It’s that awkward time of year where it’s raining one minute, and sunny the next, and you never know whether to bring a coat or not. It’s definitely coming into spring and, while the season brings much new life into the world for your four-legged friends to discover, there are also plenty of hidden dangers that the owners of hungry pets should be aware of. Many seemingly harmless plants, foods and products contain dangerous toxins that can cause a multitude of issues if ingested. Today, we will discuss common toxins found around springtime and how they can cause harm to your pet, so you can be prepared should the worst happen.
What are Toxins?
Before we talk about spring-related toxins, it is worth explaining a little bit about toxins in general. So what is a toxin? A toxin is any biologically-produced substance that causes harmful effects in animals. Toxins may cause harm when ingested, or can be secreted by an animal (often by a bite or sting, in which case they are known as venoms). The effects of toxin poisoning are known as toxicosis. There are a huge variety of toxins, and their ability to cause harm in your pets depends on many factors, including the dose of the toxin, the species of pet, their age, their gender, their health status, and more.
When a toxin gets into the body, it may remain in one place, or may diffuse around the body, so certain toxins will cause harm in certain areas of the body – the liver and kidney are common areas of damage, as these organs are responsible for the breakdown and excretion of toxins. Generally, when a pet ingests a toxin, they show acute toxicity, where the effects are visible within 24 hours. Very rarely, chronic toxicity may develop, where the animal shows effects over a much longer period. Every toxin is different, and the specifics of how they cause harm are incredibly varied – as pet owners, it is much more useful to be aware of which toxins are harmful and how to avoid your pet coming into contact with them.
Toxic House Plants
Now that the sun has started to make an appearance, many of us might wish to brighten up our homes with pretty flowers and plants. While this is always a cheery idea, certain houseplants can in fact be quite harmful to your pets.
On top of being very messy, certain varieties of lily are incredibly toxic to cats, causing kidney failure or even death if they consume just small amounts; it can be hard to know which varieties are harmful so be wary of any kind of lily. Tulips and hyacinth are both pretty flowers, but quite toxic to dogs and cats – ingestion causes drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, and heart problems. Finally, the crocus plant can cause severe gastrointestinal, nervous, kidney, liver and heart problems if eaten by your cat or dog, although the spring flowering variety is usually less dangerous than its autumn namesake.
Should your cat or dog have a nibble of any of these houseplants, or even drink the plant water, bring them into us straight away, so we can help treat them. While we do not advise having these plants around your pets at all, it can be safe to do so if they are placed up high, where they cannot be reached, with a cover to prevent access to the water, and a mat underneath to prevent any fallen leaves or pollen reaching the floor.
Toxins Around the House
As well as toxic plants, your house can hide a number of other dangerous toxins that your pet might get hold of, the most well-known of which is chocolate – the chemical in chocolate, theobromine, is highly toxic to dogs, causing vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures and death. Darker chocolates are generally more toxic, but any sort of chocolate can be harmful, so make sure your Easter eggs are locked away!
Though winter is on its way out, you might still have a bottle of antifreeze lying around. Due to its sweet taste, antifreeze is attractive to cats, but very harmful to their kidneys and can be fatal in minutes – keep all bottles well stored and clean up any spills immediately.
Your kitchen is sadly no safe haven either, as common food items, such as onions, grapes, raisins and alcohol, can be quite dangerous to cats and dogs, causing vomiting, diarrhoea, kidney or heart problems, and other serious conditions. You should try to avoid feeding your pets human food anyway, but be especially careful with any products that might contain these foods.
With the frosts thawing, you can finally go outside and get to work on the garden again! Garden plants can suffer over winter, so might be considering some nice compost to perk them up. However, before you do, consider the ingredients in your mulch – many blends contain fertilisers, insecticides or metals added for better plant growth. These chemicals can cause great harm to your pets if ingested. Avoid spraying any chemicals on your garden too, if you know your pets will be around.
Furthermore, some organic composts are made from ground up coffee or cocoa bean shells, which are quite harmful to dogs, due to the levels of caffeine and theobromine respectively. Finally, compost and soil in general contains millions of microorganisms producing toxins constantly, many of which can cause sickness quickly. As a rule, try and make sure your pet avoids ingesting any soil.
You may also have some rhododendrons growing around your garden, which unfortunately are also toxic to cats and dogs, leading to vomiting, diarrhoea, heart problems, seizure and death if severe. Check you don’t have any of these little bushes growing before letting your pets out to play, and even full-grown trees may be a risk if you have an especially greedy dog.
Toxins Out and About
So perhaps you may be wanting to run out of the house with your furry friends, and hide outdoors where it is surely safer? Sadly this is not always the case; the great outdoors contains many toxins which you should be aware of this spring. It may be quite tricky to control what your cat is nibbling on outside, but you can be careful when walking your dog.
Arguably the prettiest of all spring flowers, it is very common to see bright yellow daffodils popping up along roadsides for a few weeks – however, these plants are quite toxic to dogs and cats, leading to rapid vomiting and other signs if not treated. Keep well away, and follow our advice for indoor plants if you decide to decorate your house with them.
Acorns dropped from old oak trees can also be problematic, as these little seeds are toxic to dogs. While they are not incredibly dangerous, some dogs will get stomach upset and vomiting if they are ingested, so try to avoid acorns where possible.
Finally, since spring is the time of year where bees are out and about collecting pollen, you should be wary of bee stings. Technically a venom, the chemicals in bee stings can cause significant swelling in stung pets – it is most common for their faces to be stung, when inquisitive dogs and cats poke their noses where they shouldn’t! These stings are rarely fatal, but can be very painful, so you should bring a bee-stung pet into us if you are concerned. Some pets can be highly allergic to bee stings, so it is worth being sure. Thankfully, most pets should learn from their mistakes and refrain from annoying any bees again!
By now, you may understandably be quite concerned that the whole world contains harmful toxins for your cat or dog to ingest! However, do not to worry, as many of these toxins can be easily avoided. Try not to introduce harmful plants, foods, or products into your house. While you are out, be wary of what your animal is sniffing – don’t let them eat something if you didn’t put it there yourself as you can never be sure what it is. And if the worst should happen, always remember that we are ready to help your poisoned pets any way we can – the earlier you notice signs of toxicosis, the better the outcome usually is. Remember this list to ensure you and your pets have a happy, healthy spring.