Toxin Ingestion or Exposure

Toxin exposure involves a wide range of substances either eaten or absorbed by our pets.  Various medication (veterinary and human), certain foods, illegal drugs, plants, and chemicals can cause toxicity.  We ask that you be as specific as possible when describing your pet’s behavior and let us know the amount and type of toxin ingested.   Symptoms vary depending on the toxin and your description will help us identify potential risks and treatment.  Bring any toxin packaging or information pamphlets with you when you bring your pet to the hospital.  You may contact the ASPCA Poison Control prior to coming in.   Their database of toxins, clinical signs, and treatment options is comprehensive, and trained toxicologists are on staff 24 hours a day.  There is a $65 fee associated with the phone call, and the information provided by this service allows our staff to develop an appropriate treatment plan for your pet in a timely manner.

In many cases, a toxic ingestion is discovered before symptoms begin to show.  A container, wrapper, or some other evidence is noticed before abnormal behavior or illness begins.  Symptoms are variable and commonly include vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, bruising, lethargy, depression, inappetence, uncoordination, stumbling and, in more extreme cases, collapse, seizures and respiratory distress.  Recommended diagnostics include radiographs, blood testing, urinalysis and other tests specific to certain toxins. 

While the clinical signs for different toxins vary, treatment is similar for most.  We will often recommend making your pet vomit to remove the toxin if it was ingested to prevent absorption from the intestinal system into the bloodstream.  We rarely recommend that you induce vomiting at home due to the risk of complications.  A bath with mild dish soap is recommended for toxin exposure on the skin.  Dawn is the preferred brand but any dish soap will work. 

Giving activated charcoal by mouth can be useful to absorb toxins in the intestinal tract, and IV fluids are often administered to help speed elimination of a toxin through the kidneys and liver.  Gastrointestinal, liver, and kidney protectants, as well as anti-nausea medications may be administered to prevent organ damage or help make the pet more comfortable.  In the case of neurologic signs (tremors, seizures, uncoordination, or inappropriate mental state), anticonvulsants, sedatives, or muscle relaxants may be given.

The prognosis for toxin exposure is dependent on a number of factors, including the type of toxin, how it was absorbed, how quickly treatment was sought, how aggressively the pet is treated, and the individual pet’s reaction.  Some toxins, like sago palm, have a very poor prognosis regardless of how quickly and aggressively the animal is treated.  Others, like chocolate, have a very good prognosis.  Because of the wide range of potential toxins that our pets can be exposed to and the large number of variables involved, each case must be considered individually. 

Following up with your primary care veterinarian to monitor any long-term effects of toxin exposure is typically an important key to success.