by: Dr. Becky Niedfeldt
Each year hundreds of thousands of our canine and feline friends are exposed to dangerous poisons in their home. The Animal Poison Control Center of the ASPCA handles almost 200,000 calls every year from worried pet owners. Additionally, the Pet Poison Helpline reports their call center handles another 100,000 reports of animal poisonings annually and these numbers don't include the patients treated by a veterinarian without a toxicology consultation.
Both of these organizations report the most common reason people call them is because their pet ingested a human medication. In some cases, eager pets will gobble up tablets dropped by their owners, but in many instances, these drugs are given to dogs or cats by their owners in a well meaning attempt to treat some illness or alleviate pain without prior consultation with a veterinarian.
Human medications can and do cause serious problems for our pets. Their different metabolism and small sizes often mean that common drugs like Tylenol or Advil can be deadly. A single 500 mg Tylenol can actually kill a cat!
The second most common poisoning is insecticide exposure. This occurs either from pets coming in contact with home and lawn insecticides or from improper application of flea and tick products. In general, the topical drops are very safe, but when used incorrectly, the consequences can be severe. Cats are especially susceptible to the mis-use of these products and more than half of the calls to poison hotlines involve cats exposed to insecticides. Just a few drops of some over-the-counter dog flea and tick products can cause tremors, seizures or even death in a cat. Organophosphate products designed to protect plants from marauding insects are often involved in poisonings of both dogs and cats.
We have all heard that feeding some “people foods” to our pets can be problematic and the number of calls to both poison centers confirms it. Chocolate can cause serious heart arrhythmias, garlic and onion ingestion can lead to red blood cell abnormalities and the artificial sweetener, Xylitol®, has been implicated in low blood sugar, liver failure and death in dogs. Even supposedly healthy foods aren’t necessarily safe. Macadamia nuts cause dogs to become weak and unable to walk and grapes and raisins may cause kidney failure in some dogs.
Beyond these very common items, household cleansers, automotive products, rodenticides, dietary supplements and even pet medications also have a strong potential for problems.
Pet owners can protect their four legged friends by following a few common sense rules.
First, we are accustomed to “baby-proofing” our homes, why not consider “pet-proofing” it as well? Make sure that any potentially dangerous chemical is safely secured behind closed or even locked doors. Antifreeze, kitchen and bath cleaners and drain products need to be kept out of a pet’s reach and spills should be cleaned up immediately.
Rat poison is very dangerous in a home with pets. Even if the bait is out of reach, a poisoned rat or squirrel is easily hunted by dogs and cats and can cause a secondary poisoning of the family pet.
Next, any medication, human or veterinary, should be kept in a medicine cabinet or area where a pet will not have access. If you are worried about dropping pills, take your medicine in the bathroom with your pets locked on the outside!
Never give your pets any medication unless ordered by your pet’s veterinarian. As mentioned above, the wrong dosage or even a seemingly safe human drug can be deadly to your pet. Always check with your veterinarian, not the Internet, whenever you have questions about medications your pet is receiving.
Finally, take action if you suspect your dog or cat has ingested something harmful. Calling your veterinarian should be the first step. You may also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Pet Poison Helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These specialists can help you decide if your pet needs immediate veterinary attention or if it’s okay to wait. Each group charges a small fee, but it is a tiny price to pay for peace of mind and your pet’s well-being.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control number is 1-888-426-4435 and the experts at Pet Poison Helpline can be reached at 1-800-213-6680.