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4 Pet Toxins to Watch Out For This Fall

Fall is a lovely season in Minnesota, but as the warm summer months transition into the cool of fall and winter, it is important that families are aware of the various types of household hazards that pose a threat to our pets during this time of year.

1. Chocolate

  • Chocolate contains chemicals called methylxanthines (which include caffeine and theobromine).
  • Methylxanthines cause an increase in heart rate, an abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure, tremors, and even seizures.
  • The potential for danger increases with both the amount of chocolate and the type of chocolate that was eaten. White chocolate is the least hazardous, followed by milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and then baker’s chocolate/cocoa powder.

What to do next if your pet eats chocolate: Go to your veterinarian right away. When you arrive or call, it is important to tell the veterinarian or staff how much and what type of chocolate your pet has eaten.

2. Xylitol

  • Xylitol, a sugar substitute, is safe for people, but not for pets.
  • Dogs and cats are exposed to xylitol through a variety of sources such as sugar free gum and sugar substitutes for baking.
  • Xylitol exposure is more common during the holiday season since many families bake treats and goodies with products that contain xylitol.
  • If a pet eats xylitol, it can cause a release of insulin in the body, and this causes the blood sugar to drop. Low blood sugar can result in lethargy and weakness, but can also cause seizures. Additionally, xylitol can cause liver damage, but it is not fully understood why, and it is, unfortunately, highly unpredictable.

What to do if your pet eats a product with xylitol: Contact a veterinarian or veterinary poison hotline right away! Xylitol is rapidly absorbed into the body after ingestion (within minutes).

3. Antifreeze/Ethylene Glycol

  • Ethylene Glycol can be found in antifreeze, windshield de-icing fluid, certain types of paints, inks, and photo developer fluid.
  • Antifreeze exposure in pets is more common during the fall as people flush their engine coolant systems and/or replace the antifreeze in their car radiators in preparation for winter.
  • Ethylene glycol is highly toxic to the kidneys and has a high fatality rate if not treated rapidly and aggressively.  Soon after ethylene exposure, many pets will seem “drunk.”

What to do if you suspect your pet has gotten into ethylene glycol: See a veterinarian right away. Early intervention is vital in saving your pet after ethylene glycol ingestion.

4. Mushrooms

  • Many different species of mushrooms can grow at the beginning of fall.
  • Most mushroom species are non-toxic, but some mushrooms can cause liver failure, multiple organ damage, and death.  Other mushroom species can cause neurologic signs.

What to do if your pet ate mushrooms: Bring the type of mushroom you suspect your pet ate in with you to the emergency veterinarian’s office or take a picture if possible.

Beware of these four fall toxins! If you suspect your pet has eaten a toxic item, call your veterinarian or a pet poison hotline right away. If your veterinarian is unable to see you, but advises immediate care, the Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota has two locations (one in St. Paul, MN and one in Oakdale, MN) that are open 24/7.

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