Your frisky kitten suddenly slows down. You notice around her mouth a bit of drool. Your faithful old dog vomits, refuses food and possibly exhibits tremors or twitching. What’s going wrong with your pets, and what, as a responsible owner, should you do?
“Get them to your veterinarian as quickly as possible,” counseled Shannon Graham, D.V.M., an emergency medical expert at Blue Pearl Veterinary Specialty Care. “They may have been poisoned.”
Dr. Graham was quick to note that there are many other diseases and conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Unless you have actually witnessed your pet ingesting a poison, a veterinary toxicology test will be the only way to be certain.
Dr. Graham isn’t suggesting that some evil-doer intentionally poisoned your pets. She is simply referencing your observed irregularities in their appearance and activity levels and will obtain a thorough history to evaluate the risk of toxic exposure.
And she is drawing on her knowledge and experience of inquisitive – and omnivorous – domestic pets ingesting substances, including some common human foods, that can kill them.
“If you suspect that your dog or cat has been poisoned,” Dr. Graham continued, “a fast visit to your regular vet can determine next steps – whether your pet can be treated in the office or must be rushed to the nearest emergency care hospital.”
In either case, the emergency care veterinarian said, “If you suspect poisoning and think you know what caused it, bring evidence to show your vet.”
This can be anything from one of your own medicine bottles that your dog or cat has opened and eaten to the wrapper from a chewed candy bar to the label from a household cleaning product and more. If you have to guess, bring them all.
Your comfortable home is literally filled with things that can be dangerous for dogs and cats.
There are resources you can turn to for guidance if you suspect poisoning – the specialists your veterinary clinic or ER will call on as they treat your pet. They are the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center – 888-425-4435 – and the Pet Poison Helpline – 800-213-6680. Both charge a fee of $65 for a consultation that will remain active throughout your pet’s treatment.
Because prevention is always better than treatment, try to avoid harrowing and potentially life-ending poisonings by making yourself aware of the most common items your pet may ingest – check out the sidebar.
“Human medications are among the worst poisoning culprits,” according to Dr. Graham. “A pill you or someone in your family takes every day safely can kill a pet.
“Securing the lid of the pill bottle is a good idea, but remember that most dogs can easily chew through a plastic bottle to get what’s inside,” she added.
Swallowing your pills can be perilous for cats as well, but your feline friends face additional dangers from many familiar plants. Even the pollen from the most deadly, including the sago palm, can contaminate their fur and poison them when they groom.
“Ingesting lilies,” Dr. Graham cautioned, “can cause acute kidney injury and failure in cats and even exposure to their pollen can contaminate a cat’s fur and poison them when they groom. That’s why when we take in a cat poisoning case, the first thing we do is give the patient a bath to remove any residual toxin from their fur, something that, if you’ve ever tried it at home, you know to leave to our specialized emergency technicians.
“Above all else,” Dr. Graham advised, “remember that if your dog or cat shows symptoms of poisoning, time is of the essence. Quickly determining the poisoning agent and beginning emergency treatment can make the difference between bringing your healthy pet home and having it suffer kidney or liver failure, respiratory distress or even death.”
The Top 10 Toxins
- Over-the-counter medications – including ibuprophen and Tylenol;
- Human prescription medicines;
- Human foods – including onion, garlic, grapes, raisins and sugarless gum containing xylitol;
- Chocolate – this treat deserves its own ranking because dogs seem to love it and seek it out – a lot;
- Bouquets and plants – lilies, daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, oleander and sago palm are among the most dangerous;
- Household toxicants – cleaning, beauty and household repair items;
- Rodenticides – Their ingredients attract rodents and also your pets;
- Veterinary products – Flavored, chewable pills are the worst offenders;
- Insecticides – Ant sprays, bug sprays and other yard products;
- Garden products – Fertilizers can be delicious to dogs – and fatal.
By Bill Farley