What is Toxicology?
Toxicology is the science of the study of toxicants. The workers of the toxicology laboratory specialize in toxicants (poisons), or in toxicoses (poisoning), and diagnose them by evaluating the clinical expressions of sick animals within the various forms of interface these animals have. The team is assisted by analytical tests which can identify the toxin. We specialize in natural toxins, such as fungi toxins (mycotoxins) and plant toxins, and in synthetic toxins, such as pesticides. The workers sit in the departmental and inter-departmental committees in order provide the benefit of their experience in the process of pesticide and medication approval, and to offer testimony of the danger toxins found in animal products may pose to both human beings and animals.
The main role performed by the toxicology laboratory is the diagnosis of poisonings in livestock, pets and wild animals. Many cases are brought to our treatment after the animal has died, and whole bodies, tissues, bodily fluids, food and water samples or baits are sent to chemical testing. In some cases, the poisoned animals are still alive, and then blood, vomit or urine are sent to the laboratory. In these cases, in which the animal is still alive, the swiftness of the response and of the arrival of the results are of extreme importance, since a swift diagnosis enables the correct treatment which might save the animal’s life.
The toxicology laboratory also supports field veterinary doctors who are confronted with suspected cases of poisoning. As part of the laboratory’s operation, workers go out into the field (after coordinating the visit with the treating doctor and/or the office doctor) in order to assist in differentiating between contagious diseases, poisonings, deficiency diseases or other diseases. In these cases an extensive veterinary knowledge is crucial to the success of the difficult mission.
In cases which present an unusual epidemiological and/or clinical and/or pathological course, the findings in the field and in the laboratory might discover new syndromes previously unknown in Israel or in veterinary medicine altogether.
There have been several interesting diagnostic cases of poisoning in recent years – for more information see the English language web-site.
Diagnostic testing at the Toxicology Laboratory
Any chemical substance might become toxic at a high enough dosage. Therefore, there are thousands of chemical substances in urban and rural areas which under certain conditions might be potentially harmful, toxic, or even deadly to animals. In order to prove animal poisoning, the substance must be discovered (its presence or a certain dosage of it) and identified in the organs or feces of live or dead animals, in food, in water, in baits or in other materials.
There is no one test which can determine if animals were poisoned or if a substance contains poison (if it is “toxic”). In each case there is a need to test for the presence of every toxin, or occasionally a group of toxins, in separate analytical tests. No laboratory in the world can test for the presence of all the toxins, and laboratories usually specialize in testing for the most common toxins in their respective countries.
Therefore, if there is no suspicion of the appearance of a specific toxin, the workers of the toxicology laboratory will begin to test for the most common toxins which fit the clinical evidence and other testimonies provided to the laboratory regarding the specific case.
Many times the initial test will produce a negative result, creating the need to perform further tests. In order to improve this diagnostic process it is necessary to know what the most likely toxins are. Therefore, when submitting material to be tested at the toxicology laboratory at the Veterinary Institute it is necessary to also submit a form filled in with a detailed description of the event. This form can be filled in at the time of submitting the sample, brought to the laboratory during work hours, or submitted by e-mail. It is also necessary to submit a phone number in which the person requesting the test can be reached during work hours.
In case the laboratory is considering performing further tests, the workers will call in order to inform the applicant of this decision, and to receive his approval to continue with the testing, together with his undertaking to pay for the further testing.
We regret to say that most cases of poisoning are the result of malicious acts, mistakes, or negligence in the use of pesticides, despite the fact that many powerful toxins exist naturally in the surroundings of our animals.
The laboratory has performed numerous studies, mainly related to clinical toxicological issues, including the treatment of poisonings.
The main field of study is currently the performance of tests that evaluate the exposure of wild birds to pollution and disease.
The workers of the laboratory teach students of veterinary medicine at the Hebrew University and present information regarding toxins and poisonings in conventions, seminars, and also to the general public who can reach the laboratory directly by phone.