We are often very aware what we should not feed our dogs to avoid accidental toxicity such as chocolate and raisins but we must also be aware of risks they may access outside.
Mouldy bread is a source of mycotoxins which, when eaten, can cause muscle tremors, seizures, coma and death. Ingestion often occurs after a bin has been raided or where garden birds are fed stale bread. There is no antidote or treatment other than managing symptoms.
Severely affected dogs may need anaesthetising to control the seizures until the effects of the toxin wear off. Compost and out of date dairy products can grow the same toxins.
Commercial bird food, when mouldy, can also grow toxins which have the same effects as mouldy bread. Peanuts and maize can grow the mould Aspergillus which produce aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can cause liver damage and clotting disorders.
Slug pellets containing metaldehyde can be extremely toxic. Symptoms are similar to mycotoxins and confirmation of ingestion is often seen if blue pellets are vomited up or passed in faeces. Copper-based slug pellets are much less toxic and only likely to cause digestive upsets if eaten.
Rat bait is also typically coloured blue but most rat baits used in the UK cause clotting disorders. Signs are typically seen three days after ingestion with spontaneous bleeding developing internally or externally. Affected animals may cough up or vomit blood or have blood in their urine or may collapse due to internal bleeding. It is rare for poisoning to occur from eating poisoned rats unless a lot of have been eaten by, for instance, an active hunting cat.
Cannabis can be highly toxic to pets due to their small size. In low doses dogs can appear sleepy and wobbly. Larger volumes can cause affected animals to be hyperactive, disorientated and very vocal. In severe cases tremors, seizures and coma may result.
Nicotine is also poisonous to our pets. In small amounts it can causes a rapid heart rate and digestive upset but, following ingestion of large amounts such as may occur from chewing a vape cannister, symptoms can rapidly develop to seizures and cardiac arrest.
Alcohol is also potentially life-threatening to pets. Due to the combination of small body size and their inability to process it they are prone to serious symptoms such as vomiting and disorientation leading on to loss of consciousness and heart rhythm problems. Sources of alcohol can include uncooked bread dough and alcohol-based hand cleaner as well as alcoholic drinks.
Toads are a surprising cause of unusual symptoms. Animals which have licked or mouthed a toad may salivate profusely, show oral pain and develop tremors and dilated pupils. These symptoms are usually temporary and resolve without treatment but can appear alarming initially.
It can be difficult to know the cause of toxicity when an animal develops these symptoms unless a known ingestion of a particular item has been seen and treatment is often symptomatic and supportive. The quicker treatment is sought after the onset of symptoms the more likely life-threatening symptoms may be controlled.
by Lynn Broom
Longmead Veterinary Practice