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Common Household Hazards, Part II

Written by Olivia Mirodone, DVM.




Xylitol is a sugar substitute that can be found in sugar-free candy, chewing gum and other products. While in humans xylitol has no effects on the level of blood sugar, in dogs it is a strong promoter of insulin and it can cause severe hypoglycemia with ataxia, collapse and seizures. Xylitol can also cause hepatic necrosis and death. One or two pieces of gum are enough to cause hypoglycemia in a 22 lbs dogs.




The toxic agent in anti-freeze is ethylene glycol, and it is found in most commercial antifreeze preparations. Because of its sweet taste, antifreeze toxicity is a common problem in pets. As much as a teaspoon in a small cat, or a tablespoon in a small dog can prove to be lethal. Clinical signs can occur as early as 30 minutes after ingestion and consist of ataxia and vocalization, progressing to increased breathing and heart rate, and ending in acute renal failure and death.



There is a wide variety of chocolate and cocoa products to which pets may be exposed, including candies, cakes, cookies, brownies, and cocoa bean mulches. The incidence of accidental chocolate exposures in pets occurs most commonly around holidays, especially Easter, Halloween and Christmas. The active (toxic) agents in chocolate are methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine. The amount of toxic products in chocolate containing products depends greatly on the type of chocolate, with dry cocoa powder and baker's chocolate being the most toxic. Clinical signs appear 6-12 hours after ingestion and consist of increased water drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness and progressing to tremors, seizures, hypertension and coma.




Ingestion of coins by pets, especially dogs, is not uncommon. Of the existing US coins currently in circulation, only pennies pose a significant toxicity hazard. Pennies are made mostly of zinc (99.2%). As pennies, and other potential sources of zinc (screws, nuts, bolts, etc) enter the stomach, under the effect of the gastric acids, zinc is readily absorbed into the circulation, where it causes the red blood cells to break. The most common clinical signs of penny ingestion are vomiting, depression, anorexia, diarrhea, weakness, collapse and icterus. Secondarily, acute renal failure may develop.


Bread Dough


Upon ingestion of raw bread made with yeast, the warm, moist gastric environment stimulates yeast growth, resulting in expansion of the dough mass, which causes distention of the stomach, which if severe, can cause circulatory and respiratory compromise. But perhaps more significant is the release of alcohol from yeast fermentation, resulting in ataxia, disorientation, weakness, followed by CNS depression, coma and death.


If your pet ingested any of these products, please contact your veterinarian immediately. The veterinary staff will determine whether the dose ingested by your pet was toxic, and if ingestion happened recently (within minutes to 2 hours) initial therapy will be directed toward preventing additional absorption of the toxic product. It is safest to keep all possible toxic products out of reach of pets. 

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