PETS AND POISONS - KEEP YOUR PETS SAFE FROM HARMFUL PLANTS AND SUBSTANCES

In gardens and in the every day home there may be plants or substances that could be harmful to your pets, should pets accidentally eat them.  This article has been produced to raise pet owner awareness of the potential dangers to pets from items commonly found in gardens and everyday homes.

Some of the commonly found items in the everyday home that can be poisonous to pets and if consumed accidentally by them and which may cause serious illness, include:

o       Paracetamol and Human medicines

o       Chocolate

o       Antifreeze

o       Raisins

o       Plant bulbs

Human Medicines:

The accidental ingestion of human medicinal preparations by pets such as dogs and cats is a common cause of accidental poisoning in small animals in veterinary practice, sometimes resulting in serious illness or even death.  Examples of human drugs often involved in accidental ingestion by pets and resulting toxicity include:

o       Ibuprofen (Nurofen, Advil or Brufen):

This drug at surprisingly low doses may cause stomach ulcers or even kidney damage. 

o       Paracetamol and salbutamol:

Paracetamol is particularly dangerous to cats. 

If you think your pet may have accidentally eaten a human drug, contact your veterinary surgery immediately. 

To help prevent pets from having access to human medicines and accidentally eating human drug preparations, it is important to ensure that all human medicines are stored out of the reach of pets and separately from any veterinary medications for pets.

 

Chocolate:

There is a substance, theobromine, which occurs naturally in the cocoa bean and that is found in all types of chocolate, but in especially high levels in dark, high quality chocolate and cocoa powder.  Theobromine is poisonous to dogs and can cause serious illness.  If eaten by dogs in large quantities, chocolate’s toxic effects can result in vomiting and diarrhoea, which may progress into restlessness and convulsions.  The main danger is when a dog helps itself to large quantities of chocolate that can be found in households at special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays.  Make sure that your dog does not have access to chocolate decorations that may be hanging on the Christmas tree and do not be tempted to give your dog human chocolate as a treat.  Chocolate made specifically for dogs may be given as treats in small quantities, as these chocolate treats have had the theobromine taken out and hence are safe for dogs to eat.  Veterinary advice should be immediately obtained following ingestion by dogs of large quantities of human chocolate.

 

Antifreeze:

Unfortunately dogs are attracted to the smell and taste of Antifreeze which is used in car radiators and car windscreen washes. Animals that have accidentally eaten this substance may show signs such as inco-ordination, vomiting, breathing difficulties and depression.  Veterinary attention should be sought immediately as fatalities can occur.

Owners should clear up spillages of antifreeze or windscreen wash as soon as possible and prevent access by pets. If a dog is seen drinking antifreeze it should be taken to a veterinary surgery immediately.

 

Grapes/raisins:

Fresh grapes or raisins have been documented to cause toxic signs in dogs.  Affected animals may become lethargic, inappetant and develop vomiting and diarrhoea.  In severe cases, acute kidney failure and death can result.  Seek veterinary advice immediately.

 

Remember, if you suspect your pet may have mistakenly eaten something that is potentially toxic, contact your local veterinary surgery immediately for advice and take any of the ingested plant or product, or its container, with you to the veterinary surgery.

 

Plants:

The ingestion of certain plants by pets can also be a cause of illness.  While in many cases animals appear to be unaffected or suffer little more than gastrointestinal upset after eating plant vegetation that they should not, there have been a few reported cases where more severe symptoms have occurred.

In assessing the potential risk to your pets from toxic plants, it is important to consider both the age of your pet and it's tendency to chew on plants. Many of the 
toxic plants mentioned below, rarely cause problems because most pets do not 
generally chew on them, with the exceptions being, perhaps, young puppies and kittens, who that enjoy exploring and chewing on things, as well as perhaps older dogs.

Past studies have shown that in the months from August to December there is generally an increase in the number of enquiries UK Veterinary Practices receive concerning the ingestion by pets of conkers, acorns and yew in particular.  The autumn months are generally when trees and bushes are shedding their leaves and seed cases/fruits and when dogs, and sometimes other animals, seem all too keen to try something new or different to eat.

Horse chestnuts/Conkers:

The Horse Chestnut is a large deciduous tree, commonly found in parks and urban areas and its seeds, the horse chestnuts or “conkers”, usually ripen from August to October.  If conkers are eaten in large quantities by dogs, for example, the animals can develop dramatic sickness and diarrhoea and excessive salivation within an hour or so of eating the conkers.  There have also been a few isolated cases where plant material or actual whole conker has obstructed the gastrointestinal tract.  Fortunately, for animals that show signs related to the ingestion of large numbers of conkers they often respond well to supportive veterinary treatment and care.  In the infrequent cases where obstruction is suspected, surgical removal of impacted plant material may be necessary. 

Oak - acorns:

The Oak tree is well known for its production of acorns, which often appear in the autumn months.  If pets, such as dogs, happen to eat acorns in large numbers, the result can be severe diarrhoea and vomiting.  These signs occur because of a substance called ‘tannic acid’ in the acorns.  Similar to accidental ingestion of conkers, if eaten by dogs, there can also be a risk of gastrointestinal obstruction by the acorn nut. 

Yew:

The Yew tree, commonly found in many churchyards and parks, which are popular places for walking dogs, is well known for its poisonous nature.  If dogs accidentally eat parts of the plant, vomiting, diarrhoea and profuse salivation, together with lethargy and in-coordination, can be seen soon after ingestion.  Symptomatic and supportive veterinary care is necessary following accidental ingestion.

Other common plants, which have been involved in reported cases of illness in pets following ingestion, include:

o       Daffodils:

Daffodils are perennial plants and if mistakenly eaten by pets, such as dogs, the pet may rapidly become unwell and show signs including vomiting, diarrhoea, salivation and lethargy.  In severe cases, in-coordination and collapse may be seen.  Veterinary advice should be sought immediately if ingestion by pets is thought to have occurred.

o       Honeysuckle:

There are numerous different species of honeysuckle and although accidental ingestion of this plant by pets can cause mild gastrointestinal effects, such as vomiting and diarrhoea, the plant is considered of low toxicity.  However, veterinary advice should be obtained if pets have mistakenly eaten the plant.

o       Ivy:

Ivy is a woody evergreen creeping plant that grows along the ground and up walls and trees.  Ingestion of small quantities of material from this plant can result in mild gastrointestinal effects only.  However, veterinary advice should be obtained if pets have mistakenly eaten the plant.

o       Holly:

Holly is a common evergreen shrub. Accidental ingestion of the berries can result in gastrointestinal effects (salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea) in cats and dogs.  Veterinary advice should be obtained if pets have mistakenly eaten the plant.

o       Rowan:

Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is a deciduous tree common throughout the UK.  The berries are orange-red, or sometimes yellow, and develop and ripen from August onwards, often remaining on the plant until December.  If accidentally eaten by animals, vomiting, diarrhoea and salivation may be seen.  Veterinary advice should be obtained if pets have mistakenly eaten the plant.

o       Leopard Lily:

The Dieffenbachia species (for example, Leopard Lily or Dumb Cane) are popular houseplants.  However, if pets chew and bite the leaves of these plants, substances produced by the plant are irritant to the pet’s mouth can result in common signs of increased salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea.  Veterinary treatment should be sought immediately as in severe cases fatalities have been reported in cats.

o       Christmas Cherry:

The Christmas or Winter Cherry is a common houseplant, which produces round berries.  If accidentally eaten by pets, vomiting, diarrhoea and salivation can be seen.  Veterinary advice should be sought in cases of suspected ingestion by pets.

 

Plants and pet rabbits and guinea pigs:

It is also important to remember that pet rabbits and guinea pigs may also be at risk from exposure to harmful plants.

Fresh plants and vegetables are an important part of a rabbit or guinea pig’s daily diet.  Not only do they help to add variety and interest to the animal’s diet, they provide essential nutrients needed for good health such as fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.  Vegetables or appropriate plant matter, such as dandelion leaves, should be slowly introduced into the animal’s diet so as to prevent gastrointestinal problems in response to sudden dietary changes; rabbit stomachs need time to adjust slowly to dietary changes otherwise conditions such as diarrhoea and/or bloating may occur.

When giving plants or vegetables to rabbits or guinea pigs, rinse the vegetation with water to remove any residue that may be on them.  If you collect and store plants for your rabbit and guinea pigs, ensure that the plants are stored properly, as if stored incorrectly, they may become dusty, mouldy or even begin to ferment, which may then cause bloating to your small animal.  Any uneaten plants in your rabbit or guinea pig’s cage must be removed for the same reason.

It is also important to consider any possible chemicals that may have been used in the area in which your rabbit or guinea pig lives, or where you may have collected plants for your rabbit, such as pesticides and herbicides.  Many products are now formulated to be safe to small animals, but still do ensure you check the product label before using in your garden. 

Always remember that some of the commonly found outdoor garden plants and houseplants can be detrimental to a pet rabbit and guinea pig’s health if accidentally eaten. Rabbits and guinea pigs may not instinctively avoid poisonous plants.

The following is a list of plants that are harmful to small animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs.

Some of the plants that are poisonous to rabbits are plant species such as:

o       Anemone

o       Azalea

o       Bittersweet

o       Bryony

o       Caladium

o       Cyclamen

o       Columbine

o       Dog mercury

o       Deadly nightshade

o       Poppies

o       Ragwort

o       Buttercups

o       Daffodils

o       Bluebells

o       Foxglove

o       Hemlock

o       Spurges

o       Kingcup

o       Marsh marigold

o       Monkshood

o       Meadow saffron

o       Mistletoe

o       St Johns Wort

o       Leyland cypress

o       Fools parsley

o       Hellebore 

Your garden may also contain cultivated plants that may cause illness if accidentally eaten by small animals such as:

o       Dahlias

o       Lupins

o       Chrysanthemum

o       Delphinium

o       Lily of the valley

o       Tulips

o       Iris

o       Morning glory

o       Antirrhinums

o       Lobelia

o       Fig

o       Jerusalem cherry

o       Juniper

o       Hyacinth

o       Privet

o       Yew

o       Laburnum

o       Lords and ladies

o       Ivy

o       Philodendron

o       Rhododendron

o       Wisteria

o       Clematis

o       Holly

o       Most evergreen trees


If you have any of the above listed potentially harmful plants in your garden, there are a number of things you can do to prevent harm to your rabbit or guinea pig.  If your pet has the run of the garden then you will need either to remove the plant or prevent the animal from being able to eat the plant.  This can be done by securing the surrounding area of the plant with a piece of chicken wire.  If your small animal is contained within an outdoor exercise run, ensure the plant is not in contact with the wire sides of the run, as they may be able to nibble or reach through.  Always carefully identify any plants before you feed them to your rabbit or guinea pig, as many harmful plants are very similar in appearance to those that are not harmful. In the case of house rabbits, most evergreens are toxic to rabbits, so take care to remove these houseplants from the rabbit’s chewing range. 

If you are in any doubt of the identification of a plant, do not feed or let your pet eat plants that you are unsure of.  If your rabbit or guinea pig becomes ill after being in the garden or after being fed plants, and you suspect a plant poisoning, a vet should be consulted immediately.  Diagnosis of a particular plant poisoning can be difficult unless the rabbit is seen eating a specific plant.  If so, a sample of the plant should be taken to the vet for assistance in diagnosis. 

If your rabbit or guinea pig has accidentally eaten a harmful plant, a variety of symptoms may be shown, depending on what plant was eaten.  Symptoms may range from a stomach upset to possible fatalities.  Other symptoms include salivation, skin problems and breathing difficulties.  Unlike cats and dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits cannot vomit and so the ingestion of harmful plants that would usually induce this symptom in cats or dogs may go undiagnosed in guinea pigs or rabbits. 

PLANT

POSSIBLE CLINICAL PROBLEM IN RABBITS IF INGESTED

Deadly nightshade

cardiovascular problems, fatal

Elder

 

gastrointestinal upset, salivation, toxic

Lily of the valley

gastrointestinal upset, cardiovascular problems,  toxic

Woody nightshade

 

gastrointestinal upset, skin allergy, fatal

Lobelia

 

salivation, toxic

Rhododendron

gastrointestinal upset, salivation, toxic

Fox glove

gastrointestinal upset, cardiovascular problems, toxic

Ivy

 

skin allergy, cardiovascular problems, toxic

Iris

 

gastrointestinal upset, salivation, toxic

Privet

 

cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal upset, toxic

Yew

gastrointestinal upset, fatal

Lupin

gastrointestinal upset, salivation, toxic

Although some plants can be very harmful to rabbits and guinea pigs if accidentally eaten, there are a wide variety of plants, in addition to grass, that rabbit and guinea pigs will enjoy and that can be of high nutritional value.  These include plants such as: Alfalfa, beech, beechnuts, chickweed, clover, coltsfoot, comfrey, corn marigold, corn spurry, cow parsley, daisy, dandelion, fruit trees, grounsel, hazel, hogweed, knotted persicaria, lady’s thumb, Lucerne, meadow horsetail, nettles, oxeye, plantain, rose, shepherds purse, sow thistle, sunflower, thistle, vetch, wheat and barely, willow, yarrow.

Remember, if you are at all unsure of what the many different types of plants look like, pictures can be found in the local library, or ask for advice at your local garden centre; do not feed plants to rabbits or guinea pigs that you have not identified.

Others poisonous agents:

Other commonly found substances that are poisonous to pets, such as dogs and cats, if accidentally eaten include:

1.      Pesticide poisonings:

o       Rodenticides:

Another group of substances frequently involved in pet poisoning cases are the anticoagulant rodenticides.  They are frequently scavenged by dogs and, although few animals may show clinical signs of the poisoning, there are still reported cases where prolonged veterinary treatment with vitamin K1 and sometimes even blood transfusions are required.  Occasional cases have even been reported where poisonings have occurred as a result of ingestion of rodents killed with these baits.  If you are concerned that your pet may have eaten a rodenticide, contact your veterinary surgery immediately.

o       Slug pellets and ant killers:

Metaldehyde, the active ingredient of most types of slug pellets, is a frequent cause of fatalities in pets.  Although many slug pellets may have animal-repelling additives, the pellets still prove attractive to dogs, in particular, and ingestion may rapidly cause symptoms, including convulsions. It is important that veterinary attention for the pet is immediately sought if ingestion by your pet is thought to have occurred.   It is absolutely vital that pet owners are aware of the potential risks of the products and warned to keep their animals well away from recently treated ground. 

The same precautions should be taken for liquid or gel ant killers that contain borax.  While not intrinsically very toxic, these products are frequently ingested by dogs and cats which appear to find them palatable as they are often rather sugary.  If accidentally ingested, the animals usually experience salivation and gastrointestinal irritation.  Veterinary advice should be obtained as soon as possible.

o       Paraquat (a herbicide):

A frequent cause of animal fatalities is paraquat, the toxicity of which is well documented.  It is vital that the animal is presented to a veterinary surgery promptly. 

2.       Miscellaneous:

o       Blue Green Algae:

Problems with blue green algae usually occur following prolonged hot dry spells and often in association with high phosphate and nitrate levels in water.  Fish can take up toxic amounts without being affected.  Animals that may be affected are usually dogs which have been swimming in stagnant water or in pond water where the algae are blooming in fair, windless conditions.  Swallowing of contaminated water or subsequent ingestion on grooming can result in toxicity.  The toxic effects that may be seen in affected animals are variable but can include vomiting, salivation, muscle tremors, dullness and staggering.  Fatalities have been reported to occur.  Veterinary treatment should be sought immediately.  It is important to keep animals away from infected water.

o       Onions:

Onions, especially raw onions, have been shown to trigger haemolytic anaemia 
in dogs.

 

 

What to do if you think your pet has been poisoned:

o       DO NOT PANIC

o       Remember few cases have fatal outcomes and few poisons act very rapidly.

o       Remove the animal(s) from the source of poison – remembering to protect yourself if necessary and appropriate

o      Contact your veterinary surgery for advice IMMEDIATELY, especially if your animal is unwell and be ready to provide information on when, where and how the poisoning occurred, as well as the quantity consumed.

o       If instructed to go to the Veterinary Practice, take a sample of the poison and the packaging with you.

o       If the skin is contaminated then wash thoroughly with water

 

How to prevent poisoning events occurring in the home environment:

o       Keep all medicines out of the reach of pets as well as children – preferably in a locked cupboard.

o       Keep human and veterinary medicines separate.

o       Never give animals medicines that are intended for human use, but only ever medicines prescribed by your veterinary surgeon.

o       Some foods (eg chocolate, onions, grapes) can be toxic.  Do not allow animals access to foods intended for human consumption.

o       Restrict access by animals to cleaning, DIY and car products (eg fuels, antifreeze and oils)

o       Always read the labels on products and follow their warnings about contact with animals.

 

How to prevent poisoning in the garden or open spaces:

o       Prevent access to gardens where pesticides or fertilizers have recently been used, especially slug pellets and rodent baits.  Placing baits in narrow tubes, for example, can reduce access to such baits by cats and dogs.

o       Keep pesticides/herbicides in a safe and inaccessible place, away from all pets.

o       Never leave buckets or watering cans full or mixed chemicals

o       Do not allow animals to drink from ponds/puddles that appear oily or otherwise polluted.

o       Be careful not to leave plant bulbs lying around.

o       Always read the labels on products and follow their warnings about contact with animals.

 

 

REMEMBER:

If you pet ever becomes ill, for whatever reason, you should always contact and seek advice from your veterinary surgery as soon as possible.  Also, the animal should always have easy access to drinking water.

   

 

JSPCA working to

“prevent cruelty, promote knowledge, provide for aged, sick, lost and unwanted animals.”

 

Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Inc.)

Founded 1868 – Incorporated 1936

89 St Saviour’s Road, St Helier, Jersey JE2 4GJ         

Tel: 01534 724331          Fax: 01534 871797

E-mail: info@jspca.org.je          Website: www.jspca.org.je

 

References and further reading:

o       BVA Animal Welfare Foundation

o       Veterinary Poisons Information Service

o       Supreme – www.russelrabbit.com