Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Household items toxic or harmful to pets

Have you heard that a specific product or substance could be dangerous to your pets? Our experts at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center set the record straight on a variety of substances, from cleaning products to popular houseplants.

My Siamese cat loves to lick and chew on plastic bags, although we try to keep them away from him. Could this be bad for our cat?
—Dawn B.

Chewing on plastic bags could pose a hazard to your cat, Dawn, as pieces of the bag could become lodged in your cat’s throat and obstruct his airway. Because of this, we do not advise allowing your cat to chew or play with these bags, and please take care to store them in a secure area out of his reach.

I would like to use peppermint leaves or oil to rid my house of ants. Could this harm my cat?
—Winafred B.

If ingested, the peppermint plant and its oil could indeed potentially cause harm to your cat. Cats are especially sensitive to peppermint oil, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Some peppermint oil formulations also contain aspirin derivatives, which could result in additional toxicity. Furthermore, if inhalation of the volatile oil were to occur, aspiration pneumonia may be possible. Based on this, we would not recommend using peppermint leaves or oil in areas where your cat is allowed access.

Could eating an acorn make my dog sick?
—Bob B.

Acorns (Quercus spp.) contain a toxic principle called Gallotannin. In cows and horses who repeatedly ingest significant amounts, we have seen potentially severe gastrointestinal irritation, depression and kidney damage.

Dogs, however, generally do not forage on acorns as livestock do—and even if they do ingest several acorns, it is usually an acute (single) exposure, not a chronic situation. In these cases, we typically only see mild to moderate gastrointestinal upset, which can include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. However, there is also the potential for mechanical irritation (from the sharp fragmented pieces of acorn), and possible obstruction, should a large amount of acorn material become lodged in the GI tract.

I use an inhaler that contains essential oils in an alcohol base. Should I worry about my conure being on my shoulder when I use this product?
—Kendall P.

There certainly could be cause for concern, Kendall. Birds have unique respiratory systems that make them quite sensitive to aerosolized substances. If inhaled, the substance could cause irritation and subsequent fluid accumulation a bird's respiratory tract (known as acute pulmonary edema); this can be life-threatening.

Based on this, we would advise that you not allow your conure to perch on your shoulder or be in close proximity while you use your inhaler—or any other aerosolized product.

Can it be harmful to cats if they sleep near or on a vent when the air conditioner is on?
—Marina M.

As long as your air conditioner is in good working order, and does not contain contaminants—molds, bacteria or other agents—that could result in harmful air quality for humans or animals, we do not anticipate problems from your cat sitting near or on the air register vent. Many pets do this—because it’s probably the most comfortable spot in the house for them on hot summer days!

Are spices such as mace, paprika and turmeric poisonous to pets?
—Rafael B.

They could be, Rafael, depending on the circumstances of exposure. Mace is derived from the nutmeg plant (Mtristica fragrans); both mace and nutmeg have actually gained popularity as street drugs, due to the psychological effects that are produced from the spices' volatile oil. If eaten in large enough amounts, the oil could cause vomiting and abdominal pain, as well as central nervous system excitation—usually followed by profound drowsiness several hours later.

Both paprika (Capsicum annuum) and turmeric (Curcuma longa) contain irritants (capsaicin and curcumin, respectively) that can cause irritation to the skin, gastrointestinal tract and other mucous membranes. Because of the potential for problems, we would advise keeping these and other spices out of your pets’ reach.

We have a small chicken lot that has been overrun by rats. We want to put out rat killer, but are worried about what would happen should one of our pets come into contact with a dead rat.
—Gail H.

We advise pet owners to exercise great caution when using products to eradicate rodents. If a dog or cat ingests a rodenticide, potentially serious or even life-threatening problems can result, which may include bleeding, seizures, or even damage to the kidneys and other vital organs. One possible—and humane—alternative to chemical rodenticides would be the use of live traps to capture and relocate rodents.

If you choose to use a chemical rodenticide, it is important to place the product in areas that are completely inaccessible to companion animals. Should an accidental rodenticide exposure occur it is important to have the container or package information readily available when obtaining veterinary help, so that a proper identification of the product’s ingredients can be made for appropriate treatment.

In general, poisonings resulting from the consumption of rats or other rodents who have ingested most commercially available rodenticides are not typically a concern in most companion animals, unless their staple diet consists mainly of rodents. The greater concern involves the potential risk of disease transmission or gastrointestinal problems from bacteria as a result of eating dead wildlife. Because of this, it’s still a good idea to contact your local veterinarian if, despite your best efforts, your pet ingests a rat.

My dogs have a terrible habit of “snacking” from the cat’s litter box. I use a clumping litter, and am concerned it could cause problems for my dogs. Do you have any information on this topic?
—Sue C.

Many scoopable cat litters contain bentonite clay and/or silica. The bentonite component of kitty litter, sodium bentonite is a naturally occurring clay mineral that is considered to be biologically inert when ingested. Silica is also a physically and chemically inert substance, and is a major component found in ordinary sand. Silica is also used as a moisture-absorbing agent in the little packets found in shoe boxes, medications and some foods. In our experience, pets ingesting small amounts of silica gel may develop only mild gastrointestinal upset, if any signs develop at all.

Cats may ingest small amounts of litter when grooming themselves after using the litter box, and these amounts pass through the digestive tract easily without problems. However, if an animal consumes a very large amount of litter (as can happen when a dog "cleans out" the litter box), gastrointestinal upset, constipation or, in rare cases, intestinal obstruction could potentially occur. In addition, consuming fecal material may cause bacterial-related gastrointestinal problems. It is a good idea to discourage your dogs from helping themselves to the litter box by placing it in an area that is out of their reach, but still accessible to your cat.

My cat loves to eat corn silk from fresh corn on the cob. Is it OK for him to eat this?
—Cherie E.

Unfortunately, no. While corn kernels are generally considered to be edible, we would not advise allowing your cat to ingest the silk portion of the corn plant. Aside from the potential for stomach irritation, the stringy nature of the silk could cause an obstruction or other serious damage to the intestines, should it become bunched or bound up.

As you mention that your cat appears to be attracted to the silk, we would strongly recommend that you place your cat in a separate room when shucking fresh corn. You should also immediately dispose of the husks and silk in a bag or other trash receptacle in a location inaccessible to your cat, such as an outdoor trash bin.

My golden retriever loves to chew and eat sticks. Is this bad for him?
Kelli S.

It certainly could be, Kelli. The ingestion of tree branches could potentially cause trauma to the gastrointestinal tract, should the wood splinter into sharp pieces. Large pieces could also cause an obstruction in the stomach or intestines. Then there’s the fact that certain species of trees may be toxic to pets. Because of this, we would recommend finding a safe alternative for your dog, such as a hard nylon or firm solid rubber chew toy appropriate for his chewing strength.

Is it safe to give french fries to our Labrador retriever? She looks forward to one or two whenever we go to McDonald’s.
—Judi B.

An occasional nibble or two of a fast-food french fry should not pose a serious hazard for a healthy dog. However, it is important to keep in mind that any food not part of your pet's normal diet—especially if it’s high in fat or salt—can cause gastrointestinal upset. The consumption of large amounts of fatty or spicy foods may also lead to pancreatitis, a serious inflammatory condition of the pancreas.

The bottom line? If you decide to give your furry friend “a break today” and offer him a french-fried treat, do so only on occasion—and in small amounts.

I only give my miniature pinscher water from my water purifier system, and a friend told me that tap water is better. Who is right?
—Tarah R.

Tarah, as long as the water you are offering your Min Pin is clean, fresh and suitable for consumption, the choice between purified water, bottled spring water or plain old tap water is really just personal preference—yours and your dog's!

Is over-the-counter ibuprofen safe for my Chesapeake Bay retriever?
—Samantha W.

In a word, NO. Ibuprofen can definitely be toxic to dogs and other pets—even in small amounts. Depending on the dose ingested, significant gastrointestinal damage or even kidney damage could result.

In fact, many drugs that are beneficial for humans can be harmful or even deadly for pets. We strongly urge you to never give your Chessie any medication without first speaking with his or her regular veterinarian.

A neighbor told me that my dogs should not go in my swimming pool because the chlorine could be harmful to their lungs. Is there any truth to this?
—Joe W.

While concentrated forms of chlorine can be very irritating to skin, eyes and the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, exposure to appropriately treated pool water should typically not pose much of a problem for healthy dogs. (If small amounts of water were ingested, however, mild stomach upset could occur.)

However, if the pool water has been treated with larger concentrations of chemicals, or if your dog becomes exposed to an undiluted pool treatment product, more serious problems could result. In either of these cases, your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center should be consulted right away to assess the situation.

And please take note: It is generally a good idea to get in the habit of washing—or at least rinsing—your dogs after they’ve been in a chemically treated pool. This will help to avoid the potential for skin irritation resulting from chemical residue sitting on the animal’s skin for an extended period of time.

I have many decorative soaps in my home. Could they be harmful to my dog if he were to eat one?
—Mindy S.

Most bar soaps contain detergents, which can cause gastrointestinal irritation (including vomiting and diarrhea) if ingested. If the soap also contains essential oils (such as lavender, for example), it is possible that minor central nervous system depression could occur, depending on the concentration of oils and other circumstances of exposure. Certain soaps are made with glycerin or other emollients, which can have a cathartic effect—causing loose stools or diarrhea. If gastrointestinal signs become persistent, they could lead to dehydration.

In addition, if a large portion or the entire bar of soap were to be ingested, it could potentially lead to obstruction in the animal’s gastrointestinal tract. Because of these concerns, we advise keeping your decorative soaps in an area that is not accessible to your dog.

Is watermelon poisonous to my Labrador retriever?
—Rodney S.

As you know, watermelon is definitely considered to be edible by humans, and there is currently no data demonstrating that the edible portion, seeds and rind have potential to produce effects beyond minor gastrointestinal irritation to pets.

As a general rule of thumb, however, if you are considering offering any food outside of your dog’s normal diet, we recommend that you talk with your pet's regular veterinarian first.

Are roses toxic to cats if they eat them?
—Shelley Q.

There is currently no data indicating that roses (Rosa spp.) are poisonous to cats or other pets. However, it is important to keep in mind that even plants considered to be non-toxic can produce minor stomach upset if ingested. In addition roses have thorns, which could cause injury to curious noses, mouths and paws. Because of this, it is still a good idea to discourage your cat from nibbling on them.

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