Signs of possible poisoning: One of the most frightening experiences we can have with the animals in our care is to find our companion acting ill and we have no idea what could have happened. Poisoning often needs to be a consideration but can be challenging because the signs vary depending on the poison and how recently it was ingested. In general, you might see any of the following in a case of poisoning:
GI signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, black or tarry stool, excessive salivation or drooling, nausea or loss of appetite, excessive thirst, or really bad breath; signs of internal bleeding such as coughing of blood, vomiting blood, pale gums, rapid heart rate, weakness or lethargy, loss of consciousness or collapse. Some of these signs are indicators of potential kidney or liver failure.
Signs of poisoning often are very subtle at first and then become more obvious. There might be a little tiredness, easy to dismiss as just due to a day of fun activity. Then more lethargy, or maybe a little vomiting, then more vomiting. Or something is "just not right" but it doesn't seem like any big deal, until it gets more "not right." Early intervention is critical if you have any reason to think your dog may have ingested a dangerous substance.
In 2018, the ASPCA poison control center responded to 213,773 cases of potential animal poisoning. Keep in mind those are just the cases for which someone called the ASPCA poison center. Undoubtedly many more were not caught in time or were dealt with in some other way, such as an emergency trip to the vet. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to minimize the risk to our dogs and to help them in the event of suspected poisoning.
Common toxins in the home and yard: The ASPCA lists the following as the top animal toxins for which they received calls in 2018 (they have a top 10 list, but there is some overlap so I've condensed it for easy reading):
- Medications, both over the counter and prescription products. This category includes vitamins and supplements. In some cases, this could be the result of someone trying a human remedy on a dog. In other cases, improperly secured medications were ingested by the dog. All products intended for human consumption, whether prescription or not, need to be stored securely and out of reach of pets, and not used on dogs without the guidance of a veterinarian.
- Foods, chocolate, and artificial sweeteners. This includes a wide variety of items but xylitol, grapes, raisins, onion, and garlic were the top poisons in this group. If you own any "sugar free" foods or candies, keep them far away from your dog. Many contain the highly toxic ingredient xylitol. Others may contain sweeteners known to cause diarrhea. Other foods to keep securely away from your dog include anything with caffeine or alcohol, macadamia nuts, and chives which are in the onion and garlic family. Chocolate is extremely toxic with often fatal results, especially for dark or baker's chocolate. Unfortunately, many dogs are drawn to this deadly item. The ASPCA center received approximately 60 calls per day about chocolate ingestion.
- Veterinary products. This includes medications administered improperly or poisoning due to labels not being read correctly or not following directions of the prescribing veterinarian.
- Household items. The typical house is loaded with highly toxic items. Look under your kitchen or bathroom sink to see the array of potentially deadly products stored there. Paint and glue, oils, antifreeze, cleaning products, even some health and beauty items such as lotions, soaps, and cosmetics can be toxic to a curious canine. Some essential oils also are highly toxic to dogs. Remember that whatever you use to clean the floor will end up on your dogs paws or fur, providing a mechanism for possible ingestion.
- Rodenticides and insecticides. The same thing that makes those baits appealing to rodents makes them appealing to our dogs. Keep in mind that a dog consuming a dead mouse is ingesting not just the rodent but whatever that rodent has eaten. If the rodent was killed by rodenticide, your dog has just consumed rodenticide also. Bug sprays, repellents, and ant baits are common insecticides your dog could contact. Our dogs make contact with the floor constantly, so exposure is not just through obvious traps or baits but may also come from contact with residue that is licked off the paws or fur.
- Plants. It is possible to love houseplants, gardening, and also dogs. Some even like to help with the digging chores. But we do need to choose plants with care. There are many available that are safe for pets, but some of the most popular ones are highly toxic. A bored dog can easily destroy that beautiful hyacinth and end up with a trip to the ER assuming you catch it in time. Is your dog inclined to chew on a fallen or low hanging branch? Consider your yard plants also as many of those are highly toxic as well. The ASPCA has a comprehensive guide for house and outdoor plants that is a must read for any dog owner. When I moved into my current house, there were some beautiful azaleas and rhododendron in the back yard. Not any more. I did find a spot in the front for them, fortunately, outside the fence. Way outside the fence where my dog never goes. The deer are very happy I did that. But that points out just how the definition of "poisonous" varies by species. The deer eat them readily, and other bovidea species such as sheep and goats would do just fine, but my dog could end up in cardiac failure or neurologic crisis if he ate them. My dogs also have had an amazing ability to find poison mushrooms and toads, so I spend a lot of time in the summer doing yard patrol to remove such hazards.
- Lawn and Garden products. Fertilizers, bone meal, compost, mulch, treated hardwoods, and herbicides all can be highly toxic to your dog. But they told you the lawn was safe for your dog after the weed and feed application dried, you say? Short answer, no it is not. The label saying it is safe after it dries is based on specific testing. Numerous studies have shown that residue can be transferred from grass to a dog's paws long after a liquid product has dried or a granular product has been watered into the soil or rained on. That residue will be on the grass, then on your dog's paws and fur, and then in your house. Usually that amount of exposure does not cause immediate poisoning, but long term risks remain. Herbicides and fertilizer products themselves, however, could cause a more rapid poisoning. Some wood mulch, like some lumber prepared for outdoor use, is treated with toxic chemicals and can be poisonous if ingested. Many dogs are very attracted to Cocoa mulch, sometimes called cocoa bean mulch, which is a byproduct of chocolate production. Cocoa mulch has the same components that make chocolate toxic and can be very dangerous if ingested.
Usually we think of poisoning as the result of accidental exposure, but it can occur with intentional exposure as well. Some dogs have had toxic reactions to flea and tick products which, even when used as directed on the label, can have serious side effects. Each dog is an individual when it comes to sensitivity and reaction.
This is by no means a complete list. But I hope that a look at the array of products listed, with special consideration to all the additional hazards that seem to come with lawn and garden season every year, will heighten awareness of the dangers our dogs (and we humans, too) face on an everyday basis. Be mindful of the hazards that exist, know what to do if you find your dog has ingested something it shouldn't, and keep the poison control center number handy just in case.
More information: One of the best resources for more information:
Here you can find details about all sorts of toxic substances your dog might encounter as well as a guide for selecting safe plants for your house and yard. The guide covers dogs, cats, and other animals since toxicity is not the same for all species.
What to do if you suspect poisoning: If you have a case of suspected poisoning, quick action is critical. First, if you can, try to identify the potential toxin. If you know what your dog consumed, grab the container to stop further ingestion and so you can tell a poison control expert about the product. Next, call a pet specific poison control helpline. There are several, and most do charge for the service. Charges may be waived for dogs registered with certain microchip services. AKC Reunite microchips are associated with a free poison control helpline but the service must be activated in advance through the AKC reunite website. Another well known source for poisoning-related information is the ASPCA Poison Control Center (888-426-4435). Know where your nearest 24 hour veterinary emergency center is also. While you are thinking of it, put this number and the number of your Vet ER in your phone. Think of it as insurance, something you really need to have but hope you'll never use. Do not try to treat the poisoning until you receive professional advice about the product ingested. Depending on the poison, it may be appropriate to induce vomiting, but vomiting can cause additional harm in some cases. Always get the advice of a poison control specialist first. Keep a fresh bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide available, along with a measuring spoon and syringe or measuring dropper, in the event you are directed to use this to induce vomiting. Keep it sealed, and replace it before the expiration date. Fortunately, hydrogen peroxide is inexpensive, but it is worth a fortune if you have an emergency and need to use it to induce vomiting.
Hopefully you will never need it, but here's a video on how to induce vomiting using hydrogen peroxide. There is some good information here about when not to induce vomiting, also. Be sure to contact a vet or poison helpline first.
How to induce vomiting in a dog (and when not to)
In the near future I will provide a blog post about natural alternatives for some common household products including my favorite recipe for a non-toxic flea and tick repellent that really works.
Stay safe out there!