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Malicious poisonings

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Meatballs laced with the anticoagulant rodenticide, diphacinone.

Sept 23, 2013

If a dog finds a meatball on the street, chances are he’s not going to ask how it got there; he’s going to gobble it up. That’s what happened when Oskar, a 7-year-old Dachshund came across a meatball in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks neighborhood. Moments later he had a seizure, and later died of organ failure. His veterinarian suspected poisoning and sent samples of the bait and vomitus from the dog to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory (CAHFS) at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Unfortunately, CAHFS toxicologists receive calls about possible malicious poisoning all too often. In many instances, there is no evidence to support a client’s suspicion of foul play. However, in other cases, various adulterated food items such as pet food or meats are found in the animal’s environment as in the Bay Area case. 

Other cases have involved the use of anticoagulant rodenticides such as brodifacoum, cholinesterase-inhibiting insecticides such as methomyl and disulfoton, drugs such as aspirin and caffeine, ethylene glycol, and cyanide. They have also detected the sugar substitute, xylitol, in several “bait” samples. Apparently, xylitol is used as a poison for coyotes and perhaps domestic dogs as well. Dogs are uniquely sensitive to xylitol and develop severe hypoglycemia and liver damage following ingestion.

In suspected cases of malicious poisoning, it is critical to collect and maintain appropriate samples for testing and good records pertaining to the case. Law enforcement or other government agencies often become involved in a majority of confirmed malicious poisoning cases. These cases can also end up in court, so it is incumbent on veterinarians to perform thorough history taking and case work up. 

Critical ante mortem samples for toxicological analysis include possible source material (e.g. baits), stomach contents (vomitus) and urine. Visual inspection of source material or stomach contents often reveals the presence of foreign material which can help in the selection of appropriate toxicology tests to perform. If an animal dies, a thorough necropsy is recommended and stomach contents, liver, kidney, brain, fat, and urine should be collected (all tissue samples should be fresh and not formalin-fixed), placed in individual sample containers, and refrigerated or frozen pending analysis.

For more information from CAHFS including testing for unknowns, mycotoxin poisoning from moldy compost, and the danger to dogs from ingesting horse dewormers, read their recent Special Pet Toxicology Report


 Trina Wood

Communications Officer