Sunday, July 24, 2011

Notes from July 2011 St. Louis AVMA Conference-Cat Tricks and Household Hazards

These are papers from the July 2011 St. Louis AVMA conference.  I’ve edited them to delete some of the vet only jargon and for space considerations.  If you see (…) that means that information has been deleted due to these considerations.  The ones listed here include HCM, and other heart related papers, treatments, papers on x-rays and echos, thrombosis, kidney disease, idiopathic cystitis, pain management, anesthesia and cardiac disease, supplements and other hazards for pets, and some other basic information I hope is helpful.


Leslie L. Cooper, DVM, DACVB

While cats as a species have gone through periods of time…I think most would agree that cats are not evil.  Calculating, perhaps, but evil- no. Yet how many times have you heard in practice a cat owner saying that their cat had done something ‘out of spite’?  Usually this involves  behaviors that are normal  for cats, but not appropriate for living  in close contact  with
the ‘dominant culture’- humans…And if that level of frustration rises high enough, our cat patients may end up dead or homeless…

 Being too active”  A disconnect can occur when the activity level of the individual cat does not

match the household. A very active cat can run into problems if it plays roughly with a sensitive

population (the young, the elderly, the health challenged), or when it leads to destructive

behavior by climbing or knocking things over. Clients who have not had a kitten in the

house hold  may be very surprised when chaos ensues.  Since activity level can be associated

with some medical disorders (hyperthyroidism), a thorough medical history and appropriate

medical testing and treatment may be indicated.  Questions that help identify the situations in

which the perceived over activity occur, and the environment in which the cat is kept may help

pinpoint motivations. Client education- materials or advice that point to matching the cat’s personality and age

to the household.  Homes with sensitive populations may be encouraged to go for a more

staid older cat from a shelter or foster home that has had a chance to observe its

behavior.  Management/behavioral modification: materials or suggestions on cat enrichment and

play might be helpful.  Clients can be encouraged to spend  some time in physical play

with their cats, while avoiding toys and play activities which encourage  rough play (no

hand glove toys or roughhousing).  Discourage rough play with interrupters (sound,

water, etc.) which have less of a chance of causing fear or defensive aggression than a

slap or a thump on the nose.  Cat-proof the house, by putting away valuable breakables

and moving fragile  furniture out of the ‘flight path’.

“Demanding too much attention”  Attention-seeking, too, can be a symptom of medical disorders,

and that possibility should certainly be explored.  At times owners are more likely to see it as a

sign of manipulation or spite when the behavior ceases to be amusing or happens at

inopportune times (such as in the early morning).  Some cats appear to be more attached to

their owners, and may learn attention-seeking behaviors to meet their social needs.

Learned  reinforcement can lead to vocalization and other behaviors (scratching, moving forbidden

objects, etc.)  that become problems because they are hard  to ignore and are annoying.

Client education: cats, like humans, often do things that get them  something  they want.  It

doesn’t take many of these pairings to lead to a habit, especially when the rewards are

important (food, being let outside, owner attention).  And, once learned, the behavior can

resurface  when the cat is anxious or decides to give it another try. Management/behavioral modification: Cats who pair attention-seeking behavior with asituation because it has resulted in something they want (food, being let out) have to have that pattern interrupted: the behavior cannot lead to the reinforcing situation again.

For cats with high social needs, clients can be encouraged to interact with the cat when it

is not showing the undesirable behavior. Change the environment so that learned

attention-seeking behaviors do not cause destruction of valued  objects, or booby-trap

those objects so that the cat is discouraged from  using them without human interference

(and attention). For cats that vocalize for attention, a good set of ear plugs may enable

owners to ignore behavior they want to discourage. As noted by Dr. Frank, “Owners

need to understand  that ‘ignoring’ means the absence of visual, physical or vocal contact

with their pet.  They also need to be aware that the cat’s behavior will worsen before it

eventually gives up the ignored behaviour.”   Environmental enrichment may also help

give the cat something else to do. Owners who note that attention seeking behaviors are

associated  with anxiety producing situations may want to explore ways to decrease the


Not being friendly:  While cats have traditionally had a reputation for being aloof,  many clients

expect their cats to be very friendly towards humans. This includes in the eyes of some

tolerating  all types of handling and being  very playful.  Reality lands poorly socialized  or

traumatized  cats with owners who have had  very social cats in the past.  Owners can

underestimate  the time and effort it can take to socialize a fearful animal, and become  frustrated

and  indignant that the cat is ‘ungrateful’ for their care.  Cats who do not  tolerate petting  (a very

common scenario) are also seen to be ingrates, as the owner is ‘just trying to do something

nice.’ Client education: cats do vary in their attachment to people. Genetics, individual

personality, handling in early life, later learning (both positive and negative) all have a

part in the end behavior of the animal. While some progress can be made in many

cases, owners often  need  to adjust their expectations of just how friendly or ‘cuddly’ the

individual cat will end  up being.  Information on how cats interact with each other may be

helpful in guiding  the owner to more realistic expectations of the range of ‘normal’ cat

social behavior.  Early handling affects later social interactions, and those breeding

and/or raising kittens should take note. Management/behavioral modification: for fearful cats, gradual desensitization and counter conditioning may result in a cat that is more tolerant of human proximity and

handling.  Food and other pleasurable activities such as play with a toy that doesn’t demand  close

proximity to the person can help smooth the way.  Key points- expect setbacks, don’t

force the cat to accept situations that cause more than mild anxiety. Watch

body language ‘cues’ that  indicate increasing anxiety or irritability, and stop before aggressive

behavior is triggered.

Destructiveness in the house: usually this means scratching, although chewing and other

destructive  behaviors (tossing items off shelves, for instance) can also be problems.  Scratching

and chewing are normal feline behaviors  that are not done to ‘get back at the owners. Dr.

Suzanne Hetts notes, “…viewing the behavior as revengeful will not help solve the

problem…Attributing destructive behavior to the cat challenging the owners’ authority is also

erroneous.”  Client education: while references sometimes don’t agree on which motivation is most

important, visual and scent marking, claw conditioning and stretching are generally listed

as motivations for scratching.  Location (prominent, visible areas), surface preferences,

timing (after awakening) have been noted, and may be helpful  bits of information  to

gather.  Scratching, chewing and knocking  things over can also be associated with

attention-seeking, play, anxiety (displacement behavior) and  investigatory behavior.

Gathering information from the client about situations and target areas may shed some

light on motivation.  For example, in one of my cases, scratches on top of an antique

harpsichord  were most likely associated with that piece of furniture being used as a

‘launch pad’ in a leap to the top of a cuckoo clock, not as a marking area.

Management/behavioral modification: is aimed not at stopping the behavior entirely, but

in directing the behavior to more appropriate objects while avoiding or discouraging the

use of unacceptable objects and areas.  For scratching, observing the cat’s preferences

will aid in creating the most acceptable scratching post, taking into account covering

preferences, orientation (horizontal or vertical),  placement (near items currently

scratched, near resting places).  Cats can be encouraged to use the scratching objects by

placing catnip or toys on the object, and discouraged  from  using the old targets by

covering them with plastic or tape, or moving them. Trimming  the cat’s claws or using

claw covers (Soft Paws ™) can be part of reducing potential damage (and something

veterinary staff can teach a owner to do or do as a service).  Chewing behavior may

demand ‘cat proofing’ the house in much the same way as you would for a dog or rabbit

(running cords through PVC pipe, picking up all attractive objects), making chewed items

less attractive (taste and/or scent aversion) and providing an acceptable substitute

(chew toys, sometimes from the dog isle of the pet store).  Attention seeking behavior

can be treated as mentioned above. Scratching is of particular interest due to the growing controversy

over declawing (onychectomy). Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California

Veterinary Medical Association  have come out with statements as have the

American Association of Feline Practitioners. These statements emphasize the importance

of management and behavioral modification, and see declawing as a ‘last resort’ option.

Public opinion both here and abroad continues strongly against declawing as unnecessary

and having  the potential  to have a major negative impact on the life of the cat.  While at times

the aims of both sides converge (management and behavior modification first), in other

areas (letting veterinarians decide if the procedure is medically justified, vs. deeming it

unnecessary or even unethical to do a procedure often done primarily for owner

convenience) they remain very far apart.


1. J. Scarlett, M. Salman, J. New et. al., The role of veterinary practitioners in reducing dog and

cat relinquishments and euthanasias. JAVMA, Vol. 220, No. 3 February 1, 2002, pp. 306-311.

2. D. Frank, Management problems in cats, BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural

Medicine, D. Horwitz, D. Mills, and S. Heath, Eds. British Small Animal Veterinary Association,

2002, pp. 80-89

3. S. Crowell-Davis, Social behaviour, communication and development of behaviour in the cat,

BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine, D. Horwitz, D. Mills, and S. Heath,

Eds. British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2002, pp. 21-29

4. K. Overall, I. Rodan, B. Beaver, et. al.; Feline behavior guidelines from the American

Association of Feline Practitioners. JAVMA 227, No. 1 (July 1, 2005), pp. 70-84

5. S. Hetts, Pet Behavior Protocols: What to Say, What to Do, When to Refer, AAHA Press,


6. Animal Welfare AVMA policy statement, “Declawing of Domestic Cats

7. California Veterinary Medical Association document, “CVMA Policy on Declawing of Domestic


8. American Association of Feline Practitioners. Position statements. Available at: Accessed Sept 1,2002.

9. Letters to the Editor-Believes cat declawing ban silly, poorly thought out..

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association Jul 2003, Vol. 223, No. 1, Pages 40-42:


Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT

Veterinary Information Network

Ant and Roach Baits: Baits may be mixed with food stuffs such as peanut butter, jelly, and

bread crumbs to attract the insects. Most of the insecticides used in these products are of low

mammalian toxicity. The exceptions are avermectin/abamectin in ivermectin-sensitive dog

breeds and arsenic. In addition, ingestion of the plastic or metal housing may present a foreign

body hazard.

Birth Control Pills: Contraceptive pills generally come in 28 tablet packs with 21 hormone

tablets (estrogen and/or progesterone) and 7 placebo tablets. Most hormone pills contain 0.035

mg of estrogen or less so the level of estrogen exposure is low. Some placebos may contain an

iron supplement; elemental iron doses of >20 mg/kg may require decontamination.

Silica Gel Packets: Desiccant packs are included as moisture absorbents found in shoeboxes,

new sweaters, electronics, lamps, medications and food. At most mild GI upset may occur and

foreign body obstruction is a concern if intact packets are ingested.

Glow-In-The-Dark Sticks: Glow-in-the-dark items, including glo-sticks and glo-jewelry, are

novelty items sold at fairs, carnivals, novelty stores. The primary luminescent agent in is dibutyl

phthalate (n-butyl phthalate), an intensely bitter plasticizer of low toxicity. Signs occur within

seconds of the pet biting into the item. Cats may display profuse salivation and foaming,

occasional retching and/or vomiting as well as dramatic behavioral effects such as hyperactivity,

aggression, head shaking, hiding, and agitation. Dogs may show no reaction or may have mild

salivation or retching. Diluting the taste of the dibutyl phthalate using milk or highly palatable

food should quickly resolve signs. Wipe residual material off of fur to prevent re-exposure

through grooming. For ocular exposure, copious flushing of the eyes is recommended.

Non-Ionic and Anionic Detergents: Non-ionic and anionic detergents are found in body and

hand soaps, shampoos, dishwashing detergents, various household cleaners, etc. These

products are gastrointestinal and ocular irritants with few to no systemic effects under most

circumstances. Clinical signs consist of hypersalivation, vomiting, and diarrhea, and are

generally mild and self limiting, although ingestion of large quantities may result in more severe

vomiting (+/- blood) requiring veterinary intervention. Bar soaps swallowed whole take a while to

dissolve in the GI tract, so signs may persist for a few days. In cats, respiratory compromise

may occur if they groom undiluted detergents off of their coats. Cats may present mildly to

moderately dyspneic with moist lung sounds. In more severe cases, radiographic indications of

mild pulmonary edema may be seen. Most recover quickly with symptomatic care, although cats

with previously-existing respiratory disease may have more pronounced signs and require more

extensive treatment. This syndrome has also been seen with the use of ‘natural’ sodium laurel

sulfate flea drops in cats.

Acid Corrosives: Products containing acids include cleaning agents, anti-rust compounds,

etching compounds, automotive batteries, and pool sanitizers. The relative toxicity of an acid, as

well as other corrosives, is related to its concentration and decreases with dilution. Acids

produce localized coagulation necrosis of tissue and generally produce immediate pain upon

exposure, which helps to limit ingestion. Clinical signs occur almost immediately upon exposure.

Oral exposure results in oral pain, vocalization, dysphagia, vomiting (+/- blood), abdominal pain,

and irritation or ulceration of oral and/or esophageal mucosa. Esophageal and gastric ulceration

are uncommon, but possible with large exposures. Dermal exposure results in dermal irritation

or ulceration, accompanied by intense local pain. Inhalation of acid fumes may result in

dyspnea, pulmonary edema, tracheobronchitis or pneumonitis. Ocular exposure may result in

corneal erosion or ulceration.

Alkaline Corrosives: Common sources of alkaline products

include drain openers, automatic dishwasher detergents, alkaline batteries, toilet bowl cleaners,

swimming pool products, and radiator cleaning agents. Agents with pH greater than 10 should

be considered to be capable of causing significant corrosive injury. Alkaline agents penetrate

local tissue rapidly and deeply, causing liquefactive necrosis. Very little pain may be felt upon

initial contact with an alkaline product. Therefore, an animal may continue to ingest the alkaline

agent and cause more extensive alimentary tract injury. Clinical signs may not develop

immediately, and it may require up to 12 hours for the full extent of tissue damage to become

apparent. Acute signs include depression, hypersalivation, anorexia, oral inflammation or

ulceration, smacking of lips, tongue flicking, dysphagia, vomiting (+/- blood), abdominal pain,

and melena, hyperthermia (>104° F), esophageal and/or pharyngeal ulceration. Inhalation may

result in coughing, dyspnea, and moist lung sounds. Sequelae can include esophageal

perforations or strictures and pleuritis or peritonitis from leakage of ingesta through perforated

tissues. The absence of oral burns does not preclude the development of esophageal burns.

Cationic Detergents: Cationic detergents are contained in fabric softeners, some potpourri oils,

hair mousse, algaecides, germicides and sanitizers. Cationic detergents can cause extensive

systemic and local effects at levels as low as 2% or less. Local tissue injury caused by cationic

detergents resembles that seen with exposure to alkaline products. In addition, cationic

detergents can cause systemic toxicity including CNS depression, coma, seizures, hypotension,

muscular weakness and fasciculations, collapse, pulmonary edema, and metabolic acidosis.

Treatment of Corrosives: Attempting to chemically neutralize an acid or alkali agent with a

weak alkali or acid, respectively, is contraindicated, as this may stimulate an exothermic

reaction that will exacerbate tissue injury. Treatment of oral exposure includes immediate

dilution with water or milk. Gastric lavage and induction of emesis are contraindicated due to the

risk of increasing corrosive injury. Activated charcoal is ineffective for caustic agents and should

not be used. Feeding soft food for a few days post exposure may prevent worsening of the

irritation. Treatment of oral lesions should include antibiotics to prevent infection; pain

management (opioids), sucralfate slurries to treat oral, esophageal or gastric ulcers; intravenous

fluids to maintain hydration; and provision for nutritional support (e.g. gastrostomy tube). The

use of corticosteroids to decrease inflammation and esophageal stricture formation is

controversial, as steroids will delay wound healing and may increase susceptibility to infection.

Flush skin exposures with water for 15 minutes. For ocular exposures, eyes should be flushed

with room temperature water or sterile saline solution for 15 minutes, followed by fluorescein

staining. Animals with significant respiratory signs (coughing, dyspnea, etc.) should be

monitored for a minimum of 24 hours for the development of pulmonary edema.

Household Batteries: Lithium disc batteries may become lodged in the esophagus, increasing

the risk of esophageal ulceration. In addition, battery casings may result in respiratory or

gastrointestinal obstruction if inhaled or swallowed. When batteries are chewed and the

contents released, alkaline burns result. Signs of foreign body obstruction (vomiting, anorexia,

tenesmus, etc.) may occur when casings are swallowed; disc batteries may be inhaled, resulting

in acute dyspnea and cyanosis. Treatment of battery exposures is as for exposure to any

alkaline product (see Treatment of Corrosives above). Radiography to determine the location

of the battery casing should be performed in cases where the casing is missing. The decision to

remove a battery present in the stomach depends on the size of the animal, battery size, and

evidence of battery puncture.

Pennies: US pennies minted after 1982 are the only coins that pose a toxicity hazard. Other

potential sources of zinc include screws, bolts, nuts, and metal clothing fasteners, all of which

may contain varying amounts of zinc. In the stomach, gastric acids ionize zinc, which is

absorbed into the circulation and causes intravascular hemolysis. Clinical signs of penny

ingestion are vomiting, depression, anorexia, hemoglobinuria, diarrhea, weakness, collapse and

icterus. Secondarily, acute renal failure may develop. Clinical laboratory abnormalities will be

suggestive of hemolysis (elevated bilirubin, hemoglobinemia, hemoglobinuria, regenerative

anemia) +/- renal insufficiency. Radiography of the abdomen may reveal the presence of coins

or other “hardware” within the stomach. Treatment for recently ingested pennies would include

induction of vomiting. Activated charcoal is not indicated, as it is of little benefit in binding

metals. Removal of zinc-containing foreign bodies via endoscopy or gastrotomy/enterotomy may

be required. Radiography following removal is necessary to ensure that coins or coin fragments

were not missed. Treatment for symptomatic animals may include blood replacement therapy,

intravenous fluids, and other supportive care. The use of chelators is not recommended as zinc

blood levels will drop rapidly once the source is removed and chelators can be nephrotoxic.

Paintballs: Ingestion of large numbers of paintballs has been associated with electrolyte

disorders (most frequently hypernatremia), neurologic signs (ataxia, seizures), and occasional

deaths in dogs. The mechanism of action is thought to be due to osmotic shifts of body water

into the gut due to the hygroscopic nature of paintball ingredients. Management should include

emesis, in asymptomatic patients, if large numbers of paintballs are ingested. Activated charcoal

is contraindicated as it will pull more fluids into the GI tract. Monitor electrolytes carefully and

correct any imbalances. Warm water enemas may help stimulate movement of paintballs

through the GI tract and will help correct hypernatremia. In symptomatic animals, monitor

electrolytes and acid-base values every 2-4 hours until clinical signs resolve and values

normalize. In hypernatremic patients, administer low sodium IV fluids and repeat enemas until

serum sodium levels return to normal. Fluid rates may need to be quite high due to compensate

for loss of fluids into the GI tract.

Chocolate: The toxic principles in chocolate are methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and

caffeine. Methylxanthines stimulate the CNS, act on the kidney to stimulate diuresis, and

increase the contractility of cardiac and skeletal muscle. The relative amounts of theobromine

and caffeine will vary with the form of the chocolate. Milk chocolates contain approximately 64

mg of methylxanthines per oz, semisweet/dark chocolates ~150mg/oz, baker’s chocolate ~450

mg/oz and dry cocoa powder ~800 mg/oz/ Mild signs of toxicosis have been seen with

methylxanthine levels of 20 mg/kg, cardiotoxic effects have been seen at 40-50 mg/kg, and

seizures have occurred at 60 mg/kg. Clinical signs occur within 6-12 hours of ingestion. Initial

signs include polydipsia, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and restlessness. Signs progress to

hyperactivity, polyuria, ataxia, tremors, seizures, tachycardia, PVC’s, tachypnea, cyanosis,

hypertension, hyperthermia, and coma. Death is generally due to cardiac arrhythmias or

respiratory failure. Because of the high fat content of many chocolate products, pancreatitis is a

potential sequela. Intravenous fluids at twice maintenance levels will help maintain diuresis and

enhance urinary excretion. Because caffeine can be reabsorbed from the bladder, placement of

a urinary catheter is recommended. Cardiac status should be monitored via EKG and

arrhythmias treated as needed; propranolol reportedly delays renal excretion of

methylxanthines, so metoprolol is the beta-blocker of choice. Seizures may be controlled with

diazepam or a barbiturate. In severe cases, clinical signs may persist up to 72 hours.

Moldy Food (Tremorgenic Mycotoxins): Tremorgenic mycotoxins are produced by molds on

practically any food, including dairy products, grains, nuts, and legumes; compost piles may also

provide a source of tremorgens. Clinical signs include fine muscle tremors that may rapidly

progress to more severe tremors and convulsions. Death generally occurs in the first 2 to 4

hours and is usually secondary to respiratory compromise, metabolic acidosis or hyperthermia.

Other signs that may be seen include vomiting (common), hyperactivity, depression, coma,

behavior alterations, tachycardia, and pulmonary edema. In symptomatic animals, control of

severe tremors or seizures has priority over decontamination. Seizures may respond to

diazepam, however others have had better success with methocarbamol (Robaxin®; 55-220

mg/kg IV to effect). Supportive care should include intravenous fluids, thermoregulation, and

correction of electrolyte and acid-base abnormalities. In severe cases, signs may persist for

several days, and residual fine muscle tremors may take a week or more to fully resolve.

Grapes & Raisins: The ingestion of raisins or grapes by dogs, cats, or ferrets has been

associated with acute renal failure. To date the toxic principle is unknown. Grapes and raisins

from any source may cause toxicosis. In all cases, dogs have shown vomiting, usually within 6

hours of ingestion; grapes/raisins are often seen in the vomitus. Other signs reported in the first

24-36 hours were diarrhea (+/- blood), anorexia, lethargy, and abdominal pain. Most dogs have

elevated serum creatinine and BUN upon presentation to the veterinarian. Some dogs also have

elevations in serum calcium, phosphorus, glucose, liver enzymes, amylase or lipase. Many of

the dogs will develop anuric or oliguric renal failure within 36-72 hours of ingestion of grapes or

raisins. In one study, 47% of the dogs either died or were euthanized due to poor response to

treatment for renal failure. One dog with anuric renal failure recovered following peritoneal

dialysis. Early decontamination via emesis or lavage followed by activated charcoal is

recommended following exposure. Fluid diuresis (two times maintenance) for 48 hours should

be instituted, and serial serum chemistries should monitored for at least 72 hours post ingestion.

If available, peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis may be considered in cases of refractory

anuria/oliguria. Symptomatic care for vomiting, diarrhea, or other signs may be required.

Animals developing severe oliguria or anuria have a poor prognosis.

Xylitol: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in sugar-free products such as gums and candies as well

as for baking. In dogs, xylitol causes a rapid, dose-dependant insulin release followed by

potentially significant hypoglycemia. Signs can include vomiting, weakness, ataxia, depression,

hypokalemia, seizures, and coma. Some dogs have developed elevated liver enzymes following

ingestion of xylitol. Some of these dogs have gone on to develop severely elevated liver

enzymes, bilirubinemia, and coagulation abnormalities. Signs can develop within 30 minutes.

Emesis performed after signs develop increases the risk of complications associated with

vomiting such as aspiration. Activated charcoal does not appreciably bind xylitol. Frequent small

meals or oral sugar supplementation may be used to manage dogs not showing signs. If clinical

signs of hypoglycemia develop, a bolus of IV dextrose followed by dextrose CRI should be used

to control moderate to severe hypoglycemia. Hypokalemia, likely secondary to insulin-induced

movement of potassium into cells, should be treated if significant. Treatment should continue

until blood glucose normalizes which may take 24 hours or longer. The use of liver protectants

such as SAM-e may be helpful. Prognosis is generally good; however if elevated liver enzymes,

bilirubinemia, and coagulation abnormalities develop, the prognosis is guarded.

My note-this was an interesting class. We learned what wasn’t true about pet rumors but we also learned about what is true. She does not list it here but she did show us pictures of a household hazard mainly for dogs: the automatic paper shredder. It’s true that dogs can get their tongues caught in the shredders. Some dogs have had them ripped apart, or chewed off to get away from the machine; they’ve had their ears ripped by the shredder. Turn the shredder off when not in use and cover it if possible.  What was false: she said the Nutro dog food recall scare was based on false information via the internet.  The parvo virus scare in dogs is also falsely spread via the internet. Tennis balls are not toxic to dogs, they will not cause cancer, they will not explode in the mouth. They might have parts that break off and get lodged in the dog so they are in a sense a possible hazard. The rumor about radioactive litter is false. The cat had iodine therapy, used the box, the box was later dumped in the trash which proved radioactive.  Asian lady beetles will make a pet sick but are not toxic.  Yes, grapes and raisins are toxic and poisonous to pets. Yes, certain types of chocolate and a certain amount can sicken a pet and the being sick can cause an electrolyte imbalance, killing the pet. The fat in the chocolate can cause pancreatis. Best to keep the chocolate away.  But a minor amount (one Hersheys Kiss or one M&M) will not harm a pet. A bag of them might.  Sago palms-house plants-are indeed deadly to pets. They cause liver damage which kills the pet.  Fire retardant toys for kids are not toxic to pets but can get lodge in the throat or stomach of a pet causing obstruction. Cocoa bean mulch can be toxic to pets but it depends on the amount of cocoa in the mulch. Avocados are poisonous to birds and mice but not really known to be a poison to dogs and cats. Onions and garlic are toxic and dangerous in very large amounts for dogs and cats. A minor amount-like a bite of an onion or garlic flavored bread might be fine. But an actual onion or garlic clove might make the pet sick. Garlic tablets and health supplements should be avoided in cats.


Sharon Gwaltney-Brant DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT

Veterinary Information Network

What is an Internet Rumor?

Internet rumors are probably the most modern form of folklore (handed-down beliefs, stories,

and customs), following on the heels of faxlore, xeroxlore, chain letters, and campfire stories.

Internet rumors generally center around “urban legends” or “contemporary legends,” stories

widely disseminated as true (and often just plausible enough to be believed) about horrific,

embarrassing, ironic or exasperating series of events that supposedly happened to a real

person. These stories are written to be as believable as possible, and often contain

precautionary advice on how to avoid a similar episode happening to you or your loved ones.

These tales also tend to evolve in time due to embellishment and repetition; internet rumors in

particular have a way of being resurrected months or years after the initial distribution, often

with adjustments made to make them more plausible.

Anatomy of an Internet Rumor

Often is received via multiple Forwards and is never actually written by the person

sending it to you.

Often have just enough truth to make them sound plausible on initial reading, but closer

scrutiny can pick out logical inconsistencies or violations of common sense.

Geared more to persuade than inform by pushing emotional buttons. (“Don’t let this

happen to your pet!!!!”)

Often have telltale phrases: “Forward this to everyone you know!!!” or “This is not a

hoax!!!,” etc.

Person actually mentioned in the story is always someone several times removed from

the person sending the message (“my girlfriend’s sister”, “my sister’s hairdresser”). This

person is never named, nor are any corroborating bits of information (exact location,

dates, times, etc.) included.


If references are named (which is extremely rare), they are often incorrect (e.g. a

previous internet rumor relating to a ‘new’ strain of parvovirus purported to quote a

‘prominent infectious disease veterinarian’ at a well known institution—except that the

person named was an orthopedic surgeon, and although he graduated veterinary

school from that institution, he never was on faculty there).

Separating Fact from Fiction

Any of above should trigger skepticism and further investigation before taking as fact.

If the information is something you’ve never heard before or seen elsewhere in

legitimate sources, be suspicious.

Check for subtle or not-so-subtle jokes embedded in the narrative.

Read carefully and verify any ‘facts’ through independent references.

o Check trusted ‘official’ websites-ASPCA, AVMA, CDC, FDA, etc.

Check websites that cover internet hoaxes


Some Animal/Veterinary-Related Internet Rumors

1. Scenario: Subject cleaned out aquarium with a new sponge and when he placed

tropical fish back into aquarium, they died. Conclusion: Pot scrubbing sponges

manufactured by Procter & Gamble contain a dangerous “derivative of… 2-4-D, more

popularly known as Agent Orange” that can kill pets. (1999)

a)     Proctor & Gamble doesn’t make sponges

b)     Plausible fish died after being replaced in the aquarium following cleaning—

possible if detergent was used and not completely rinsed out of aquarium.

2. Scenario: Swiffer wet jet, which contains “a compound which is ‘one molecule away’

from antifreeze” caused liver failure and death in a German shepherd dog. (May 2004)

a) Nothing in the ingredients of the Swiffer liquid poses risk of hepatotoxicity.

b)  If antifreeze or a closely related glycol were involved, would expect renal, not liver damage.

c) Any molecule is ‘one molecule away’ from antifreeze.

3. Scenario: Febreze is an aerosol product that contains zinc chloride which causes illness

and deaths in pets. (1999)-it does contain zinc in Australia but not in the U.S.  But animals didn’t die of zinc oxide but did die of various other unrelated deaths-unrelated to each other and to zinc oxide.

a)     Formulations in the US after 1998 did not contain zinc chloride and the

level of zinc chloride in the prior formulations was well below where toxicity would

occur if the product was ingested.

4. Scenario: Ultra Clorox bleach poses danger to pets and should not be used in

households with pets because it contains sodium hydroxide, which is “LYE,” which is

not present in ‘regular’ bleaches.

a) Sodium hydroxide or lye is in all bleaches. Will upset any stomach if a pet drinks it.


Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA

Director, CSU Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine

Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

1. Colloidal Silver

While not as dangerous, perhaps, as the mercury baths of the 1800s for cases of tuberculosis

and syphilis, treatments of silver dissolved in protein – “colloidal silver” – have a long and

dubious history.  As far back as 1960, The Dispensary of the United States of America has

stated, “there is no justification for this [internal] use either theoretically or practically.” The

case for colloidal silver is no stronger today.  However, enthusiasm for colloidal silver products

(CSPs) has undergone a revival, and makers appear to have no qualms marketing  their

products for human and veterinary applications alike. Colloidal silver hawkers abound on the

Internet, claiming that it is an essential mineral supplement that cures cancer, diabetes, AIDS,

and herpes…CSPs may contain silver nitrate, sodium hydroxide, and gelatin. This mixture undergoes dilution to the desired concentration, which varies from product to product. CSPs with higher silver concentrations

are less ionizable and are bacteriostatic. CSPs with lower silver concentrations are more

ionizable, more irritating, and supposedly are bactericidal.

CSP suppliers suggest that people and their animals ingest the product daily in order to protect

against “dangerous pathogens”.  They insist that CSPs have “no known adverse effects.”

[]   However, animal research

demonstrates that silver accumulates throughout the body, even in the central nervous system.

Silver absorption increases in the presence of inflamed or damaged mucous membranes.

Tissue deposition of silver is often highest in the skin, liver, spleen, and adrenals, with lesser

deposits found in brain and muscle. Especially large amounts of silver can accumulate in the

subepithelial portion of the skin causing argyria, typified by a permanent and  irreversible

bluish-gray discoloration.   Following brain deposition, colloidal silver has caused myoclonic

status epilepticus and coma after daily ingestion of colloidal silver for 4 months [Neurology


2. Pennyroyal

Topical products for natural flea control routinely contain essential oils (EOs), which are highly

concentrated botanical compounds. Both sassafras oil and pennyroyal oil have proven

efficacy against Diamanus montanus, a ground squirrel flea.  Pre-formulated EO combinations

and recipes are readily available for dog and  cat flea control and touted as safe.  However,

essential oils applied to the skin can cause contact dermatitis and allergic reactions; topical

pennyroyal oil can be deadly to animals.  Oral administration heightens the risk of toxicity;

obviously, topically applied  EOs become orally ingested as the animal self-cleans the fur

following administration.  EOs may contain salicylates, obviating their usage in cats. Certain

EOs (eucalyptus, pennyroyal, wormwood, camphor, fennel, hyssop, sage, savin, tansy, thuja,

rosemary, and pine) can be epileptogenic; several of the aforementioned double as common

insect repellants.

Pennyroyal oil poses the most clearly defined and well-documented  risk to animals and

humans from EOs.  Pennyroyal is “an herbal toxin of public health importance”; ingestion of a

small amount of the oil, or even a tea made from pennyroyal  leaves, has caused several

deaths.  Serious hepatic and neurologic injury are the major features of pennyroyal oil toxicity.

Clinical signs of exposure in humans and animals include nausea, vomiting, respiratory

difficulty, gastrointestinal bleeding, seizures, and coma, followed by coagulation abnormalities,

disseminated intravascular coagulation, massive hepatic necrosis, and death…

3. Homeopathy for Cancer Patients

Although “homeopathic care” for cancer may have value in terms of its “intensive

communicative, interactive process that operates via many different pathways, some of which

are likely to be psychological” [Rostock M et al. Classical homeopathy in the treatment of

cancer patients – a prospective observational study of two independent cohorts. BMC

Cancer. 2011;11:19], it remains a struggle to find any consistent benefits from homeopathy

other than placebo [Ernst E. Systematic review: Homeopathy: what does the “best” evidence

tell us? MJA. 2010;192(8):458-460; Kassab S et al. Homeopathic medicines for adverse

effects of cancer treatments. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009; Apr 15(2):CD004845].

Considering the lack of data showing that veterinary homeopathy offers effective treatment, is

it ethical to promote ideas to clients that homeopathy cures cancer and that cancer results

from an “energetic disturbance”? [See Chambreau C. Practical use of homeopathy in your

practice. 2006 World Congress Proceedings. 31st World Small Animal Association Congress,

12th European Congress FECAVA, & 14th Czech Small Animal Veterinary Association

Congress, Prague, Czech Republic, 11-14 October, 2006; Prague: Czech Small Animal

Veterinary Association, 2006, 121-123.] Might opting for homeopathy over researched,

conventional methods with documented benefits delay effective diagnosis and treatment, as

well as suitable pain control?

4. St. John’s Wort for Cancer Patients

Naturally occurring chemicals, even those at dietary levels of intake, can modulate the hepatic

and extrahepatic expression of cytochrome  P450 levels.  When this happens, marked changes

in the metabolism of drugs may occur, leading to adverse drug interactions, or clinically

important alterations in plasma concentrations of the drug. This phenomenon takes on extra

importance when considering drugs with a low therapeutic index.  In these cases, plasma

levels need  to stay within a narrow range of concentration to ensure maximal benefits and

minimal side effects. Elevating the activity of the cytochrome P450 system increases the

metabolic rate and potentially decreases plasma drug concentrations, which may lead to

subtherapeutic or even negligible drug effects.  Herbs and certain foods can alter the activity of

the cytochrome P450 system and cause plasma drug concentrations to change in

unpredictable ways. The reduction in blood levels of drugs by St. John’s wort has probably

received more attention than any other herb-drug interaction, and has raised awareness

among clinicians and consumers of the potential impact of such interactions.  Another

potential, though rare, complication of St. John’s wort is serotonin syndrome, if used  in

conjunction with other serotonergic agonists such as tryptophan and its analogues [Bryant SM

et al. Serotonin syndrome resulting from an herbal detox cocktail. Am J Emerg Med.


5. Immune Stimulants in Lymphoma Patients:

Echinacea has received intensive media attention for its immune-stimulating properties.

Though echinacea itself poses relatively little hazard, it may interfere with chemotherapy when

given to dogs with lymphoma…An immune-boosting Chinese herb, astragalus, has

been shown to reverse cyclophosphamide-induced immunosuppression, supporting concerns

about immune-enhancers offsetting the value of chemotherapy in cases of lymphoproliferative

neoplasia.  Asian mushrooms augment immune function in a different way than echinacea

does, but the same concerns hold about administering  them to dogs with lymphoma.  For other

types of canine cancer, no proof exists that mushroom mixtures can replace conventional


6-9. Proprietary (Secret Ingredient Containing) Products, Strychnine, 8. Aconite, and 9.

Endangered animals and unethically obtained products in Chinese herbs

Asian medicine practitioners have now been promoting  Traditional Chinese Veterinary

Medicine (TCVM) to the U.S. veterinary market for years.  As more veterinarians and veterinary

students adopt TCVM methods of prescribing herbs, critical thinking and scientific principles

appear to be becoming less important.  Course notes from one institution suggest how

curricula may transmute the focus from  the hard-won advances of modern medicine to the

elementary ideas of prescientific society. As an example, students at one veterinary  medical

school are learning  that some seizures stem  from accumulated wind, phlegm and heat that

turn patients’ tongues pale and pulses slippery. Treatment entails expelling evil influences and

opening  orifices.  Students are informed about a scorpion-silkworm TCVM “herbal” combination

that supposedly stops seizures.  It doubles as a remedy for dogs, cats and horses that are

“screaming and foaming at the mouth.”  For hydrocephalus, why spend time talking about brain

malformations? TCVM holds that hydrocephalus happens on account of kidneys having

dysfunctional family relationships with other organs…Under the new paradigm of TCVM neurology, the differential

diagnosis for dogs suffering from acute intervertebral disk disease includes yang deficiency,

yin deficiency or a combined  yin-yang deficiency.  One instructor recommends a TCVM cure

containing strychnine and aconite, both considered highly toxic.  Are students prompted to ask

just how much strychnine and aconite a dog or cat can safely consume over weeks, months or

a lifetime? Are they told  that the exact amounts of these potentially lethal compounds cannot

be known, as recipes are closely guarded “family secrets” and thus proprietary? Are they being

encouraged to prescribe untested, unregulated remedies with unknown mechanisms and

dubious or toxic ingredients in undisclosed  amounts mainly because their teacher sells or

promotes them…For references, see Robinson NG. TCVM’s silk road may lead to detour.

Veterinary Practice News.

complementary-medicine/tcvm-silk-road-may-lead-to-detour.aspx .

10. Glandulars

As noted above, Chinese “herbal” medicines are an under-recognized source of animal

components with the potential for zoonotic disease transmission.  Due in part to confusing

terminology and translations, clients or practitioners may be unaware that a product contains

bovine or porcine reproductive organs or central nervous system components. In addition,

primate bones, organs, and tissues are sometimes used for their medicinal benefits [Still J.

Use of animal products in traditional Chinese medicine: environmental impact and health

hazards. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2003;11:118-122]. Some TCM “herbs” may

also contain containing desiccated human placenta for treatment of weakness and infertility

[Hirschhorn HH. Natural substances in currently available Chinese herbal and patent

medicines. J Ethnopharmacology. 1982;6:109-119].

Other veterinary glandular products also pose problems. Some claim that they “maintain

healthy function of the nervous and endocrine systems” and include a variety of bovine brain

tissues including pineal gland, hypothalamus, and pituitary. Glandulars containing spinal cord

and myelin specific protein are the “main natural treatments” for canine degenerative

myelopathy according to the Natural Health Bible. Of specific concern is the potential for these

products to act as a source of infection for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies,

because these “infectious prion agents have been detected in nervous, glandular, and

lymphatic tissues, and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies [in addition to bovine

spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE] exist in many different mammalian species.” [See Dahl

NV. Herbs and supplements in dialysis patients: panacea or poison? Seminars in Dialysis.


Despite the fact that these products are unapproved for veterinary usage, veterinary glandular

and related supplements are heavily promoted in the lay veterinary alternative medicine

literature. Some thyroid “glandulars” contain active thyroid hormone. Yet clients who read the

Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats [Messonnier S., Prima Publishing, 2001] learn that the

“principal natural treatments” for cats with hyperthyroidism comprise, first and foremost, thyroid

glandular supplements; according to the same source, animals with hyperadrenocorticism

should ingest whole or extracted adrenal glands. There is evidence that products such as

desiccated thyroid can be harmful; excess thyroid hormone can lead cause seizures, cardiac

abnormalities, ischemia, and death (Eliason BC et al. Desiccated thyroid in a nutritional

supplement. J Fam Pract. 1994; 38:287-288; Jackson IMD and Cobb WE. Why does anyone

still use desiccated thyroid USP? The American Journal of Medicine. 1978;64:284-288).

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