Author: Karen L. McGlothlin, DVM, PhD
The third week in March of each year (March 15 – 21, 2020) is National Poison Prevention Week. During this week, a variety of organizations participate in a nationwide effort highlighting the fact that there are common toxins/poisons in the home and environment that pose serious threats to our health. While this week was originally established to raise awareness of parents with small children, our pets are very much susceptible to potential harm from exposure and/or accidental ingestion of these same harmful substances.
The Pet Poison Helpline (https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com), a 24-hour animal poison control site, reports that thousands of dogs and cats suffer from accidental poisonings due to exposure to household toxins annually. The numbers are large because very often pet owners don’t realize that many items that are safe for people (especially over the counter medications) are not safe for their pets.
Exposure to toxic substances can occur through a variety of routes, including ingestion, absorption, topical application, inhalation or even injection. If any such exposure results in structural or functional damage to body tissues, the result is poisoning. Different toxins target different body systems, including the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, and the circulatory system. For the safety of your pets, there are a few pointers that can help you avoid having to deal with a pet poisoning experience.
1. Know the potential household poisons/toxins in your home and restrict pet access. Store toxic items such as pesticides, rodent poison, herbicides, household cleaners and other supplies in areas that are either locked and inaccessible to your pets or out of your pets’ reach.
2. Realize that your medications are not necessarily safe for your pets. Ingestion of prescription and over-the-counter human medications (both accidentally ingested and intentionally given) are consistently the top causes of pet poisonings. If you are on prescription medications, keep them stored in a location that your pet cannot access. If you are thinking about administering an over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve), to your pet… don’t. Consult with your veterinarian for appropriate medications for your pet and avoid administering human medications, unless directed to do so by a veterinarian.
3. Isolate your pets while cleaning. Some cleaners produce strong fumes that may be harmful to pets, while others may be harmful if accidentally ingested. This is the time of year when people start deep-cleaning projects around the home and it is important to keep pets away from potentially harmful household cleaning chemicals. It’s a good idea to keep pets away from an area that has been cleaned with strong cleaners or treated with insecticides for a minimum of 24 hours.
4. Be aware of your pet’s environment. There are a number of common plants that are toxic to pets, including azaleas, lilies, daffodils, tulips, crocus, and sago palms. When planning your gardens (inside and out), keep these plants in mind and try to avoid them, if possible
5. Take care if feeding your pets human food. Many pet owners enjoy sharing their food with their pets, as a way of expressing their love. Bear in mind that there are foods that are toxic and should not be given to your pets, including (but not limited to) grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic, and chocolate. In addition, the sweetener xylitol, which causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar as well as liver damage in pets, can be found in a large number of foods – even in those that you might not expect, such as peanut butter.
6. Know the signs and symptoms of pet poisoning. Clinical signs of poisonings are variable depending upon the type of toxin, the amount of toxin ingested, and the amount of time that has passed since exposure. A good list of clinical signs that may be encountered is available on the Pet Poison Helpline’s website.
If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to a toxin by any route, you should immediately remove any remaining traces of the material away from your pet. Collect any evidence of the toxin (packaging, container, remaining material) and contact your veterinarian immediately. If it’s after hours, call your closest emergency hospital in as timely a manner as possible. The sooner your pet receives medical treatment, the more likely your pet is to recover.