Poison and Your Dog – What You Need to Know

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If only they knew the dangers that surround them.

Our canine companions tend to be carefree creatures, brightening our days with their ever-present zest for life and their fun-loving antics. Always curious, they explore their everyday environments with their eyes, nose, mouth, and paws.

Unbeknownst to our canines – and, in some cases, to dog owners as well – poisons and toxins lurk throughout the home, garage, and yard. The unfortunate reality is that we live amidst a variety of poisons and toxic substances that can prove harmful, or even deadly, to dogs. Poisoning represents a prevalent problem in canines due to their curious nature and indiscriminate diets, among other reasons.

It’s not uncommon for veterinarians and animal clinics to field frantic phone calls from owners who’ve discovered their dog ingested something that’s potentially toxic. With proper education and preventative efforts, though, we can strive to minimize such situations. National Poison Prevention Week – which runs the third week of March annually (March 20-26 this year) – represents a campaign designed to raise awareness regarding dangerous substances and how to handle a poison-related emergency.

Still, poison prevention must be a year-round initiative for dog owners. It all boils down to keeping our furry friends safe and happy. Here’s what you need to know about poison and your dog:

Poisoning in Dogs – What You Should Know

Some of the more common poisons dogs ingest include insecticides, antifreeze, household cleaning solutions, and poisonous plants. Human foods – such as chocolate – can also be harmful. A poison’s overall effect on your canine is based on the amount of poison ingested and how long that poison was in the body prior to treatment.

The effects of a poison aren’t always immediate, and can take days or weeks to materialize. Therefore, if you witness your pet ingesting a potentially toxic substance, don’t be lured into a false sense of security simply because he doesn’t immediately become ill. Every toxic ingestion is cause for concern and should prompt an immediate call to your veterinarian or local animal emergency facility.

While some poisons are inhaled or absorbed, the majority are ingested. Signs of poisoning in dogs include:

  • Lethargy or sluggishness
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stumbling or staggering
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Seizure

Your Guide to Common Dog Poisonings

There are hundreds of substances your dog can access. Some are highly toxic and others are non-toxic. If you think your dog may have been exposed to a toxin, check the item’s label and read about its toxicity. Often, the information on packaging regarding children is relevant to dogs and some manufacturers even discuss dog toxicity. If there’s an 800 number on the package – call it!

For most poisonings, there’s not much you can do at home. Consult your veterinarian or animal emergency facility if you suspect your canine has been poisoned. For some ingested poisons, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting before bringing your dog in for examination and treatment. When you visit your vet, take the product’s packaging with you.

Diagnosing illness due to poisoning can be difficult if the exposure or ingestion wasn’t witnessed. Diagnosis can be made based on diagnostic tests, blood and urine tests, or physical examination. While some poisons have specific antidotes, general treatments for poisoning include reducing additional absorption, delaying absorption, and speeding elimination.

Deadly Poisons That Could Kill Your Dog

Toxins are a common (and potentially expensive) reason why dog owners visit their veterinarians or emergency clinics. While some poisons can be treated and result in full recovery for your canine, others are potentially fatal, including:

  • Antifreeze: This is the most common deadly poison ingested by canines. As little as one teaspoon can kill a small dog. Antifreeze has a sweet taste and dogs like it.
  • Mouse and Rat Baits: There are several ingredients in these products that are toxic. The most common one causes bleeding disorders that can be fatal.
  • Slug Bait: In the summer months, slugs come out and bait is used to kill them. The active ingredient in slug bait is metaldehyde, which can cause uncontrollable seizures in dogs.
  • Dog Medications: Overdosing or accidental access to pet medications is a common cause of poisoning in dogs. If your canine accidentally gets anything he shouldn’t, call your vet immediately.
  • Human Medications: Dogs commonly gain access to human medications. Or, they are given these medications by a well-intentioned (but misinformed) owner. Never administer any medication to your canine without consulting your vet first.
  • Insecticides: Don’t give your dog anything to treat fleas or ticks unless it’s approved by your vet. Some pets are sensitive to certain medications.

Human Foods that Poison Dogs in the U.S.

Dogs are known to eat things they should not. To make matters worse, some of these items prove toxic. There are more than 100,000 cases of pet poisoning in the United States each year, and a fair amount of these arise from human foods that poison canines.

Here are 10 human foods that routinely poison dogs (read on for the remainder of the list):

  1. Chocolate
  2. Raisins
  3. Mushrooms
  4. Xylitol (sweetener commonly in gum and pastries)
  5. Grapes
  6. Vitamins
  7. Chewing Gum
  8. Bones
  9. Uncooked Chicken
  10. Macadamia Nuts

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Rodenticide Poisoning in Dogs

Rodenticide poisoning is the accidental ingestion of products used to kill rodents such as mice and rats. These products are common and accidental exposure is frequent in dogs. The impact on the poisoned animal varies depending on the type of poison ingested. A dog may develop a bleeding disorder, neurological problems, gastrointestinal distress, or kidney failure. In some cases, rodenticide poisoning is fatal.

Should you suspect your canine has ingested rodenticide, consult your vet immediately. Veterinary care for rodenticide poisoning varies based on the type of poison ingested, the amount ingested, and the length of time elapsed since ingestion. Treatments range from inducing vomiting to use of intravenous fluids to pumping the stomach.

Lead Toxicity in Dogs

Lead toxicity refers to poisoning due to ingestion or inhalation of products containing the element lead. Dogs may be exposed to lead from various sources including: Lead paint, lead pellets, lead weights, household items, automotive parts, construction equipment, plumbing fixtures, and roofing materials.

Puppies are more likely to ingest materials containing lead because of their normal chewing and play activities. Lead toxicity can cause anemia (low red blood cell count), gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea), and nervous system problems (seizures). There is no home care for lead poisoning. Seek veterinary expertise promptly if you have reason to believe your dog has ingested lead-containing materials.

Resources for Dog Poison Prevention

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