From lilies to chocolate to mouse poison, there are many dangerous things your pet could ingest. Symptoms run the gamut from no signs at all to vomiting/diarrhea to death. As pet owners, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about common toxins and keep our pet's environment safe. Accidents do happen, though, and it's impossible to be aware of every toxin. Even as a veterinarian, there are so many potential poisons, toxic dose ranges and treatments, my toxicology book is never far. We often have to look up obscure plants, chemicals and foods. Rather than discuss all of the potential toxins and poisons your pet might come in contact with, we decided to run through what you should do in the event that your pet has ingested something potentially harmful.
Step 1: Get it out of your pet's mouth!
Obviously as soon as you see Fido gnawing on a big block of D-con or baker's chocolate, you want to take it away from them. Not only do you want to limit their exposure, but if possible, it's just as important for you to be able to identify exactly WHAT that product is when you talk to your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control. We frequently get calls from owners stating that their dog just ate something- mouse poison, chocolate, or human medication, etc, but the owners immediately threw it away. In order for us to know a) if the product is actually toxic, b) if the pet consumed a toxic amount, and c) if the time frame still allows for decontamination, we need to know what we're dealing with. Here's some things to specifically look for:
- Product Name/Brand
- Active ingredient(s)
- Ounces of product (such as chocolate), number of pills, etc (or your best estimate)
- Milligram (mg) of medication
- When your pet ate the product
Once, while I was busy inducing vomiting on a patient who had eaten an entire bulk pack of chewing gum, one of my technicians had to spend nearly 30 minutes on the phone with the gum manufacturer. Since we didn't have the packaging, we weren't even sure if that particular flavor ingested contained xylitol or not (it did).Turns out most human food and chemical products aren't really helpful in the dog toxicity customer service department. Having brand name, ingredient and even flavor information handy can save time and money while we rush to treatment.
Step 2: Call Your Veterinarian!
It's a simple step that is often overlooked. Often times, a quick (and free!) phone call to your veterinarian or the local emergency clinic can confirm or deny whether your pet is at risk. Don't wait to see if symptoms develop- most toxins do not have immediate effects! If your pet just ate something, often the veterinary staff can tell you over the phone if it's enough to cause a problem. If you have the above information handy, we can usually quickly calculate whether or not your pet needs to be seen, or what you can do at home. Sometimes, we can calculate out that your pet hasn't consumed enough of a product to be of concern and you can monitor at home. If a true toxin ingestion is caught quickly, we can often induce vomiting before the toxin has a chance to be absorbed. If it's been a longer exposure, we can administer a product that will bind the toxin and prevent symptoms, or provide fluid therapy to help flush it out. For exposures like the anti-coagulants, it's important that we start Vitamin K as soon as possible to prevent bleeding later.
If you can't reach your veterinarian,
Step 3: Call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. There is a $65 consultation fee, but you will be speaking with board-certified veterinary toxicologists with the world's largest pet toxicology database. They can quickly confirm or deny whether your pet is at risk, and your fee will include their recommendations and consultation with your local veterinarian should your pet need medical intervention. Make sure to have the above information handy, as well as your pet's age, breed, sex and weight.
Even as veterinarians we often call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center as it's impossible for us to keep up with every new product that your dog and cat has access to. Pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and even regular people foods are constantly changing ingredients, and the Poison Control Center can give us the most up-to-date information on exposure, toxicity and treatment. I've even used them for my own pets when one of my dogs got into a friend's gym bag and chocolate protein powder (double whammy toxicity for protein overload and chocolate!). Definitely not a toxin I learned about in school!
Now's also a good time to mention what a great resource the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is. Their website, http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control has a TON of great information you can look up on various toxins, human medications and more. I utilize this website frequently, especially the Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant list (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants) when I'm looking at what houseplants are safe to bring in to my house. My husband now no longer has any excuse NOT to bring home *cat-safe* flowers since I bookmarked the site on his phone! You can also sign up for a free Pet Safety Kit which includes a magnet with the phone number for the Poison Control Center (https://www.aspca.org/form/free-pet-safety-pack?ms=wb_rig_petcaresection-generalsmall-201307&initialms=wb_rig_petcaresection-generalsmall-201307). Check out their articles on top toxins and best practices to keep toxins out of your pet's reach.