Dangers in Your Handbag: What’s Toxic to Dogs

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Dog face close up

Dangers in Your Handbag, Purse or Bookbag: What’s Toxic to Dog

What’s in your purse? Most of the time our handbags, purses, backpacks and briefcases help us keep track of items we use on an everyday basis. But unbeknownst to most dog owners, they could also be a collection of dangerous and even deadly toxic substances.

Dogs are naturally curious and will often explore anything unfamiliar. A well-used bag or backpack can smell particularly intriguing; it’s very common for pets to get into an owner’s belongings on occasion. This can expose them to a number of items that are very harmful if ingested.

Here are 10 common items in your purse or backpack that pose a danger to your dog:

1.        Tampons Dogs will sometimes chew on and ingest tampons. Their bodies cannot break down the tampon, and the material can get stuck as it moves through the intestines. This blockage can cause pain, infection, and death if left untreated. If you suspect your dog has ingested a tampon it is crucial to call your vet immediately. If discovered quickly enough (within an hour or so), they may recommend you induce vomiting. If vomiting is ineffective they may want to do x-rays or use a fiber-optic endoscope to detect the blockage and remove it. For more information on foreign body ingestion go to Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies.

2.        Sugarless Gum One common ingredient in sugar-free chewing gums, candies, baked goods and other products is an artificial sweetener called xylitol. This is by far one of the most common hazards in purses and backpacks. Ingestion of xylitol can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar which causes signs of depression, lethargy, weakness, loss of coordination and seizures. Some pets can also develop liver failure. If you see any signs of gum ingestion (empty wrappers, chewed boxes, etc.) call your vet immediately.

3.        Asthma Inhalers In some cases inhalers can be used therapeutically in dogs and cat but they are toxic when chewed and punctured. The inhaler contains high doses of pressurized medication and when several doses are delivered at once after puncturing they can deliver a life-threatening dose of medication. Common signs of problems include vomiting, nervousness and agitation, collapse, heart arrhythmias, collapse, and death.

4.        Cigarettes and other Nicotine Products Nicotine is a poisonous alkaloid derived from the tobacco plant. Aside from its use in recreational tobacco, it is also used as an insecticide. Common sources include cigarettes, cigars, snuff, chewing tobacco, gum, inhalers, patches, nasal spray and commercial bug killers. Because many owners keep nicotine products within reach, it is often very easy for pets to gain access to them as well. The clinical signs of nicotine toxicity are dependent upon the amount and type of nicotine ingested relative to your dog’s body weight. The signs of toxicity generally show up within one hour of ingestion. Many dogs will vomit naturally after ingestion. For more information please read: Nicotine Toxicity in Dogs.

5.        Hand Sanitizers contain highly toxic ethanol (a type of alcohol). Depending on the size of the pet and amount ingested, pets can suffer ethanol toxicity causing behavioral changes, collapse, depression, and even death. To read more go to Hand Sanitizer Toxicity.

6.        Over the Counter Medications Common treatments such as Advil ®, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol®, and cold medications containing pseudoephedrine (among others) can cause significant damage if ingested. These can be very toxic to both dogs and cats. For more information please read Ibuprofen Toxicity in DogsIbuprofen Toxicity in CatsTylenol Toxicity in Dogs, and Tylenol Toxicity in Cats. Small amounts of pseudoephedrine can cause clinical signs of nervousness, hyperactivity and abnormally elevated heart rates in dogs.

7.        Prescription Medications Just as many beneficial medications for adults are dangerous to children, so are they toxic to pets. Blood pressure medications, anti-depressants, and many other treatments can be fatal if ingested by an animal (sometimes in small amounts). If your pet ingests any human medications, call your vet as soon as possible.

8.        Chocolate Who doesn’t love the occasional snack as a pick-me-up? Chocolate is a common treat that contains caffeine and theobromine. Both of these compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic to your dog in high amounts. For more information read Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs.

9.        The Bag Itself Some dogs chew nearly anything and everything. I’ve known dogs who would literally chew purses and bookbags to shreds, eating pieces of leather and cloth as they went. These materials can cause a deadly obstruction in the intestine or stomach if left untreated. For more information on the effects of foreign body ingestion go to: Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies.

10.        Coins (Especially Pennies) You would be shocked to learn how much damage can occur from such a small item. Just a single coin can get caught in the intestines and cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. Pennies are especially dangerous as they contain toxic zinc; when swallowed, they can cause a life-threatening anemia due to the zinc’s affect on red blood cells.

I hope this information gives you some tips on common hazards and toxins that may be in your handbag, purse or bookbag. Please keep these and all other dangerous items out of the reach of your dog for their safety.

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