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By Dr. Cindy Krane, DVM

Calusa Veterinary Center

When I hear the words “I think my dog has been poisoned!” I tell my client “Do not panic. Stay calm and gather as much information as you can as to what and when”.

Information is critical, the type of poison; the exact product or drug name, amount and the time the incident occurred. Be prepared to convey your dogs’ age, breed, body weight as well as any pre-existing medical conditions and complete list of any medications he/she is taking.  Immediately call your vet or the ASPCA animal poison control center at 1-888-4-ANI-HELP (1-888-426-4435). If they advise that you seek immediate veterinary attention be sure to bring the suspected toxin with you.  This information will help your veterinarian determine the severity of the emergency as many poisons are dose dependent.  While one Hershey Kiss many not be a problem, an entire bag can be life threatening to your pet.  Time is of the essence so be sure to act quickly even if your pet seems to be ok.  Many poisons can be misleading and will not show there toxic effects for hours to days.

In case of accidental poisonings it is a good idea to have a first aid kit for your dog.  The kit should contain a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a dosing syringe or turkey baster. Frequently, your veterinarian will advise that you induce vomiting by giving your pet hydrogen peroxide orally. This is most helpful if done within 10-20 minutes of ingestion of the toxin to decrease absorption from the stomach into the blood stream.  For example, if your dog just swallowed a pill or a coin it would be beneficial to have him vomit it back up.  However many times it is contra-indicated to induce vomiting as some toxins can cause even more damage.  For example a toy could cause chocking or a chemical could burn the esophagus if vomiting is induced.

You can decrease your pets’ risks of exposure to household toxins by “pet-proofing” your house much like you would for a toddler. Each room in your house can contain hidden toxins. The kitchen, for example, contains many foods which can be toxic to pets.  Alcohol, unbaked bread dough, macadamian nuts, coffee, chocolate, onions, raisin and grapes. Seasoning like garlic, salt and the sugar substitute xylitol.

The toxic principle and the toxic dose of grapes and raisins are not yet known. However, they are known to cause kidney failure and even death in certain cases.  Treatment is centered on aggressive intravenous fluids to support the kidneys and flush out the toxin.

Macadamia nuts contain a neuro-toxin and cause weakness and tremors particular in the hind limbs.  The treatment involves enemas to rid the body of the nuts and supportive care.  The prognosis is excellent and fatalities have not been reported. Onions and to a lesser extent chives and garlic are toxic. The bulb is the most toxic part of the plant and raw or dehydrated ones are more toxic than cooked ones.  They can cause destruction of red blood cells and life threatening anemia. Treatment involves supportive care and blood transfusions.

Chocolate toxicity is one of the most common poisoning seen by veterinarians. Chocolate contains two toxic ingredients; theobromine and caffeine. Both are stimulants. The first sign of toxicity is vomiting and can rapidly progress stimulation of the central nervous and the cardiovascular systems.  The severity is dose dependant – they more your pet ingests the sicker he will be. Additionally the darker the chocolate the more toxic it is. Baker’s unsweetened chocolate is far more toxic than milk chocolate. Treatment involves decreasing further absorption of the chocolate from the intestinal tract as well as supportive care.  Severity can run the gamut from mild GI upset to death again depending on the size of your pet and the amount, and type of chocolate ingested.

Unbaked dough can be toxic in two ways.  First, it may cause bloating and abdominal pain or even an obstruction in the intestinal tract. Second, as the dough rises in the stomach it produces alcohol. This causes neurological signs including unsteadiness on the feet and depression. Much in the same way as beer and alcohol does. In most cases “drunk” animals do well with supportive care

Play rooms and kids bedrooms contain many potential hazards for your pet. Chewed glow sticks or glow jewelry can cause salivation and vomiting primarily due to the bad taste.  Treatment involves rinsing out the mouth and diluting the toxin with some milk and egg.  Most causes resolve within a few hours. Homemade play dough can be far worse. The toxicity is due to the large amount of salt in the recipe; much more than found in store bought ready made play dough. These animals quickly show neurological signs including seizures.  Ingestion can be fatal despite treatment.

The garage is laden with potential toxins including paint, paint thinners, fertilizers, moth balls, rat and ant bait, and antifreeze to pool chemicals. Even paint balls are deadly if ingested. Batteries are commonly ingested by dogs. It is recommended to feed a large meal of bread and canned food if you see your dog ingest a battery.  It remains under debate if you should induce vomiting or not. If the battery is not vomited up they the dog will need to have it surgical retrieved.  However if vomiting is induced and the battery has been punctured acid will leak and erode the esophagus and oral cavity.

While most household glues are relatively harmless a product called Gorilla Glue is very dangerous. This glue is designed to expand and fill cracks. Once ingested it expands the stomach to many times its original size and then it hardens in place. This results in an obstructive mass that requires surgical intervention.

 Nicotine, from cigarettes (especially the butts), chewing tobacco or gum and patches designed to help you quit smoking, is very dangerous for animals.  It causes excitement and stimulation to the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, followed by collapse, coma and death due to paralysis of the respiratory tract.   Treatment involves decreasing further absorption (lavage the stomach and administer activated charcoal) and artificial respiration.

Pennies, minted after 1982, are made of copper coated zinc.  They are composed of 99% zinc compared to 5% prior to 1982.  Zinc is very toxic to the liver, kidneys and red blood cells. Treatment requires surgical removal of the penny and blood transfusions and chelation of the zinc.  If not discovered and treated early and aggressively zinc toxicity can be fatal.

The laundry room contains many household cleaners.  Depending on the product ingestion may cause signs ranging from mild stomach upset to severe burns in the mouth and esophagus or stomach.  Fabric softeners however are very toxic; particular unused sheets. They cause gastric irritation and ulceration.

Last but not least is the bathroom.  The medicine cabinet contains many potential toxins.  Many are packed with non-steroidals, vitamins, birth control pills, asthma inhalers and other prescription drugs and OTC medications.  It is beyond the scope of this article to detail the toxin effects of too numerous to count medications.  However it is import to note that you should never intentional give your pet a human medication.  Dogs are not small people and cats are not small dogs.  If your pet accidentally ingests a pill call your vet or the ASPCA Poison Control Center at 1-888-4-ANI-HELP immediately.   Other recourses include human poison control and the drug manufactures’ internet site, and your local pharmacists.


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