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Your local source for news and tips about dogs, cats and other critters, featuring fun videos, reader photos, Q&As and more.

January 11, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Veterinary Q&A: Follow-up on toxins -- aloe vera

aloepic11new.jpgA reader is concerned that a detangling shampoo he bought from a large pet-supply company lists aloe vera as one of its ingredients. Aloe Vera, he notes, is listed as toxic by the ASCPA. Is aloe dangerous or not? Dr. Joe Musielak, an emergency-care vet at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish who answered Tuesday's question about toxic products, tackles the question.

Question: Is aloe toxic? For all animals?

Answer: Most of the research has been in dogs and cats that have ingested aloe. If you break an aloe leaf open you notice two things: the center clear/greenish goo (this is what the gel is made from) and around the very edge a white sap (this is the latex the plant produces). The gel is not toxic, but the latex can cause problems.

Question: How dangerous a toxin is it? (Or how much would my dog or cat have to ingest for it to be a problem?)

Answer: The latex of aloe is considered a purgative ( a substance that empties the intestinal tract usually by inducing diarrhea.) If an animal eats quite a bit of the plant (and it is very bad tasting), you could see mild stomach upset. Severe diarrhea can be life threatening because it can eventually cause dehydration.

Question: Some people always keep an aloe plant around to apply to kitchen burns or other wounds. Is the plant more toxic than topical applications?

Answer: Most topical products have had the toxic principal removed during processing.

Question: What if I apply aloe vera to my dog's hot spot or a wound and the dog licks it. Is the dog in danger?

Answer: If you are just applying the gel portion of the leaf it should not be a problem.

Question: What are the symptoms of aloe toxicity?

Answer: Diarrhea and occasionally vomiting if large amounts are ingested.

Question: How is it treated?

Answer: The first thing to do (but also often overlooked) is to eliminate exposure to the plant. If the diarrhea is severe, IV fluids may be needed.

Question: How often do you see a case of a cat or dog poisoned by aloe.

Answer: In our area, it appears to be VERY rare. Less than one every few years.

Question: What about those topical applications -- either in grooming products or topical applications? Are they safe to use? Under what circumstances would they be unsafe?

Answer: Any product is unsafe if used incorrectly. So follow the manufacturers recommendations. Again, most of these products have had the toxic principle removed.

Dr. Joe Musielak graduated from the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine in 1990. After working in mixed practice for nine years, he became a staff veterinarian for Pilchuck's small-animal emergency department in 2003 and has a special interest in transfusion medicine and surgery. Dr. Joe is an active member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. He lives with two dogs and three cats.

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Read our past Q&As:
Veterinary Q&A: Dogs with dry, itchy skin
Veterinary Q&A: Ways to stop stool eating
Veterinary Q&A: Holiday toxins that can hurt your pets
Veterinary Q&A: Itchy skin and hair loss in cats.
Veterinary Q&A: Pancreatitis
Veterinary Q&A: Dementia and senior dogs
Veterinary Q&A: More health issues facing aging dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Eye problems in aging dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Halloween treats and pets
Veterinary Q&A: Health issues facing aging dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Why blood work is necessary
Veterinary Q&A: Are prong collars safe for your dog?
Veterinary Q&A: Birth control for pets
Veterinary Q&A: How to find a good vet
Veterinary Q&A: Neutering your dog Part 2
Veterinary Q&A: Neutering your dog Part 1
Veterinary Q&A: Hyperthyroidism in cats
Veterinary Q&A: Incontinence in dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Hanging tongue syndrome
Veterinary Q&A: Bad breath in dogs
Veterinary Q&A: How much is too much exercise for my dog? Part 2
Veterinary Q&A: How much exercise does my dog need? Part I
Veterinary Q&A: A killer called bloat
Veterinary Q&A: Initial care for new puppies
Veterinary Q&A: Knee problems in dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Flea-control treatment
Veterinary Q&A: Bearded dragon lizards
Veterinary Q&A: Vaccinations for indoor cats
Veterinary Q&A: Lumps and bumps
Veterinary Q&A: More on aging dogs and arthritis
Veterinary Q&A: Aging dogs and arthritis
Veterinary Q&A: Puppy and geriatric exams
Veterinary QA: What dogs can safely chew
Veterinary QA: Why does it cost so much to clean a dog's teeth?
Veterinary QA follow-up: More on cleaning a dog's teeth
Veterinary QA: When to spay or neuter

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Do you have a question about pet health? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local vet in an upcoming post.

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