We know how easily pet can get into things. It’s really easy to think they will never get into poison – but in the rare event that it does, are you prepared?
I looked away for just a moment…
The majority of pet poisoning cases are unintentional. Pets can get into things in an instant, and knowing what to do for that instant can help save your pet’s life.
Some of the most common substances at home can be a threat to your pet’s health. These include:
-Xylitol (also recently known as “birch sugar”)
-Spring flower bulbs
Sometimes people carelessly leave garbage where a pet can reach it, or it’s dropped into a yard by a scavenger. The pets can ingest something and their owners aren’t even aware. Common signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, drooling, twitching and seizures.
Many poisons will cause immediate symptoms. Others may take several days, or even months, to cause any damage.
If you believe your dog has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian right away and wait for their instruction. Some known home first aid treatments can cause more damage than they can helps You can also call the Pet Poison Control hotline at (855) 764-7661 or visit them online anytime for more information. There is a fee to use the Pet Poison Control services, but they have the database and knowledge to help you quickly in the event of an emergency.
So what IS a poison?
A poison is a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.
Poisons are most commonly ingested. Sources of ingested poisons come from many ordinary household elements such as food, prescription medications, toxic house or yard plants, cleaning products, antifreeze and garden maintenance substances (fertilizers, pest control, etc.).
They can also be absorbed through the skin. Substances that can cause poisoning via absorption include insecticides, fertilizers, paint and paint thinner, motor oil and gasoline.
Inhaled poisons are less common, but can occur from smoke, car exhaust fumes or other sources of unventilated carbon monoxide.
Injected poisons can come from pests such as insect stings, snake bites and ticks.
If you believe your pet has been poisoned, call one of your emergency pet personnel as soon as you can:
Fees apply for the hotline numbers. It’s a good idea to be aware of these fees in advance so there are no additional surprises when you call. They are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by veterinary toxicologists. Some veterinary clinics do not have 24-hour on call emergency number.
The professional helping you will need to know as much information as you can give them, including:
– the suspected poison was (read the label if you know what it was)
– how the poisoning occurred (ingested, inhaled or absorbed)
– the amount of poison involved
– what timeframe the poisoning occurred
– the animal’s weight
– Signs and symptoms that indicate the poisoning occurred
Make sure these numbers are somewhere easily accessible or visible in case there’s an emergency. Those few minutes looking it up will turn into hours, trust me! Make the emergency information well known so that in the event you need it, it’s available immediately without an effort to find it.
How can I tell if my pet has been poisoned?
Animals will react differently to poisons on an individual basis. Common symptoms to watch out for include
-bumps or burns, especially around the mouth
-breathing problems and/or coughing
-bright red gums
It’s a good idea to know baseline vital signs when your pet is healthy. In the event of an emergency, you can check vitals and know when something isn’t right.
There are three tests that can readily and easily indicate signs of illness or injury if the baseline tests are known.
While skin tone is often used to indicate health status, it is difficult to tell on fur-covered pets. Gums are used, instead. Any pink area will work. For those animals that do not have any pink gums, the inner rim of the lower eye can be used, instead.
Gums are normally pink, or have brown or black pigment. Other color may indicate an issue that needs attention. Pale gums may be a sign of shock. Blue gums indicate a lack of oxygen, which means the animal may be suffocating. Bright red gum can be a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning or heatstroke. Liver problems will turn the gums and whites of the eyes yellow.
Capillary Refill Time
Another test to check health status is capillary refill time (CRT). This test checks blood circulation by stopping bloodflow to an area momentarily to see how quickly it returns. It is normal to CRT to be 1-2 seconds. Longer could be a sign that a vet visit is required.
To test CRT, press a fingertip to the pink area of the gum for one second, and then release. Count how long it takes for the spot to turn from white back to pink.
The last test to check for signs of health is dehydration. A drop in water levels even as small as 5% of normal body water can show signs of dehydration with reduced skin elasticity. Older dogs and dogs with lower body fat may not show this test accurately, as they already have reduced skin elasticity.
To test a dog’s hydration level, grasp some loose skin on the top of the dog’s head using a thumb and forefinger. Hold this for a few seconds and release. The skin should return to normal if the dog is healthy and hydrated. If not, however, something may be up. If the skin is relatively slow to return to normal, a visit to the vet is recommended. If the skin stays in place, however, the pet needs a vet visit immediately. A dog’s gums will also feel dry and/or tacky when dehydrated. The other video below demonstrates the normal elasticity of a well hydrated dog’s skin.
Types of Poisons
The most common kind of poisoning for pets is ingestion. Deliberate poisonings do happen, but the majority of them are accidental. Whether they got into rat poison on a walk, licked antifreeze off the garage floor, or curiously nibbled a toxic plant, or simply not knowing that a substance is toxic – these things do happen. Being prepared for this eventuality is the best thing you can do in order to act quickly.
Poisoning by ingestion can present with any or all symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, excitability, lethargy and seizures.
There are numerous poisonous household items that dogs can get into. The most innocuous of these include chocolate, coffee, grapes, onions and macadamia nuts. More obvious examples include alcohol, pest poisons, prescription and over the counter drugs, cleaning products and antifreeze. Note that some antifreeze manufacturers have started using propylene glycol for their products, which may cause seizures. Ethylene glycol, however, can result in lethal kidney failure. Household and garden plants can also be sources of poison, and care should be taken with what is grown around the home.
You can find an extensive list of plant toxicity information on the ASPCA website by clicking here.
If you know exactly what poison your dog ingested, you may consider inducing vomiting if you are unable to connect with a veterinarian. Make sure to read the label of the substance, with special attention to the safety precautions. Do not induce vomiting under the following conditions:
– The ingredient is acidic (cleaners), alkaline (antacids, detergents), petroleum based (gas) or caustic (cleaning chemicals). In the event one of these items were ingested, give one to three tablespoons of mineral oil to protect the stomach lining and to slow absorption.
– If the dog is already vomiting
– Trouble breathing
– Ingestion occurred more than two hours ago
– If you suspect they may have ingested a sharp object
– If the product label reads “do not induce vomiting”
To induce vomiting, first give the dog something small to eat to make it easier for it to vomit. Bread is soft and easy to swallow and is a good option, if they’ll take it.
Give 3% hydrogen peroxide by using a syringe or meat baster. This is the usual dilution that is sold in stores and pharmacies, but make sure it is not a more concentrated solution prior to proceeding.
– Use one teaspoon for every 10 lbs, or one tablespoon for every twenty pounds. Do not offer more than 3 tablespoons.
– Hold the dog’s head upward, by the muzzle if possible. Place the syringe or baster up into the lips, between the back molars and the cheeks. Pinch the lips closed and dispense the solution slowly.
– If the dog has not vomited after 10 minutes, repeat the process a maximum of two more times.
– If the dog does not vomit after the third attempt, bring them to a veterinary clinic to provide further assistance
[Video demonstrates a black lab sitting quietly. A woman steps next to her, gently holds the dog’s head and inserts the syringe into the side of the dogs mouth. She presses the dog’s jowls closed around the syringe while dispensing plain yogurt into the dogs mouth. The dog licks as she swallows the yogurt, and gets pets when finished.]
Everyone knows what injected poisons are like, and we’re about to experience mosquito season once again. While many bug bites cause minor nuisances, others could be life-threatening. Today we’re discussing snake bites, bug bites and ticks.
There are thankfully few venomous snakes in Canada, but they do exist and can cause fatalities if a dog steps on or chases a snake.
Venomous snakes have two distinct fangs that they will inject vemon through. Their bites, therefore, will display one or two well-defined puncture marks. Non venomous snakes do not have these fangs and will show a simple horseshoe shaped bite mark.
While it is helpful to be able to identify the snake to your veterinarian, it is not worth risking yourself in order to positively ID the snake in question. Symptoms of snake bites may not appear immediately, and may take several hours to appear. Monitoring by a veterinarian is recommended for this reason.
If you know your dog has been bitten by a snake, restrict the dog’s movement as much as possible without restraining. Limiting efforts by the dog can help reduce blood flow to the area, and therefore slow the rate the venom moves through the body. Do not struggle with the dog, however, as this will speed up the process. Gently wash the bite with soap and water. If possible, carry the dog instead of allowing it to walk, and bring the dog to a veterinarian for monitoring or treatment as needed.
Insect stings and bites
Many dogs seem to love chasing and catching bees. This unfortunately often ends poorly for the dog as well as the bee. If you notice a dog pawing at their mouth, salivating or itching, take a closer look for irritation or swelling.
If you can locate the stinger, remove it with tweezers and place a cold compress to the site.
Dogs can also suffer an anaphylactic reaction from bee stings, however. They may show signs almost right away, or up to 30 minutes after the sting. Any signs of anaphylaxis and the dog should be taken to the vet for treatment.
Signs to watch for include:
– sudden, acute breathing problems
– swelling around the face, specifically the eyes, mouth and throat
– red marks
– sudden diarrhea
– severe itchiness
While ticks are not poisonous or venomous, they deserve a mention as they can transmit Lyme disease to your dog. If a tick is found, it needs to be removed carefully. A tick my look like a small bump or skin tag. Remember to wear gloves, as ticks can transmit disease to humans, as well. Soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, and apply to the tick. This will irritate the tick as well as kill Lyme pathogens on the surface of the skin. Use a pair of tweezers to carefully grab the tick as close to the dog’s skin as possible, and pull it straight out. Do not twist or try to bend it sideways. Place the tick into alcohol to kill it and apply a cold compress onto the bite site to reduce irritation. Consider submitting the tick to the Alberta government for testing. More information on that program can be found here:
Inhaled poisoning is as dangerous – if not moreso – for animals as it is for people. This may occur if the animal is left in an enclosed space when the vehicle is running, smoky atmosphere from forest fires, insecticides, or smoky geographical areas. Housefires can be especially dangerous, where plastics, chemicals and other materials can burn and cause further damage.
If a pet inhales toxic fumes, it’s best to assume that the airways are inflamed. They may show other signs of poisoning, however, so it’s crucial to monitor the animal for bright red gums, coughing, difficult breathing, intoxication, discharge from the mouth, nose or eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse.
In the event of inhalation poisoning, remove the animal from the source of poisoning immediately and assess airway, breathing and circulation. Transport the animal to a veterinarian right away.
Another form of poisoning can be absorption. It’s common for pets to roll in the dirtiest, stinkiest substances, but not all the things they roll in are safe. Some of these include insecticides, fertilizers, motor oil and gasoline. It is possible to ingest these substances when licking their coat or skin, but the substance can also be absorbed through the skin and cause poisoning without ingesting it.
The first sign that something may be amiss is the skin or fur is coated in the substance. The animal may also show signs of vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, tremors and seizures.
In the event of absorption poisoning, remember to protect yourself first! Use a pair of rubber gloves, a long sleeved shirt and safety glasses to protect yourself from the substance. Rinse the area with cool water away from the rest of the animals body. Wash the spot with mild soap and water. Do not use paint thinner or remove to remove paint! You can loosen paint from fur by rubbing mineral or vegetable oil into it. If the substance cannot be removed, trim the fur to remove it. Rinse and repeat until the substance is gone.
Monitor the pet closely for symptoms, and make a trip to the vet if there is any uncertainty.
Dog First Aid
Pet poisoning is a serious event that can put a pet’s life at risk. We hope that the information we shared with you has been helpful, but that you’ll never need it. Knowing pet first aid and CPR can be extremely useful in the event of emergencies, and we’d like to offer a shoutout to Michelle Sevigny of Dogsafe Canine First Aid. The information she has put together in the pet First Aid course is an invaluable asset for any pet owner.
To find our more about pet first aid, please visit her website at www.dogsafe.ca