Follow-up on toxins: Aloe vera

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

Seattle Times
Tails of Seattle - a Pets blog
Posted by Neena Pellegrini

A 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.