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The Truth about Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D) and Colchicine!

Cholecalciferol and Colchicine
C got lucky enough to be prettified!

Today we’re discussing cholecalciferol (vitamin D) and colchicine!

I know you are asking yourself right now:

What the heck? What are these things, and why didn’t she cover chocolate?

I seriously debated covering chocolate for “C”.  It really is the obvious choice.  But that singular reason is exactly why I chose to go in another direction.  Chocolate is covered in detail everywhere.

I only succeed if I educate, and I can’t do that if I simply repeat the same things that have already been repeated hundreds of other times.  So, today you guys get to learn something new!

Why colchicine and cholecalciferol?  

Both of these substances are extremely dangerous to pets. One of them is also among the most common exposures! So, let’s dive in!

Vitamin D Toxicity in pets!

Cholecalciferol is more known as Vitamin D3

Now you must be shaking your head and wondering why I didn’t just call it Vitamin D? Because I want you to be able to identify it on a label!  With the exception of vitamins, things like “Vitamin D” aren’t always listed explicitly in nutritional information or ingredients.  Take this face wash cream for example:

They’re so chic, they don’t need to advertise their Vitamin D

Now, in the above-highlighted example, it’s the last ingredient which means there isn’t very much in there.  But how much is “not very much”?  0.001%?  5%?  They don’t say!  Just as a quick assessment, one lick isn’t likely enough to cause big trouble, but what if a pet ingested the whole container? How much cholecalciferol is there in total?

Vitamin D/cholecalciferol is common in a whole bunch of things: supplements, beauty enhancers for the skin, cosmetics, hair treatments, and even additional supplements to food products. It is important to be able to distinguish the harmful from the harmless, so you know when to contact your vet.

Why is it bad?

Vitamin D is responsible for helping to bring calcium into your body and keep it there (among other functions).  When ingested in large amounts, this can lead to an excess of calcium in the blood. This eventually causes the kidneys to mineralize, leading to kidney failure.

Signs tend to develop from cholecalciferol within 12-36 hours, and are similar to the signs we most commonly associate with kidney failure:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Bloody vomit
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Death

Most clinics will start treating vitamin D exposures at doses above 0.1 milligrams per kilogram (which is about one 1000 IU Vitamin D pill in a 10-pound dog). After contacting animal poison control or a local vet, Be prepared for a lengthy stay at the vet.  

Treatments will likely include:

  • Inducing vomiting if it is safe.
  • Repeated doses of activated charcoal.
  • Special IV fluids to help balance electrolytes.
  • Medication to help flush and protect the kidneys.
  • More medications to help prevent calcium from being absorbed.
  • Repeated blood work to check the kidneys, and the calcium/phosphorus levels.

I know you’re wondering if calcium pills will do the same thing to your pet — The good news is that calcium by itself does not absorb through the stomach very easily, so plain calcium is not as much of an issue.  Be wary, though.  Most calcium supplements also contain moderate amounts of Vitamin D3.


Colchicine is one of the deadliest substances to animals

While you may not be entirely familiar with colchicine, it is a chemical compound you can find in a few places.  The chemical compound is used in medications to treat gout, rheumatism, and other similar diseases due to its anti-inflammatory purposes.

It is derived from the autumn crocus plant (Colchicum autumnale) But is also found in glory lilies/climbing lilies of the Gloriosa species. These are typically bulb plants, and while the bulbs are more toxic, all parts of the plant contain colchicine.

I am not kidding when I say this stuff is deadly.  It disrupts the process by which cells replicate and divide and causes severe damage to the stomach, leading to extremely advanced signs.

Signs of colchicine poisoning:

  • Bloody vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Decreases in body temperature
  • The inability of the blood to clot properly
  • Decreases in white blood cells
  • Liver damage
  • Heart arrhythmias and changes in heart rate
  • Drastic drops in blood pressure
  • Shock
  • Death

We start to see these signs within 30 minutes of exposure.  This is a very, very short time frame.  The signs tend to be fast and severe, so there often is not enough time to induce vomiting (as they’re often already doing it) or give activated charcoal.  Often we are left with trying to manage the signs to prevent death.  Do not screw around with this one.  If your pet gets into your medication or one of the plants, go immediately to the nearest vet clinic, no matter how much they got.

Be forewarned, most animals will require extensive treatments:

  • Blood transfusions are often necessary due to cell destruction and blood loss.
  • Fluids are needed to rehydrate them from all the vomiting.
  • With a decrease in white blood cells, they become susceptible to secondary infections and often need antibiotics.
  • Stomach protectants are often needed to stop the bleeding happening in the stomach.
  • Medications are given to help stimulate the production of new red and white blood cells.

Even with aggressive treatment, colchicine can be lethal, so prevention becomes really important.

  • If you take colchicine for anything, always take it over the sink (this works for vitamins too!).  Lock all pill containers away in a lockbox, or high up in a closed cabinet.
  • If you have pets, avoid planting these flowers in your home.  While they are beautiful, someday, one of your pets WILL get one.

(All references for colchicine come from here)

As with any poison center, animal poison control and your local vet clinic are your best friends. Treating toxins requires specialized knowledge, so always involve the professionals!

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