, can be construed as animal cruelty and may be cause for legal action.  If you see a pet outside and are concerned, you can contact your local police for guidance.

Wipe feet after walks outside-sidewalk salt can be irritating and may even be toxic.  Use a warm, damp rag to wipe feet after walks outside to prevent your pet from licking these.  Or invest in the aforementioned booties.  Use pet safe salt on your own driveways and sidewalks if you are able.

Stay off ice-even with the extreme cold we’ve been having, it is possible to get injured, loose control of your pet when there is no traction, or in the worst case scenario, fall through ice.

Monitor for signs of hypothermia.  Shivering, lethargy, progressing to slowed heart rate and respiratory rate (breathing), coma, and even death can occur.  Warm pets slowly, and avoid heating pads and other hot items when rewarming.  Call a veterinarian if you are concerned your pet may be suffering from hypothermia.

Make noise when starting vehicles-stray cats and other critters are drawn to the warmth of a recently run engine.  Tap on hood, honk horn, and check for animals before starting your vehicle.

If you are using antifreeze, make sure to keep pets out of the area and clean up any spills immediately.  Antifreeze is sweet and draws your pets’ attention, and is extremely toxic.  Call a veterinarian immediately if your pet gets into antifreeze.

Be prepared-if the power goes out or a blizzard strikes, make sure you have enough food and medications for at least 5 days for your pets.  Keep an emergency kit for your pet in case you need to relocate due to the weather-include food, medications, grooming supplies, vaccine records, and your veterinarian’s information at a minimum.

Lastly, leave your pet at home.  You’re probably bringing extra clothing for yourself in these extreme cold temperatures in case the car gets stranded.  You cannot do the same for your pets.  It is too cold for them to sit in the car waiting for you while you run errands, so unless you need to specifically bring them somewhere, leave them home and warm.

Now, as for the cabin fever from being stuck in the house.  Play games of hide and seek-hide treats around the house and let your dog sniff them out.  Play chase with a toy with your cat or dog.  Dogs can play fetch in the house going up and down stairs or hallways.  Puzzle toys encourage your pet to interact to get a treat.  Find a recipe for homemade pet treats that you can bake for something for the whole family to do and your pet to enjoy.


Autumn Awareness

posted on October 01, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Autumn has arrived, and the new season brings new risks to our pets.  There are a couple of toxicities or risks for our pets as the weather turns cooler.

Chrysanthemums or mums are toxic to our dogs and cats.  Symptoms of ingestion can include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, decreased appetite, enlarged pupils, depression, and incoordination.  Some pets are also sensitive to contact with the flower on their skin and may develop a rash, itch, or sores.  Contact your veterinarian if your pet has ingested a mum and is showing symptoms.

There are a variety of mushrooms popping up all over this time of year.  Some are completely harmless and will not cause any issues.  Others can cause some gastrointestinal tract irritation that may lead to vomiting and diarrhea.  More toxic versions can cause hallucinations or liver or kidney failure.  Because of the wide variety of mushrooms and the difficulty in identifying them, if your pet ingests a mushroom in your yard you should contact a veterinarian immediately.  Hospitalization, inducing vomiting, activated charcoal, fluids, bloodwork, and sometimes even stomach lavage is needed to treat these pets.  The sooner treatment begins the better the prognosis, but some mushroom ingestions can be fatal.  Signs your dog may have ingested a mushroom can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, incoordination or walking drunk, depression, tremors, seizures, yellowing of the skin, changes in thirst and urination, and changes in pupil size.

Walnuts, corn cobs, and acorns all seem to be abundant this time of year as well.  These can cause issues with being mildly toxic, such as walnuts which can cause tremors and seizures or acorns which can cause vomiting or diarrhea.  These items can also cause foreign body obstructions which can become life threatening.  Vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy, straining or a lack of bowel movements can all be symptoms of this.

Lastly, just a reminder that Halloween candy such as sugar free candies or chocolate can be toxic to your pets.

If you think or know your pet has gotten into any of these potential hazards, please contact us.  Hopefully with a little caution, we can enjoy the beautiful autumn colors while keeping our pets safe.

Xylitol, a hidden danger

posted on August 03, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

A new danger is presenting itself to our pets and it’s one that is not very obvious.  Xylitol, a sugar alcohol found in many products, can be extremely toxic to our pets such as dogs and ferrets.  It is a natural product, so it can be found in items that are listed as natural or organic, and may even be listed as a natural sweetener.

Xylitol is not toxic to humans, but can cause severe and even fatal issues in our dogs.  In quantities as low as 0.1 gram per kilogram of body weight (which is about 0.01 oz per pound), it can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.  This means that a 10 lb dog could eat as little as one mint or one piece of gum and show symptoms of hypoglycemia.  Symptoms of this include staggering or “drunk” walking, drooling, appearing disoriented, weakness, collapsing, seizures, or even death.

At doses of 0.5 gram per kilogram of body weight (roughly equal to 0.04 oz per pound), a more serious issue occurs-liver damage, which can lead to liver failure and death.  Signs of liver damage can include changes in appetite, vomiting, jaundice or yellowing of the skin, eyes, and gums.

Because it is non toxic to humans, it is often used in various diet foods, dental products, and sugar free foods.  It is sold as a sugar substitute and can be used in baking.  It is cropping up in multiple spots, including gums, mints, some over the counter medications and nasal sprays, some prescription medications, and even in candies, puddings, ice creams, jams, drinks, and the one we are most concerned with, peanut and nut butters.

The concern with peanut butter is that many people use this as a treat, to stuff a toy, or to give medications.  Peanut butter that is not sweetened with xylitol is safe for pets in small amounts, though it is high in fats and may not be indicated with some medical conditions.  However, if an owner accidentally uses a peanut butter sweetened with xylitol, this treat could prove deadly.


If you use peanut butter for your pet, please read the ingredients carefully.  The words xylitol, sugar alcohol, or natural sweeteners are all red flags and should be avoided.

If you think your pet has been exposed to xylitol, prompt veterinary care is recommended.  Please call us or an emergency clinic immediately after exposure is noted or suspected.

Signs of low blood sugar generally appear 1-2 hours after ingestion, but can be delayed up to 12 hours.  If the exposure is recent, vomiting may be induced to help remove the toxin, but the pet should be assessed prior to this to make sure it is safe to induce vomiting.  Blood sugars will be checked and IV fluids with sugar added may be necessary.  Hospitalization can be required for a few days in some cases, until the pet is able to regulate their blood sugar on their own again.

If the dose was high enough to cause liver damage, IV fluids with sugar may be recommended preemptively.  Liver enzymes should be monitored via blood work for a few days after exposure.  Blood clotting parameters should also be monitored as well, as the liver is responsible for making these, and spontaneous bleeding is a concern.  Medications, hospitalization, and even blood transfusions may be recommended or required.

The sooner the pet is brought in, the more we can do to try to prevent permanent damage.  Again, if you think your pet has been exposed, please call us or an emergency clinic immediately.  Lastly, try to prevent exposure by reading ingredient lists carefully, keeping human candies, gums, mints, and medications out of your pet’s reach.

Red, White, and Blue-Green Algae?!

posted on July 02, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Summer heat makes you and your dog want to jump in the lake to cool off, but wait!  Are there hidden dangers lurking there?

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are microscopic bacteria found in freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, and swamps.  They “bloom” in mid to late summer months, especially in nutrient rich water.  Not all of these blooms are toxic, but without biochemical testing it is impossible to tell which are.

The toxins produced by the blooms can cause a variety of signs, depending on which toxins that particular bacteria produce.  It can cause liver disease, which may cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, blood in feces, black, tar-like stool, weakness, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of gums, eyes, and skin), seizures, disorientation, confusion, coma, or shock.  Death can occur in a matter of days due to liver failure.

Some blue-green algae can produce even nastier toxins called anatoxins.  These cause issues with the neurologic system, and signs can include increased tear production, increased salivation, muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, paralysis, difficulty breathing, and/or blue gums and tongue.  Death can occur in minutes to hours after exposure to this toxin from blue-green algae.

There is not a specific antidote to the toxins from blue-green algae, but immediate veterinary care is very important.  Anti-seizure medication, oxygen, IV fluids, treatment of low proteins or low blood sugar, and other supportive measures are imperative to treatment.

If there is an algae scum on the water or the water has a “pea soup” look to it, stay clear, especially during the hot summer months.  If your pet is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, or if you suspect your pet has been exposed to blue-green algae, please contact us or an emergency veterinarian immediately.

Rodenticide Risks

posted on January 05, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

For many years, if a pet ingested rat/mouse poison, the treatment was to induce vomiting, and then follow up with vitamin K.  Sometimes activated charcoal or additional treatments were needed.  Most cases, if caught early, were not fatal.  The active ingredients in most of these rat poisons was a second generation anticoagulant.

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a law prohibiting the use of long acting anti-coagulants (second generation anticoagulants) in homes.  They passed this in effort to reduce secondarily poisoning wildlife.  Most manufacturers became compliant with this in the years following, switching to active ingredients such as bromethalin, first generation anticoagulants (such as warfarin), and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3).

d-Con, a major manufacturer of rodenticides, argued with the EPA that bromethalin is a potent neurotoxin, and a ban on second generation anticoagulants would increase the risk of poisoning to children and pets.

As predicted, many companies began using bromethalin as their active ingredient.  Bromethalin causes cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), and has no antidote.  The treatment is only supportive, often repeated doses of activated charcoal throughout 24 hours, and intensive care hospitalization if swelling develops.  The drug remains in the system for a long time, so clinical signs may persist for weeks, and can even become permanent.

In 2014, d-Con announced that they would comply with the EPA mandate by replacing their second generation anticoagulant with a first generation anticoagulant.  The benefit to first generation anticoagulants is that there is treatment available if ingestion is caught early and treated immediately.  Vitamin K treatment for 3-4 weeks can still be used with this ingredient.

If you must use rat/mouse poisons, please use caution.  Put them in areas where your pet and children cannot reach/are not allowed to go.  Use traps instead if possible.  If you must use rodenticides, look for active ingredients such as diphacinone.  Avoid bromethalin at all costs.

If you think your pet ingested rat/mouse poison, call us immediately, as this is an emergency situation.  If we are not open, you should contact an emergency veterinarian.

Posted in: Toxicity

How to have a Happy Howl-o-ween!

posted on October 03, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Halloween is supposed to be a fun time for family, but can present some safety concerns for our furry friends.  Follow the below tips to make sure your pets are safe this holiday season!

  • Make sure all pets have identification on.  Permanent identification such as a microchip is better than a collar, which could get lost.
  • Keep wires and cords for lights and decorations safely out of reach.
  • Carving pumpkins can be great fun, but skip the candles.  Pets can be curious or accidentally knock over the pumpkins which could cause them to get burned or cause damage.
  • On the subject of pumpkins, pumpkins and corn are not toxic, but ingesting them can lead to obstructions, so keep pets out of outdoor decorations.
  • Candy such as chocolate or sugar free candies can be toxic to pets, so keep out of their reach.
  • Outdoor cats should be kept inside for a few days before and after Halloween due to the high traffic.
  • Indoor pets and pets in yard should be kept away from doors and gates which could be opened by visitors allowing them to get out and even lost.
  • Unless you know your pet does very well with strange people, people in costumes, and other pets, it might be better for them to stay at home while you trick or treat.  This holiday can be very overwhelming for even the best socialized pets.
  • Fog machines can be irritating to pets’ lungs and eyes as they are closer to the ground where the smoke lingers.
  • Lastly, if you are putting your pet into costume, make sure there are no pieces that are easily chewed off, that it fits appropriately to prevent injury, and that they are supervised while wearing it.

Hopefully with these tips all can enjoy a Happy Halloween!



Posted in: Toxicity

Backyard Barbeque time!

posted on July 03, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

Ah summer.  Season of backyard get togethers, bonfires, and barbeques.  Everyone wants to sit back, relax, and enjoy, not worry about the pets.  Use these tips to make sure everyone has a relaxing, enjoyable, and safe summer!

Sunscreens and insect repellents are not all pet safe.  Some contain ingredients that may cause stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhea, others contain products which may cause neurologic issues (dilated pupils, drunken walking, head tilt, incoordination, etc).  Make sure you are using a pet safe product or skip it all together.  However, do note that pets with thin hair or white hair can get sunburn, so make sure shade is available!

Everyone’s brought a dish to share, so we can share with the pet, right?  Wrong.  People foods may cause a variety of issues for pets.  Some cause an upset stomach, or gastroenteritis, which may cause vomiting and diarrhea, or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas which may require hospitalization).  Others may be toxic to pets-grapes, raisins, alcohol, chocolate, onion, garlic, and avocado being some common ones.  Artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which can be found in sugar free products like gums and candies, or in lower calorie foods as a sugar substitute, is also toxic to dogs.  Lastly, things like rib bones, chicken bones, and corn cobs can cause choking or obstruction hazards for pets and should not be given to them for chew toys or treats.

Lighter fluid and matches are both hazardous to pets if ingested.  Citronella is a respiratory irritant that can cause pneumonia, and can cause neurologic signs if ingested. Heat stroke can occur in pets, so provide plenty of clean water and shade.  Lastly, not all dogs know how to swim, so use caution around open water.

Hopefully with these safety tips everyone in the family can have a fun and enjoyable summer!

April showers bring May flowers…which may be toxic!

posted on May 02, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the rains fall, we look forward to the spring flowers that will soon be blooming.  While their bright colors remind us of warmer days coming, they may pose a hazard to our pets.

There are a number of toxic spring flowers that are common in our yards this time of year.  These include things like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, lily of the valley, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths are part of the same family and contain a chemical which can cause drooling, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, increased heart rate, abdominal cramping, abnormal breathing, or cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats or rhythm).  The bulb contains the highest concentration of this chemical, but all parts of the plant contain some, so if your pet has ingested a daffodil, tulip, or hyacinth veterinary attention should be sought.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are also from the same family.  These plants contain a chemical that is toxic to muscles in the body.  This leads to clinical signs such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, irregular heart rate and beat, low blood pressure, weakness, tremors, and depression.  In severe cases it can lead to blindness (usually temporary), seizures, and coma.  Prognosis is generally good with treatment, so if you see your pet ingest one of these plants or if you are concerned that your pet may have, please contact us.

Lily of the Valley also blooms this time of year, and is perhaps one of the more toxic plants talked about today.  Lily of the Valley is not a true lily, so it does not cause the kidney failure other lilies can (yes, most lilies are toxic).  Instead, it contains chemicals that affect the heart.  Signs of ingestion can start with vomiting or diarrhea, but progress to a slow heart rate, arrhythmias, seizures, and can be fatal if left untreated.  If your pet is showing these signs or you know they ingested lily of the valley, contact a veterinarian immediately.

These are just a small sample of common flowers that may be toxic to our furry friends.  Both Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA have excellent websites for checking if plants are toxic.  If there is any question whether your pet got into a toxic plant or if your pet is exhibiting any of the signs listed above, please contact us.


Winter Woes

posted on December 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As winter officially begins, many of us are busy dealing with the household chores that freezing weather present.  Many of these tasks present hazards to our pets however.  Ice melts and antifreeze can both be toxic if ingested by our furry friends.

Ice melts are often applied to driveways and walkways to prevent people from slipping.  If they are spilled or tracked indoors, improperly stored, or if your pet spends too much time walking on or rolling on sidewalks that are treated, they may exhibit signs of toxicity.  Most commonly seen is vomiting, but diarrhea, excessive salivation (drooling), depression, decreased appetite, tremors, disorientation, increased thirst, seizures, and even death can result.  Depending on the method of exposure, a bath may be indicated to remove salt from hair and feet.  Inducing vomiting is sometimes indicated as well, but it depends on how long ago ingestion occurred and which type of ice melt was used.  Please contact a veterinarian to see if vomiting should be induced in your situation.  Hydration via IV catheter or subcutaneous fluids will help prevent or correct electrolyte issues.  If electrolyte disturbances are noted, an EKG may be recommended.  If seizures are occurring, an anti-seizure medication may be needed until the electrolytes are normalized again and seizures stop.  Lastly, anti-nausea medications may be needed to prevent vomiting.  Many of these treatments are dependent on what type of salt was ingested and which signs your pet is having, but early detection and correction will help prevent the more serious issues such as arrhythmias of the heart or seizures.  Please call as soon as you realize your pet may have ingested ice melt.  When walking your pet in winter, wiping the feet carefully after being outside will help remove residue and can also prevent those pesky snow balls that form inbetween feet.  Clipping the hair between toes and wearing booties are other options.

Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is another very toxic substance for our pets.  It often has a very sweet flavor to it, so pets are enticed to lick up spills or drink from toilets where it has been added.  Ethylene glycol can be measured in the bloodstream within 30 minutes of ingestion, and reaches peak levels in 1 hour in cats, and 3-6 hours in dogs.  The body metabolizes the chemical, and these metabolites are actually what is toxic to the pet.  They cause kidney damage, acidosis, and can cause the formation of calcium oxalate crystals in the urinary tract and mineralization of the kidneys.  Often the signs seen with ethylene glycol poisoning include depression, ataxia (walking uncoordinated/like they are drunk), vomiting, increased thirst, and increased urinations.  These signs can develop and persist from 30 minutes-12 hours after ingestion or longer.  If you suspect your pet has ingested ethylene glycol, please immediately contact your veterinarian.  If treatment is delayed until kidney damage occurs and kidney values in the blood are elevated, the prognosis is much poorer.

With a little prevention, winter can be a fun and enjoyable time for you and your pet.


Homegrown Hazards

posted on July 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As July rolls around, many of us start to see fresh produce from our gardens.  Who doesn’t enjoy some fresh greens, or watching the fruits of our labors start to ripen into the produce we will pick next month.  While spending time in the garden is good for us, there are some hidden hazards to pets in there.

Many plants in the garden may be potentially poisonous to your pet, and any plant if eaten in large enough amounts can cause issues such as obstructions.  Most toxicities are mild and include gastrointestinal (GI) upset such as vomiting or diarrhea.  However, a few of the ones listed below may be more serious.  If your pet eats something out of your garden and you are not sure if it’s safe or not, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  Please note that this list is not a complete list, just a few of the more common potentially hazardous plants seen in gardens.


Tomatoes are a part of the nightshade family, which contains a number of toxic plants.  Green tomatoes, leaves and stems, and flowers can all contain the toxin, though ripe tomatoes tend to have very little toxin left.  Signs of toxicity can include GI upset, increased salivation (drooling), cardiac effects, and nervous system signs including ataxia (walking uncoordinated like a drunk), dilated pupils, confusion, behavior changes, muscle weakness, tremors, and seizures.


Grapes have been identified as the cause of acute renal (kidney) failure in dogs.  The exact mechanism is not understood at this time.  It is also not known if grapes are toxic to cats.  Signs can take 24 hours to develop, and may include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased or absent appetite, and changes in urine production.  Bloodwork may be necessary to see what the kidney values are, and fluids and hospitalization may be needed to help support the kidneys.  Often damage to the kidneys is not reversible and this toxicity could be fatal, so prevention is key.  Avoid grapes and raisins for any pets in the house, and keep outdoor pets away from grape vines if present in your yard.


Avocados, while possessing a number of health benefits for humans, are actually toxic to pets.  They can cause tissue necrosis (tissue death), and can damage the heart muscles.  They are extremely toxic to pet birds (even a small amount usually is fatal).  Dogs and cats tend to develop GI signs, but may also develop symptoms of cardiac issues such as exercise intolerance, cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing, or collapse.


Rhubarb is toxic to dogs and cats.  The leaves can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and irritation of the mouth (increased salivation or drooling, pawing at mouth).  The plant also contains something called oxalic acid, which can lead to formation of crystals in the urinary tract, and can cause damage to the kidneys, which, in severe cases, can even lead to kidney failure.  Fluid support for the kidneys is recommended and may require hospitalization.

Onion and Garlic

Onions and garlics both belong to the same family and both can cause negative effects on pets.  These plants can cause red blood cell issues such as hemolysis (break down of red blood cells), Heinz body formations (abnormalities in red blood cell structure), agglutination (clumping of red blood cells), methemoglobinemia (methemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin that is NOT able to carry oxygen, reducing the red blood cell’s ability to function correctly), and hemoglobinuria (red blood cell breakdown products being passed in the urine).  This may look like pale gums, bruising, weakness, difficulty breathing, urinating “blood” (very dark urine), or collapse.  In addition to anemia, pets may develop GI signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.  Bloodwork and supportive care such as fluids, supportive feeding, hospitalization, and possibly even blood transfusions may be necessary.

The ASPCA has a good website for checking if plants are toxic and what signs to watch for, and you can always give us or a pet poison helpline a call.  Hopefully together we can help keep pets safe so everyone can enjoy summer!