My pet has been poisoned
by Dr. Elrien Scheepers
courtesy of Pet’s health - www.petshealth.co.za
(great site to browse)
Here is an article on what to do of you suspect your pet has been poisoned, as well as some common poisonings, such as flea and tick products, anti coagulant rodenticides, antifreeze, chocolate and paracetamol. Poisoning is normally accidental so do check the labels to see if potential problem, plus keep a list of what to do with the various types of poisoning so that you have them on hand in the event of an emergency.
Be prepared, have your vet’s telephone number and after hours emergency
number within easy reach
Check the label! Poisoning Your pet May Be Easier Than You Think
Permethrin Flea Control Products are Poisonous to Cats
Across the world, concern is on the increase over cats being poisoned unintentionally by well-meaning cat owners. The American SPCA regularaly reminds veterinary staff of the necessity to educate clients about the dangers of treating cats for fleas with any product containing permethrin. Thousands of messages are posted on internet sites by cat owners who mistakenly applied flea treatment intended only for dogs, on their beloved cats.
Cats exposed to even a few drops of permethrin, an insecticide found in many over-the-counter flea treatments, may die. Symptoms of permethrin toxicity inclde uncontrollable muscle spasms and convulsions. These signs may begin within hours, or be delayed by up to 48 hours.
Read the Label...Check the Facts
This problem appears to occur in homes where both dogs and cats reside. Some pet owners assume that treating their cat with the same flea and tick product as they treat their dogs of similar weight, is fine. "One flea-control product is just like the next, right?" they think. Wrong. The fact is, there are very few registered tick and flea-control products that are approved for use on both dogs and cats. Products such as those that contain fipronil and (S)-methoprene may be used on both species, protect against ticks and fleas, and are only sold through vets.
Your Vet Team Knows Best. One of the big reasons for this is that the manufacturers realize that veterinary education and input is vital when it comes to flea and tick control, and at the end of the day, your veterinary team knows what is safe...and best...for your dogs and cats.
It is probably every pet owner’s worst nightmare, returning home and finding your dog severely ill because of suspected poisoning. Or even worse, being responsible for poisoning your own cat simply because you did not know which flea product to use! But there is always hope that you can save your pet if you can get it to a veterinarian in time.
It is important to know what to do and what not to do in such a situation and a responsible pet owner will know how to prevent pets from poisoning.
There are a number of different substances that can cause poisonings in pets: plants, human medications, common household agents, garden pesticides and tick and flea products. Even chocolate can be toxic to pets!
How will I know my pet has been poisoned?
Some poisonings will show very subtle signs, while many common poisonings such as toxicity due to flea and tick products, will cause immediate and quite obvious abnormalities in dogs and cats. If your dog was running around very happily this morning and was eating well, but you find him suddenly collapsed, unable to walk with lots of fine muscle tremors all over his body or even if seizures occur, suspect that your dog has been poisoned! Other possible signs that may occur at the same time are saliva flow, severe vomiting and diarrhoea.
Cats may show the similar symptoms and appear very disorientated and manic, or can simply appear very weak with no other signs.
What to do next?
It is important not to panic when you suspect that your pet has been poisoned. This is easier said than done, but panicking will interfere with the process of helping your pet.
Be prepared – have your veterinarian’s telephone number and after hours emergency number (and even a second back-up number) within easy reach, close to the phone.
If your pet was dipped earlier that day or on the previous day, this may well have caused the symptoms you are seeing. Enquire which tick or flea control product was applied and how it was diluted. If your pet has not been dipped, investigate your yard very quickly for sings of unfamiliar bits of food or signs that cleaning agents or garden insecticides have been disturbed or accidentally swallowed by your pet. In the meanwhile, ask another member of the household to phone your vet’s rooms to ascertain whether they are open, as it is of vital importance that you get your pet to the vet as soon as possible.
If you know that your cat or dog has been dipped, and signs do not appear life-threatening right at the moment or you cannot get to the veterinarian immediately, you may wash your pet with lukewarm water and lots of dish washing liquid. This will remove the poison where it is accumulating in the natural oils of hair. Dry your pet well after this, as cooling down his temperature too much may also be detrimental.
Animals that are comatose, seizuring or have difficulty must be taken to the vet immediately, without prior washing. Be careful when handling your pet if it is seizuring, as you might accidentally get bitten, and then there is a second emergency to attend to! Transporting your seizuring pet might be easier if you use a big towel or a blanket as a stretcher.
If you see your animal ingesting a poisonous substance; you can make it vomit by forcing it to swallow a very small ball of washing powder. This must not be done to animals that are already vomiting, that are very weak, comatose, or are seizuring or cannot breath, as there is the real possibility that they may inhale the washing powder or vomitus and develop life threatening pneumonia.
Animals that have swallowed oily or corrosive substances such as gasoline, kerosene, swimming pool acid or concentrated bleaches must never be made to vomit, as the vomition will cause damage to the throat or the animal may inhale it into the lungs. These animals can be given milk or egg to swallow, which neutralizes the substance.
Take all information (such as the container) about the suspected toxic agent with you, as this might help your veterinarian make decisions about your pet’s treatment.
What will my veterinarian do?
Your veterinarian will very quickly assess your pet. The information you will supply will be vital in this assessment. He or she will ask questions regarding the products name, all ingredients listed on the product label, the exposure amount, the time of exposure and whether signs have been getting worse. He or she will then take immediate steps to support your pet’s vital organs such as the heart, brain and lungs, so that your pet’s life can be saved. Intravenous medication to stop seizures, support the heartbeat and prevent airway constriction will be given.
An intravenous drip will be placed to provide fluid therapy to support the blood circulation. A tube may be placed in the air pipe to maintain an open airway. Some or all of these measures will be taken. This will all take place within the first few minutes of your pet arriving at the veterinarian.
After the animal has been stabilized, and vital organs supported, your veterinarian will take measures to make sure that your pet’s body does not absorb more poison. Bathing and washing may be done, until the pet has no smell of insecticide left. Activated charcoal and laxatives given per mouth will absorb and bind poison in the gastro-intestinal tract and ensure that it is excreted quickly.
Sometimes specific antidotes will be given to counteract the toxic effects of poisons, but most of the time your pet’s life will be saved by vigorous supportive care by your veterinarian. You can now relax, as your pet should be in good hands.
During the next few days, supportive care will be continued. Your pet will be nursed back to health by monitoring vital signs (such as temperature, pulse and breathing) and checking blood electrolyte levels and correcting if needed. Weak pets will be hand fed or fed via a tube into the oesophagus and helped to urinate and defecate. After a few days, your pets should be able to return home.
How can I prevent poisoning in my pet?
The following two points are so important, and will save lots of lives if adhered to!
- Before buying flea and tick products, ask your veterinarian for advice. Always read the label on flea and tick products first, and do not use products registered for dogs on cats or vice versa. Cats are very sensitive to poisons, and using products registered for dogs can very easily kill cats! Use these products only as indicated on the label. Carefully adhere to the dilution instructions and do not use more often than recommended.
- Never give any human medication to cats or dogs, unless instructed by your veterinarian. Giving human painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication causes bleeding ulcers and renal failure, as they are too strong. Cats cannot metabolize or break down anti-inflammatory drugs, especially paracetamol which is fatal to cats. Your veterinarian will be able to administer safer anti-inflammatory medication, if required.
Other points to remember:
- Be aware of toxic plants such as azaleas, oleander and certain lily species in the garden.
- Never allow pet’s access to areas in which cleaning agents are stored. Some may only cause a mild stomach upset, but some may cause severe burns to the animals tongue, mouth and stomach. Quaternary ammonium compounds are extremely toxic.
- Place baits or traps in areas inaccessible to pets. They may contain ingredients like sugar that will attract dogs.
- Keep all prescription and over the counter drugs out of pets reach and be sure not to put in the trash can where nosy pets might find it! Painkillers, cold medications, anticancer drugs, antidepressants, vitamins, diet pills and asthma inhalers may cause poisonings in your pet.
- Many common household items (such as mothballs, batteries, cigarettes and alcohol) can be hazardous to pets.
- Gasoline, oil, antifreeze, rodenticides and garden pesticides must be stored in areas inaccessible to pets.
- Do not let pets inter areas in which insecticide foggers have been used, for the period indicated on the label.
- Do not let pets go out in gardens treated with fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides until the products have dried completely.
Pet poisoning happens so quickly and unexpectedly in most instances.
Knowledge is power, though...it helps to keep your pet safe and out of
Substances that are poisonous to your pets.
Dead Tasty antifreeze
Antifreeze contains 95% ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is also found in home photographic developing solutions. It has the highest fatality rate of all common poisonings. Cats are normally very fussy and discriminating eaters, but this is the one toxin that they will take in readily! Drinking a teaspoon of antifreeze will kill a cat. Drinking about 7 ml per kg body weight will kill a dog.
How does it cause poisoning?
Ethylene glycol is changed in the liver to substances that upset metabolism and bind to calcium in the blood, forming crystals that can be found in urine. Most of the toxic effect is caused by direct damage by these substances to cells of the kidney. This causes irreversible kidney damage and kidney failure.
What are the symptoms?
Within an hour of ingestion, animals will appear drunk and show a disorientated gait. They might vomit and drink more water than usual. Dogs will then appear normal again, while cats will stay listless. Within a day their hearts will be affected. After three days they go into kidney failure. They will stop urinating, begin vomiting, and eventually slip into a coma and die. Pets are usually taken to the vet at this late stage, unless owners actually see them drinking antifreeze.
How is this diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made by the presence of abnormal blood tests indicating kidney failure and finding a certain crystal in urine. By the time the pet presents with severe symptoms, the blood levels of ethylene glycol will be normal, so this will not help with the diagnosis.
Can it be treated?
Yes, but treatment will only be effective if it starts early enough. Ethanol will usually be administered intravenously. This blocks the function of the enzymes responsible for initiating the formation of the toxic substances in the liver. If given early enough, this will cause the ethylene glycol to be excreted by the body without it changing into toxic substances. The rest of the treatment will be supportive, including fluid therapy.
Sadly, treatment by your veterinarian will rarely be successful unless it is started within the first eight hours after ingesting of the antifreeze. It is thus vital that this type of poisoning be prevented! Store antifreeze our of reach of your pets, preferably in a locked cupboard, and never empty your car radiator where your pets can lick up the fluid. Also make sure that your car radiator does not leak.
Kill the pain, kill the cat -Human Medication
When well-meaning owners notice that their pet is a bit feverish or off-colour, some give a painkilling tablet with the best of intentions. A better approach would be to take your unwell pet to the vet. Self-medicating and waiting too long have worsened the outcome for many a pet. Cats are especially sensitive to human painkillers, as they have less of the liver enzymes reuired to change these drugs into safe substances. This means that the drugs will circulate in their blood longer, and produce toxic effects far easier than would be the case in dogs. The only safe principle is that owners should never give human drugs to cats and dogs. In fact no human medication should be given to pets unless your vet instructs you to do so
Paracetamol...not for pets
How does it cause poisoning?
The body changes paracetamol (also called acetaminophen and found in Panado™ and Tylenol™) to a toxic substance that is normally safely excreted in the urine. If too much paracetamol is taken in, the overload of this substance causes damage to haemoglobin in the blood. This lowers the blood's capacity to carry oxygen and causes death in cats. The same process can also happen in dogs, but the toxic substance more commonly affects their livers and causes liver failure.
What are the symptoms?
Cats will have difficulty breathing, and swollen faces. Their mucous membranes will be chocolate brown instead of pink; their urine may also turn chocolate brown in colour. They will then go into a coma and die. As little as 10mg/kg of paracetamol can be toxic, and 50 - 100mg/kg can kill a cat. This implies that one or two tablets of paracetamol given to a cat will be lethal! This may occur 18 - 36 hours after ingestion.
Dogs will lose weight, their mucous membranes will turn yellow and they will eventually die. This can happen within five days if the dose was high.
Can it be treated?
Yes, treatment will consist of giving oxygen, fluid therapy and drugs to hasten the excretion of the toxic substance formed in the liver, to de-activate the substance and to combat the damage to red blood cells. If treatment is initiated quickly enough, pets may be normal again within 48 hours. In dogs, liver-supportive therapy will be given.
The agony of aspirin
Aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid (found in Disprin™) will cause lethargy, vomiting and gastric ulcers in dogs and cats. A 300mg tablet once a day for a few days will kill a cat. Cats that are given less over a long period of time will become anemic due to bone marrow suppression and damage to red blood cells. They will also get liver damage. There is no specific antidote for aspirin toxicity, so treatment will be supportive.
When well-meaning owners notice that their pet is a bit feverish or off-colour, some give a painkilling tablet with the best of intentions. A better approach would be to take your unwell pet to the vet. Self-medicating and waiting too long have worsened the outcome for many a pet. Cats are especially sensitive to human painkillers, as they have less of the liver enzymes required to change these drugs into safe substances. This means that the drugs will circulate in their blood longer, and produce toxic effects far easier than would be the case in dogs. The only safe principle is that owners should never give human drugs to cats and dogs. In fact no human medication should be given to pets unless your vet instructs you to do so
This anti-inflammatory is anti-cats and dogs.
Ibuprofen (found in Brufen™ and Nurofen™) can also cause gastric ulceration in cats and dogs. This will occur at dosages of 100ml/kg in dogs and 50 mg/kg in cats, and gastric ulcers will form within twelve hours to four days after ingestion. It may also cause kidney failure at higher dosages. The effects on the stomach and kidney occur because ibuprofen stops the formation of certain substances called prostaglandins, that protect the lining of the stomach wall against acid production and maintains adequate blood flow in the kidney. Treatment will again be according to the symptoms the pet is showing, since there is no specific antidote.
A dog's life...a rat's death
There are various rat poisons available, including strychnine, zinc phosphide, bromethalin and Vit D3 - containing baits. The most common rat poisons used, however, are the anticoagulant variety. They have either a long-acting or short-acting effect. There are different formulations and trade names; all of them can be toxic to dogs and cats. Dogs are more commonly affected.
How does it cause poisoning?
These poisons interfere with the clotting of blood by depleting vitamin K, which is necessary in order for blood to clot. This will kill rats, but also pets that eat rat poison. Depending on whether the rat poison eaten is a short-acting or long-acting one, pets may show clinical signs of poisoning from one to five days later.
What are the symptoms?
The amount of poison ingested will determine whether it will have a lethal effect. After ingestion a large enough dose to cause toxicity, clinical signs such as weakness and paleness many occur. Signs of external bleeding such as bleeding from gums, blood in urine and faeces, nosebleeds and bleeding from small wounds may or may not be present. Dogs usually bleed internally into body cavities such as the chest. This will cause difficult breathing, and coughing. Bleeding into the lung tissue in the chest is the most common cause of sudden deaths. Animals may also go into shock due to loss of blood.
Secondary poisoning (due to dogs eating poisoned rats) may or may not occur, depending on which poison the rat ingested. It is extremely unlikely with ingestion of one small rodent killed by a short-acting rat poison, especially if it is a large dog.
As there are other diseases such as inherited bleeding disorders and blood platelet diseases that can also cause similar clinical signs and bleeding, your veterinarian will do blood tests to try and determine the cause of the bleeding.
Can it be treated?
Treatment of poisoned dogs will depend on the severity of the clinical signs, and whether a short- or long-acting rat poison was ingested. All dogs will receive Vit K1, as it is a very effective antidote, and restores the depleted Vit K levels in blood. It has to be given for as long as the anticoagulant is present in the body, and this may mean treatment for up to four weeks for the long-acting rat poisons. It is preferably not injected into veins, but is rather given in tablet form, as absorption is better in this form. The body takes at lest 12 houre to make new clotting factors once Vit K1 has been supplied. Until this occurs, your veterinarian will support any critically ill dog by giving blood transfusions or removing excess blood impairing breathing from the chest.
If you see your dog ingesting rat poison, vomiting may be induced in a safe, responsible way. Alternatively your vet will be able to determine within two days whether blood-clotting factors have been depleted by dong blood-clotting tests. (The blood will appear normal for the first two days, as there is a small reserve of clotting factors present that will only be depleted in two days time.) If these clotting factors are abnormal at this stage, treatment with Vit K1 should be instituted.
Kill the fleas, kill the dog
One of the most common reasons for poisoning by means of flea and tick control products is that the products are not used exactly as prescribed on the label. Malicious poisonings have also been on the increase in certain areas of the country, by means of the agricultural carbamate pesticide aldicarb (Telmik). It may be identified by small black granules in vomit or found in a piece of mean in the garden. Sadly, not much can be done to prevent this happening to your pet. Young puppies chewing and swallowing flea collars may also be poisoned. Cats that are continuously exposed to garden pesticide being sprayed may develop chronic poisonings, which may only manifest as weakness.
It is vitally important to lock away poisonous substances. Never use products registered for cats on dogs, and vice versa. Follow instructions on the label strictly, and ask your veterinarian for advice when choosing these tick and flea products.
How does it cause poisoning?
Most pesticides have a toxic effect on the nervous system and the gastro-intestinal tract. Pyrethrins (such as permethrin or flumethrin), pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates and amitraz may cause poisonings. They may have different mechanisms of action, but cause similar signs of nervous stimulation such as muscle twitches or seizures.
Tick and flea products containing organophosphate (such as chlorpyriphos) or carbamate (such as aldicarb) compounds inhibit the enzyme responsible for breaking down a neurotransmitter found in the brain and at nerve endpoints. This means that there is an over-stimulation of these points due to too much neurotransmitter, with resulting excessive nervous stimulation.
What are the symptoms?
Animals may present with excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea, have difficulty breathing, weakness and muscle tremors, changes in heart rate and pupil size and even seizures.
Can it be treated?
Treatment will be according to general principles of poisoning management. With good supportive and nursing care, many patients will recover within a few days. Some patients may die, however due to uncontrollable slowing down of the heart and constriction of the small airways in the lungs that impairs breathing.
Death by chocolate
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, two methylxanthine compounds that have toxic effects. As caffeine is present in a low concentration, it is mainly theobromine that is the toxic compound. Dogs take in chocolate far more readily than cats. The different theobromine levels in different types of chocolate products vary, with the highest levels in dry cocoa powder, cocoa beans and unsweetened baking chocolate. Dark chocolate contains more theobromine than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest levels of theobromine. About 60 g/kg of milk chocolate could be potentially lethal to a dog, while less than 6 g/kg of baking chocolate could be lethal. A 10kg dog eating 18 pieces of an assorted box of chocolates, including filled candies and nuts, will develop serious signs of chocolate intoxication!
What are the symptoms?
Dogs will usually show clinical signs within 4 - 12 hours after eating the chocolate. Initially they will be drinking a lot, vomit and have diarrhoea. Next they will show tremors, seizures and irregular heartbeats that will progress to blue mucous membranes, overheating and coma. They will die because of irregular heartbeats and breathing that is impaired.
Can it be treated?
Yes, treatment by your vet will be supportive and according to general principles of managing a poisoning. The signs may persist for up to three days, as theobrobromine stays in the body that long. Most animals will recover fully if treated appropriately.
Daily supplements for healthy dogs
Even the best quality diet will not provide optimal wellness if your dog or cat is not digesting and absorbing it properly.
Dogs consider digging to be a perfectly normal and natural doggy activity. In fact, terriers consider digging to be their very reason for being. It would therefore be fruitless to try to stop your dog from digging altogether.