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Poison For Pets: The Most Dangerous Things To Watch Out For

Speaking from personal experience, realising your pet has eaten something poisonous is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to any pet owner...and it can have disastrous consequences: we were very lucky.

Our doggy, Jake, was a rascal: he was also extremely cunning. If he saw something that he wanted to eat when we brought in the shopping, he wouldn't go for it right away: he'd wait to see which cupboard we put it in and then go for the gold when we went out. Jake was an exceptionally lucky dog in many ways, simply in that someone was nearly always in the house...but he could use any amount of time to get the job done: even the morning school run would give him ample opportunity. Consequently, we started to put any foods that would be bad for him in higher cupboards to defeat the problem. One Christmas, however, when Jake had just turned thirteen years old and been diagnosed with cancer, we bought my wife's father a bar of 90% cocoa as a present. Not only did Jake find the bar in a place that I considered was impossible for him to get to, he also ripped open the wrapping paper and ate the entire thing. We went into panic and rushed him to the vets, where they treated him immediately but warned us that although he seemed okay he might not survive more than 48 hours. In the end, his extraordinary physical resilience kicked in and he had nothing more than acute diorhea for a few days. We were extremely lucky and so was Jake. 

It's not always easy to detect that your pet has been poisoned, especially if there's no evidence to find (our case was easier because we discovered the wrapping paper). Particular substances can affect your dog physically in a variety of different ways and can depend on what quantity of the poison was ingested or even inhaled.
Symptoms of your pet being poisoned can often include:

  • lethargic or erratic behaviour
  • gastrointestinal or neurological problems
  • cardiac arrest
  • respiratory strain or distress
  • coma and even death
Admittedly, the latter are extreme cases, but it's always best to keep a watchful eye over the contents of your kitchen or bathroom and anywhere else such potentially hazardous substances might be within reach of an adventurous pet.

The following lists for dogs and cats are from the world pet poison helpline, a US informational site (more on which can be found here.)

Top Ten Poisons For Dogs

  1. Chocolate (Milk and Dark - but the higher the cacao percentage the more dangerous it is)
  2. Rat Poison
  3. Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medications
  4. Chewing Gun and Bubble Gum
  5. Raisins, grapes
  6. Antidepressants and pain killers (all types)
  7. Sleeping Pills
  8. Vitamin D Tablets (concentrated)
  9. Stimulants
  10. Fertilizers

Top Ten Poisons For Cats

  1. Lilies
  2. Flea/tick medication for dogs
  3. Household Cleaners of all types
  4. Antidepressants and pain killers
  5. Essential Oils and other aromatic oils
  6. Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medications
  7. Rat Poison
  8. Stimulants
  9. Onions & Garlic
  10. Vitamin D Tablets (concentrated)

The Issues That Can Arise

Prescription medication and even over-the-counter medications and supplements can cause stomach or intestinal ulcers and kidney failure. Antidepressant medications can instigate vomiting or the dangerous, heart-rate increasing 'serotonin syndrome', elevated blood pressure and possibly even seizures. This is also true of blood pressure medication.

Insecticides can also be extremely harmful to dogs and cats if ingested and you should always check with your vet before selecting an over the counter product. Although it is of course beneficial to rid your dog or cat of fleas and other parasites, it can occasionally be more harmful to treat them with the wrong product than it can to have them suffer the infestation itself! These warnings also encompass worming treatments so do be sure to keep yourself well informed about selecting the one that's least harmful for your pet and, crucially, follow the application instructions to the letter.

One leading cause of pet poisoning is household cleaners: these are often kept in cupboards beneath sinks or draining units so usually remain within reach of inquisitve pets. Particularly harmful chemicals like bleach should ideally be kept on high shelves away from pets in exactly the same way as they would be stored away from the reach of children, especially as these products can often cause stomach upset, chemical burns, renal failure and death.

Your favourite foods can be catastrophically bad for your pets. When that little face is looking to you for a treat, it can be very easy to capitulate and break off a piece of cake or biscuit for your best friend. Don't do it! Pets have a completely different metabolism to ours and their bodies process foods in an entirely different way and at an entirely different rate to our own. Some of our favourite treats (most notably chocolate in the story above or ice cream) are disastrous for our pet's metabolism. The methylxanthines in chocolate cause vomiting at the very least, but the resulting sickness can be a lot more serious if there is a concentrated dose ingested. Alcohol poisoning can be particularly bad for pets. Other extreme reactive foods and drinks include avocado, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, xylitol (a sweetener found in chewing gums, low fat products, etc).

Plants are another often overlooked cause for concern with pets. Among the most hazardous for ingestion are azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips, daffodils and sago palms. Garden products like weed killers are equally dangerous: make sure to keep your pets out of the garden while you are administering them and preferably fence or block off the area when your pet is at play. Rat and mouse poisons should be used under the same ruling inside the house with rooms closed off to your pets both during and after administration.

Top Ten Tips For Proofing The House Against Pet Poisoning

1. Store all chemicals and cleaners in high or pet-inaccessible places. These include the ones in the garden shed, kitchen and bathrooms.

2. Check for a list of non-toxic plants before you introduce any new varieties into your home or garden. There are plenty of lists on the internet: a pet friendly one from Gardener's World can be found here.

3. Never feed your dog from the table and stick to traditional and natural foods. Your idea of a treat might be your pet's worst nightmare.

4. Always follow flea and worming treatment instructions to the letter and make sure that your dog or cat doesn't ingest them (this includes applying each product in such a way that it is not within easy reach of your pet's mouth).

5. Be careful when taking medication not to drop tablets or liquids and always ensure when doing so that all these have been accounted for. Animals act entirely on impulses so are often quick off the mark when something is dropped: try to take your medications in a room away from your pets.

What To Do If Your Pet Has Been Poisoned

Try to stay calm (unlike us). If you believe your pet has been poisoned, you need to act swiftly, but rationally. Immediately collect any of the potential poison that remains on the floor as this may be crucially helpful in assisting your vet to help your pet. If your pet has already been sick, take a sample as it make help with the diagnosis. Do not delay in calling your vet, as some poisons are extremely time-sensitive and a lot of stress, pain and heartache can be avoided if you get your pet consultation sooner rather than later.


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