It is estimated that more than 200,000 pets were poisoned last year in the US, according to a 2021 WebMD article. Our furry friends can find all kinds of ways to get into trouble while we’re not looking. Most poison ingestions are accidental and can be prevented. I’ll cover the top ten risks to your pet according to ASPCA poison control and address what to do if you discover your pet has ingested a toxin.
Our homes can be a dangerous place for mischievous pets. It is important that we protect our four-legged friends. The number one cause of poisoning is our over-the-counter human medications. The most common are acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other herbal remedies such as melatonin. Also, cigarettes, marijuana, and other street drugs are common cases of poisoning in veterinary medicine.
Risk number two is our prescription drugs. Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving prescription medications are at the top of the list. These can cause gastrointestinal problems and kidney failure. Antidepressants and sleep medications are other medications that are commonly ingested by pets. This category of drugs can cause an increased heart rate, changes in blood pressure, and seizures.
Number three is the seemingly harmless category of human foods. Many owners enjoy feeding pets from their own dishes. Although this seems like a union over dinner, it is a risky decision. Commonly toxic foods include avocado, nuts, grapes, raisins, dairy products, salt, garlic, and onions. Pet owners often overlook onion and garlic. Your pet doesn’t have to eat an onion or a clove of garlic. Be aware that sharing your marinated steak with spices, such as onions and garlic, may be enough to be toxic to your pet. Xylitol is another common hazard. This artificial sweetener is found in candy, gum, and even children’s chewable medications or beverages.
Continuing the human food risk, chocolate came in at number four, earning its own category. We humans love chocolate! It is not harmful to us, but it can be very dangerous for your pets. A small amount of chocolate can cause vomiting or other gastrointestinal discomfort. However, high-quality dark chocolate and baking chocolate can cause heart problems that can be fatal. As little as half an ounce of dark chocolate can be fatal to a small dog. Large dogs can survive in larger numbers, but any ingestion of chocolate should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Owners should be aware that coffee and other caffeinated beverages pose the same risks.
Number five in common pet toxins is veterinary products. Pet medications are often flavored to entice pets to eat. It is important for owners to store pet medications in a safe place. These medications are safe in prescribed doses, but an overdose can be very dangerous. Also, keep in mind that dog, flea, and tick medications often contain permethrin. This is a chemical that is deadly to cats. I have treated cats with neurological symptoms with over-the-counter feline flea and tick medications. Cats are at a higher risk of ingesting topical flea medications due to their ongoing grooming habits. If you want to play it safe, prescription flea medications are the recommended treatment for cats.
Household products entered at number six. This category includes cleaning products like bleach and detergents, automotive products like antifreeze, paints, thinners, paint strippers, fertilizers, hand sanitizers, and even batteries, which are interesting chew toys for unsuspecting dogs.
Another household hazard is rodenticides. They came in at number seven for risk of toxins to their pets. Baits for mice, rats and gophers are very dangerous. Consider traps instead of chemical toxins. Unfortunately, some of these chemicals go unnoticed when ingested, but cause internal bleeding hours or even days later. Pets can even be poisoned by second-generation ingestion, when they eat a rodent that consumed the chemicals before it died. Rodenticides are especially dangerous and should be completely avoided in homes with pets.
Next on the list at number eight are insecticides. Insect repellents, snail baits, and ant poisons can be very dangerous for your pets. Although insects can be annoying, the risks of having these chemicals in your garden can be very serious. Avoid them if possible.
Plants entered at number nine. When choosing plants to decorate your garden, avoid those that are dangerous to your pets. Lilies are very dangerous for cats. Azalias and rhododendrons cause vomiting and diarrhea and can even cause death depending on the amount ingested. Tulips, daffodils, and other bulbous plants can cause an upset stomach, breathing problems, and even an increased heart rate. One of the deadliest plants is the sago palm. In California, many homeowners use this beautiful tree by the pool. However, just a few bites of a sago palm can cause vomiting, seizures, and liver failure. So be sure to check which plants are safe for pets before you plant them. There are many friendly flowers that can brighten up your landscape without risk to your pets.
Finally, number ten is lawn and garden products. Chemical fertilizers can keep your garden green and free of dandelions, but they are dangerous for your pets. Consider using natural products like manure to feed your flower beds. Organic materials can provide nutrition to your plants without the risk of chemicals.
Now that the risks have been outlined, what do you do when your pet ingests a toxic substance? The first thing to remember is to remain calm. Gather up the remains of what your pet ate, such as packaging. This can provide important information needed to help your pet. Please note the time. When did you leave your pet? In what time window could the toxin have been ingested? How much was ingested?
Then, while you’re on your way to your vet, call the Pet Poison Helpline at 844-492-9842. This will be the fastest way to receive the most up-to-date information on the toxin your pet has ingested. Toxicology is a medical specialty, and services like the ASPCA Poison Control and Pet Poison Helpline are the fastest route to the information needed to help your pet. Be prepared with information about what your pet ate (including brands or concentrations), how much he ate, and when. With your help, they will open a case and provide your veterinarian with the most up-to-date treatment recommendations for the toxin your pet ingested. In some cases, they may tell you that the amount ingested is not an emergency.
Ultimately, as pet owners, we are responsible for keeping our pets safe. Prevention is the best. Make sure medications and chemicals are stored out of the reach of children and pets. Whenever possible, avoid chemicals that are toxic.
Dr. Kaitlen Lawton-Betchel grew up in Lemoore. An alumnus of West Hills College and Fresno Pacific University, she graduated from Midwestern University in Arizona with her doctorate in veterinary medicine and her business certificate. Dr. Kait currently practices at Karing for Kreatures Veterinary Hospital, also known as K+K.
The hospital is located at 377 Hill St., Lemoore. To make an appointment, call 559-997-1121.
His column is published every other Thursday.