Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Investigation and treatment of suspected poisoning of unknown etiology

Synonym(s): Toxicosis

Contributor(s): Nicola Bates , James Adams

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Introduction

  • Practitioners may be called upon to investigate cases of suspected poisoning. 
  • Poisoning may be due to ingestion, inhalation or dermal exposure to a toxic substance. 
  • Presenting signs may be variable, depending on the agent involved. Possible poisoning should be investigated in cases of sudden onset illness or sudden death.
  • Diagnosis will be based on history, clinical signs and toxicological investigations. 
  • Treatment is generally supportive, few antidotes are available. 
  • Prognosis is variable, depending on the severity of clinical signs and the causal agent.
  • This article summarizes the approach to a suspected case of poisoning in cattle.

Public Health considerations

  • There will be a risk that contaminated milk, offal and meat may enter the human food chain.
  • Food safety authorities should be contacted early in the investigation to prevent contaminated material entering the human food chain.

Etiology

  • Poisoning may occur in various circumstances including:
    • Lack of access to fodder, eg due to adverse weather conditions.
    • Lack of fresh water.
    • Ingestion of contaminated feed or water source. 
    • Incorrect storage of feed.
    • Access to poisonous plants.
    • Miscalculation of doses for feed supplements or medicines. 
    • Inadequate storage of hazardous substances, eg lead batteries, pesticide products.
    • Poor state of repair of structures with lead paint.
    • Cattle are inquisitive and will eat materials they find, particularly if it is palatable, or because of boredom. 
    • Pica as a result of nutritional deficiency or imbalance may increase the risk of poisoning.

Timecourse (incubation, duration)

  • Very variable. 
  • Some poisons act quickly (eg blue green algae, nerium oleander) but others have delayed onset of signs require (eg anticoagulant Rodenticides Rodenticides) or require repeated exposure (eg Bracken Bracken). 
  • In many cases there may be sudden death with few or no apparent clinical signs.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Sequelae

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMed Resource.
  • Bates N & Payne J (2017) Risk assessment and risk management of poisoning in farm animals. Livestock 22 (3), pp 146-149.
  • Payne J & Murphy A (2014) Plant poisoning in farm animals. In Practice 36, pp 455-465.
  • Varga A & Puschner B (2012) Retrospective study of cattle poisonings in California: recognition, diagnosis and treatment. Veterinary Medicine Research Reports 3, pp 111-127.
  • Osweiler G D (2011) Diagnostic guidelines for ruminant toxicoses. Veterinary Clinical North America: Food Animal Practice 27 (2), pp 247-254 PubMed.
  • Poppenga R H (2011) Commercial and industrial chemical hazards for ruminants. Veterinary Clinical North America: Food Animal Practice 27 (2), pp 373-387 PubMed.
  • McGuirk S M & Semrad S D (2005) Toxicologic emergencies in cattle. Veterinary Clinical North America: Food Animal Practice 21 (3), pp 729-49 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Payne J, Livesey C & Murphy A (2015) Cattle poisoning: principles of toxicological investigations. In: Cockcroft PD (ed). Bovine Medicine, 3rd Edn. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 
  • Plumlee K H (2004) Clinical Veterinary Toxicology. Ed: Plumlee K H. Mosby, Missouri, USA.
  • Burrows G E & Tyrl R J (2013) Toxic Plants of North America. 2nd Edn. Wiley Blackwell, Ames, Iowa.

Organisation(s)

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control, telephone number (888) 426-4435.
  • Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS); www.vpisglobal.com. + 44 (0) 2073 055 055.


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