Keep household cleaners
and drugs locked away
ANIMAL poisoning by drugs is by far the most common type of small animal poison exposure. Dogs and, less frequently, cats, can be poisoned by human or veterinary drugs as a result of accidental ingestion or overdose just like children can; it is worth emphasising that all medications should be placed out of reach of inquisitive noses which are too often attached to undiscriminating mouths. Some medications are too frequently given by well-intentioned owners for the purpose of relieving discomfort experienced by the animal and instead can cause a much more serious problem for the pet.
Human over-the-counter pain relievers are occasionally used in veterinary medicine for pain relief but they should only be given upon specific advice and direction of a veterinarian. Pain relievers, or analgesics, are not designed for use by dogs and a minimal human dose can poison a pet. Cats and dogs do not utilise and tolerate drugs in the same way people do and human drugs should NEVER be assumed to be safe for animals.
Paracetamol is, of course, the human over-the-counter analgesic medicine used to relieve pain. In people, after the pills are taken, the ingredients are broken down in the body by enzymes in the liver. In people, Paracetamol is generally a safe and useful painkiller. Dogs (particularly small dogs) are susceptible to significant liver and tissue damage from as little as two regular strength Paracetamol tablets and repeated doses increase the risk significantly.
Signs develop quickly and can include salivation, vomiting, weakness and abdominal pain. Due to the significant toxicity to pets in relatively minimal dosages, the recommendation is clear - Paracetamol should not ever be given to dogs or cats. Other, safer, drugs are available for pain relief ... talk to your veterinarian about your own pet's specific needs.
Aspirin, Analgesic, Brufen
The pain relievers discussed here are known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and are widely prescribed with caution by veterinarians to relieve pain from arthritis and other conditions. Animal dosages, however, are much lower than human dosages. Use of NSAIDs can significantly increase the risk or development of stomach or intestinal ulcers, particularly in a sick patient, or one receiving other medications. These pain relievers cause poisoning by decreasing the mucous production in the stomach. Mucous serves to protect the stomach from the acids it secretes and reduction in mucous production decreases the protection the stomach has from acid secretion and increases the likelihood of ulcer formation. In addition these drugs indirectly decrease the blood flow to vital organs, particularly the kidney, and can result in significant kidney damage. Two regular strength aspirin in a small dog can cause clinical signs of poisoning.
These drugs can be safely used and, in fact, are employed in veterinary practice every day - in appropriate doses and after careful medical evaluation of the patient. The important point is to recognise that dogs do not respond in the same way to human medications that people do. Any medications need to be discussed with, and prescribed by, a veterinarian prior to giving them to your pet to avoid an inadvertent and tragic poisoning.
The category of "household products" probably contains most of the non-drug substances that poison animals throughout the country each year. This would include insecticides designed to kill ants, fleas, termites, wasps, etc, pesticides against rats, mice and other unwanted pests, herbicides to kill weeds in our yards and gardens, cleaners for our homes and businesses, and fuel and petroleum products used in cars, heaters, and even lighters.
These are products that are both widespread in use and frequently highly toxic. The combination of being common and deadly frequently results in a very dangerous situation for household pets who share our homes, cabins, yards and cars.
It is the toxic active ingredient in any substance the pet is exposed to which will determine how much danger is present. Therefore, it is critical in any case of potential poisoning to find the container of the toxic substance and know the ingredients when seeking advice or veterinary services. All rat poisons are not alike and the same is true of ant poisons, herbicides, flea products, etc.
Different poisons may require very different treatments and it is necessary to know the active ingredient in a potential poison to know how to treat an exposed animal and to give a reasonably accurate prognosis. Ideally, the veterinarian should have the intact container with the label when evaluating the toxic potential of the product.
Ant poisons, insecticides
There are dozens of insecticides available in hardware and home repair stores designed to kill ants, termites, wasps, garden pests and many other nuisance insects. Unfortunately, these products present a risk to our household pets when a dog is accidentally exposed to the poison, usually by eating it. Although there are a host of different active ingredients found in these preparations, many of them can be grouped into two categories: organophosphates and carbamates. Both organophosphates (known as OPs) and carbamates have similar toxic effects that involve disruption of the normal nervous system function by causing an excess of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, to accumulate in the body.
Although acetylcholine is a necessary body chemical for normal nervous and muscular function, this excess or overdose causes severe clinical signs that can result in the death of the animal. If an animal is exposed by eating a poison containing OPs or carbamates (or, less frequently, absorbing the substance through the skin in a dip product) it can experience a number of clinical signs. These include excess saliva production, lacrimation or tearing of the eyes, excessive urination, diarrhoea, muscle twitching, weakness, difficult breathing and collapse.
It is critical that an animal potentially exposed to these insecticides be evaluated by veterinary personnel as quickly as possible in order to provide treatment if necessary before signs become severe, at which point treatment is often ineffective.
There are many other types of insecticides besides OPs and carbamates, including chlorinated hydrocarbon compounds, pyrethrums, arsenic and others which have different poisonous properties and which may require different treatments for accidental exposure. As mentioned earlier, in the case of an accident, it is important to get the container with the label including the insecticide's active ingredient(s) and bring that information to the veterinary staff. They can then act swiftly to neutralise the poison and give the animal the best chance of recovery.
There are dozens of products used around the home that are dangerous to animals including toilet bowl cleaners, bleach, detergents, caustics (Ajax), pine oils and others. Although produced to keep our environment clean, they are often highly dangerous to living tissue. Once again the best remedy is prevention. Keep all cleaners tightly closed when not in use to prevent accidental spills and ingestion.
Also, be sure to keep pets out of newly cleaned areas to avoid paw injuries from walking in newly applied cleaning solution or mouth burns from the animal grooming itself with solution on its paws. Also be aware of the possible dangers of toilet bowl cleaners from dogs who consider the toilet just another water bowl! In case of accidental exposure to cleaning products, it is generally recommended to flush the skin (or mouth) with plain water to wash away remaining chemicals, then call your veterinary clinic for further instructions.
Millions of dollars are spent every year on products designed to rid our non-human companions (and our homes) of these unwanted pests. Fleas are highly irritating to dogs and cats and can sometimes result in severe flea bite allergies for those animals who develop sensitivity to proteins in the flea's saliva. Most of the products on the market to combat these insects rate few problems when used as directed. Unfortunately, some dog flea preparations can be toxic to cats and almost all topical flea preparations (dips, sprays, etc.) can be poisonous if not used in accordance with label instructions.
If label instructions are for once-weekly use, and the product is used daily or more often, poisoning can result. If premises sprays, specifically not for use directly on pets, are used on or near pets, poisoning may result. The message is clear - use brand names you are familiar with (ask your vet for recommendations if you're not familiar with any specific products) and use according to label instructions. STOP use if your animal shows any abnormal signs (possibly poor appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive salivation). Excessive drooling may be caused only by the taste of the product, or may truly be of concern. Contact your veterinary clinic. Consider bathing your pet in warm water with diluted liquid dish detergent to remove flea products from the hair and skin oils, thereby limiting your pet's exposure.
Every year hundreds of animals are poisoned by these products, some fatally, by accidental misuse resulting from misreading, or failing to read, the label instructions. Do not use products intended for dogs on cats as these may contain compounds that are appropriate for dogs but poisonous to cats. Do not use sprays intended for the house and/or yard on or near pets and always carefully read instructions prior to use. Call your veterinary clinic with any questions or if your animal shows any clinical signs during or following flea treatment.