Reduce Your Pet's Exposure to Toxins

10/01/2010
Author: Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Toxic exposure can initiate many negative internal organ system changes in your pet.  As we live in a toxic environment (air, water, soil, food, plants, etc), the potential for exposure is high for our companion animals.  Clinical signs manifesting from exposure to a variety of toxins may be acute or chronic.  Acute exposure tends to cause a pet to rapidly show clinical signs of illness (vomit, diarrhea, anorexia, collapse, seizure, etc).  Chronic exposure leads to a slower decline in overall health status and ultimately leads to signs similar to those caused by acute exposure.

In my clinical practice, the primary route I see toxic substances enter a pet’s body is via oral ingestion. The oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract can be locally irritated or can serve as the site of absorption into the bloodstream.  The cardiovascular system pumps the blood’s contents rapidly around the body, negatively impacting the organs that function to detoxify the body, such as the liver and kidneys.  The central nervous system often manifests toxic exposure with severe clinical signs, such as seizures, tremors, syncope (“fainting” or collapse), or lethargy.  The respiratory tract (nose, lungs), eyes, and skin are other routes toxic agents can enter the body.  

Toxins may be regional and seasonal in nature pending the region’s climate and topography.  Southern California’s dry climate permits the hearty growth of many plants, including the Sago Palm tree. The Sago Palm contains the glycoside cycasin, which rapidly causes liver toxicity when ingested. Snail bait (methaldehyde) is placed in gardens on a seasonal basis and causes tremors, seizures, or coma when consumed.  Desert areas harbor potentially toxic fungal organisms, such as Coccidioides (causative agent of Coccidiomycosis or “Valley Fever”), which earthquakes and rainstorms aerosolize to create a vehicle for inhalation of the spores.  Wildfires burn environmental and man-made debris leading to local irritation of the ocular and respiratory tract.  Every summer, Jacaranda tree flowers coat the ground and attract bees, contributing to an increased incidence of hypersensitivity reactions from bee stings. 

Methods of preventing your pet’s potential exposure to toxic substances include:

  • Not allowing your pet unobserved access to your yard or other areas of your home.
  • Walking your pet on a short lead to maintain control over their ability to have contact with substances encountered while sniffing or exploring an environment.
  • “Pet Proofing” your home and yard to remove appealing substances that may be inappropriately ingested. 
  • Confining your pet to a climate controlled environment during times of fire, wind, extreme heat/cold, or other natural disasters.

A toxic exposure may be known or unknown.  It is fortunate for the pet if the exposure is known, as the Animal Poison Control Center (AAPCC) can provide information as to the best treatment.  A pet owner or the veterinarian responsible for the pet’s care can initiate the call (888-426-4435).  I highly recommend starting a case file with the AAPCC, as the board certified veterinary toxicologist with whom you consult will be able to provide the most likely prognosis from the vast information they have available in their database.

Any suspected toxic exposure in your pet should be further investigated by communicating with your veterinarian and/or the AAPCC.  I hope your pet does not suffer any health consequence secondary to a toxin ingestion or rapidly recovers once the treatment process has been initiated.

Copyright of this article is owned by Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist.  The opinions in this article are those of the author and not the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

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