by Tasha Phillips, M.S.
March is Poison Prevention Month! I bet we can all think of a time when we have been cooking and accidentally dropped a little piece of something on the floor. Before you know it, your pet has snatched it up, and it’s down the hatch.
“Oh no! Is that okay? Do I need to call my vet?”
Pets (especially dogs) watch us eat, and by nature, they will assume that whatever we consume (and tell them that they can’t have) is tasty and good for them, too. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
We all do our best to keep our pets out of known toxic items, but let’s use this month to refresh on common toxic items around the house, how to keep your pet away from potentially harmful substances, and what to do in case of emergency.
Common Toxins for Pets
1. Certain Foods:
- Grapes and Raisins
- Macadamia Nuts
The specific mechanism of some of the toxins in these foods is not well understood, but we do know that it can spell disaster if not treated swiftly.
Xylitol is a veterinarian’s nemesis. It is manufactured to be a sugar substitute approved for usage in a variety of common food items.
Although safe for human consumption, this compound stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas in dogs. This rapid release of insulin can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) with in 10-60 minutes of ingestion. If left untreated, hypoglycemia can rapidly become life-threatening to your pet.
For many dogs, the most common symptoms of xylitol consumption are vomiting, tremors, seizures, lethargy, and coma.
Watch out for this product in items like chewing gum, candy, pudding, certain baked goods, ketchup, and certain peanut butters.
3. Over-the-counter (OTC) products and medical prescriptions
When a patient presents into an emergency clinic with signs of toxin ingestion, one of the first questions we ask is, “Are you on any medication that they may have accidentally ingested?”
Heart and blood pressure medications are common, and you should immediately seek emergency care for your pet if they ingest any.
Lilies and tulips are especially toxic to cats, and "non-toxic" flowers can upset the digestive system and cause diarrhea.
Poison Prevention at Home
Prevention is the best strategy in all cases. Educating yourself on potential toxins in your home can lead to better decisions down the road. Here’s a few things you can do today:
Keep chocolate in a high cabinet and away from pets and children when possible. (Children are very good at giving food to pets.)
Educate your children about the dangers of chocolate around pets.
Chop onions and garlic in the sink, and/or keep pets out of the kitchen while these items are being handled.
Take medications in the bathroom privately away from pets. Dropping things is inevitable, but this easy step can prevent a lot of stress and heartache.
Research floral bouquets before purchasing. Florists almost always add flowers that could be toxic to pets. Keep flowers on counters away from cats and dogs. Again, even “non-toxic” flowers can cause diarrhea/gastrointestinal upset.
Signs and Symptoms
A few common symptoms that your pet may have ingested something toxic to them are:
What Do I Do?
If you think your pet has swallowed something that they should not have, you should act immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to arise to confirm your suspicions. The smaller the pet, the less dosage it takes to cause considerable damage. Here are some things to do immediately:
1. Stay calm.
See if your pet swallowed the item. If not, safely remove it from their mouth if possible.
2. Note the time
Your veterinarian may be able to induce vomiting, which must be done within 30 minutes to 1hr of ingestion.
3. Note the toxin
Was it a piece of chocolate, onion, or a dropped pill? If it is a pill, write down the type, milligram, and how many.
4. Call your vet.
If you did not see them ingest the substance and are now noticing symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately. Tell them what substance it is/could be, any symptoms, and when it happened.
5. Locate your nearest emergency veterinary clinic.
It is better to be safe than sorry. We never want to go to the emergency clinic, but they are absolutely handy in a pinch!
Another helpful resource is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline: 888-426-4435.
One Final Tip
Another preemptive action that you can take this month is to start a savings account for your pet and/or enroll in a Pet Insurance Policy from companies such as Embrace, Pets Best, Lemonade, American Kennel Club (AKC), ASPCA, and others. Many established insurance companies, such as Nationwide and Progressive are also offering pet coverage, and it could be the difference in having your pet treated quickly or not at all.
Emergency care can be expensive, and this nest egg will come in handy. It's not “if” an emergency will happen, it's WHEN.
Pets are like small children. I cannot tell you how many clients have said “I just turned around for a second!” Accidents happen, and knowledge is power!
Have a safe Poison Prevention Month, everyone!
Tasha Nelson Phillips is a veterinary assistant and researcher. She began her work in veterinary medicine in 2014 at a small practice in East Tennessee. She has a B.S. in Biology as well as a Master’s degree in Microbiology from East Tennessee State University. Her undergraduate and graduate research focused on Lavengel®, exploring its efficacy and mechanism of action against common bacterial species.
Tasha’s interests focus on natural antimicrobial options and exploring novel compounds to combat antibiotic resistance. She continues to work in small animal emergency and critical care medicine. She spends her free time with her husband and three furry babies in their East Tennessee home.