By: Dr. Susan Wootten
Here at Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we see many heartbreaking cases where beloved pets have suffered illnesses, or even death, because the family of the pet was not aware that very common things that we eat or items that we have in the home could pose a threat to the pet. One vivid memory is the deep grief that a loving family suffered because they tossed a hot dog to their large breed dog as a treat, and the hot dog went down the trachea, leading to death by asphyxiation. Or imagine arriving home to find that your dog does not greet you at the door as he typically does. There is trash strewn about in the kitchen where he got into the trashcan. You find your beloved pet has suffocated with his head lodged in a potato chip bag and no one was home to help him. Did you know that as few as one or two grapes or raisins could be toxic to your dog? There have been countless times that owners gave these as a special treat, not knowing the danger that existed. We want this article to inform you of the seemingly harmless things around your home that could be hazardous to your pet. We hope this information will protect your pets, and by sharing this article with your friends and family, you can help their pets as well.
Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is a common poison that is readily available around most homes and can be deadly if consumed even in small quantities. To lower the risk to animals, consumers can switch to a brand of antifreeze containing propylene glycol, a chemical ingredient that is less toxic than ethylene glycol. In addition to being safer, propylene glycol has a bitter taste that makes it less attractive to curious animals (unlike ethylene glycol, which has a sweet taste). Although it's safer than ethylene glycol antifreeze, propylene glycol antifreeze is still toxic. To reduce the risk of poisoning, all brands of antifreeze should be handled carefully and treated as a highly poisonous substance. Ensure that antifreeze is stored well away from animals and children, antifreeze spills are completely cleaned up, and leaks are immediately repaired.
There is a growing awareness for a common kitchen toxin known as xylitol. Xylitol is a sweetener found in certain sugar-free chewing gums, candies, and breath mints. Symptoms from ingestion can occur as early as 30 minutes after ingestion and may include a sudden drop in blood sugar resulting in depression, loss of coordination, and possibly seizures. In addition, liver damage can occur. Fast and aggressive treatment by your veterinarian is essential to effectively reverse any toxic effects and prevent the development of severe problems.
There are several common household poisons that owners tend to be aware of. One common poison is rodenticides, which are used to kill mice, rats, and other rodents. The ingredient of concern in many rodenticides is anticoagulants, which slow the clotting of the blood. When ingested, these anticoagulants concentrate in the liver, where they interfere with the normal synthesis of clotting factors by the liver and prevent blood from clotting properly. Four common active ingredients in anticoagulant rodenticides are: Dicoumarol, Diphacinone, Brodifacoum, and Bromadiolone. These products are designed to have a slow onset of activity, so symptoms usually do not show up for several days after ingestion. Many owners are not aware that their pet has been exposed. Signs of rodenticide toxicity often go unrecognized, and may include bruising, bleeding from the mouth or nose, pale gums, abdominal swelling, or difficulty breathing. If you know your pet ate rodenticide or an animal that was poisoned with a rodenticide, contact Animal Hospital of North Asheville so an antidote can be prescribed before symptoms occur. Always keep these products out of reach of pets, or use alternative non-poison methods to control rodent populations. If you use an exterminator for pest control, make sure that they know you have pets and that they give you the name of any rodenticides used on your property.
There are many other items around the house listed below some of which may not cause the serious problems that the above poisons do, but could still be potentially toxic or harmful to your pet.
De-icing salts used to melt snow and ice – These can be paw irritants that could be poisonous if licked off in large quantity. Pets should have their paws washed off and dried after coming in from the snow.
Insect control products or insecticides used in many over the counter flea and tick remedies – These may be toxic to certain pets; however, one of the more common incidents involves the misuse of the product – such as applying the wrong topical treatment to the wrong species. Prescription flea and tick products available from your veterinarian are much safer and more effective.
Human medications such as pain killers, cold medicines, anti-depressants, vitamins, birth control pills, MAOIs, SSRIs, nicotine containing products, beta-2 agonists, etc. all carry potential risk for problems for our pets if ingested. Symptoms can vary depending on the particular medication and amount ingested. Keep all medicine containers or tubes of ointments or creams out of the reach of your pet. Remember that pets can easily chew open even childproof containers. Never give your pet any human medication without first talking to your pet’s veterinarian.
Chocolate – This contains theobromine and caffeine which are both methylxanthines. The amount of this ingredient varies with the type of chocolate. In general, the less sweet the chocolate and the more dark it is, the more toxic it could be. White chocolate contains negligible amounts of methylxanthines. Symptoms may include gastrointestinal upset, hyperactivity, elevated heart rates, and in severe cases, cardiac arrhythmias and seizures. Always notify your veterinarian with the amount and type of chocolate your pet has ingested as well as how long ago it might have occurred.
Grape and raisin poisoning – Grape and raisin (dried grapes) toxicity has been well documented in dogs. Although the exact substance that causes the toxic reaction is not yet known, dogs should not eat grapes or raisins even in small amounts (such as in trail mix) as they can prove to be fatally toxic. Dogs of any age, breed or gender may be affected. One of the most serious complications of toxicity is acute kidney failure. Inducing vomiting and rapid treatment immediately after consumption of grapes or raisins is very important.
Onions, garlic and leeks – These contain sulfoxide and disulfide compounds that can cause damage to red blood cell membranes. The toxicity varies with the amount ingested and whether it has been raw or cooked (dried forms present greater risks). Cats are more sensitive than dogs.
Bread Dough – Raw bread dough made with live yeast can be hazardous if ingested by dogs. When the raw dough is swallowed, the warm, moist environment of the stomach provides an ideal environment for the yeast to multiply, resulting in an expanding mass of dough in the stomach. Expansion of the stomach could be severe enough to decrease blood flow to the stomach. In addition, the expanding stomach could put pressure on the diaphragm, resulting in breathing difficulty.
Choking risks - Small pieces of food such as hot dogs or baby carrots, small balls, bones, and children's toys can pose a choking risk, especially if they are tossed in the air for dogs to catch. Be aware of what your dog is eating and chewing, especially if your dog tends to gulp food and chew toys.
Drinking water from toilets can cause gastrointestinal upset in some cases. Tablets, continuous-cleaning products, and other cleaning agents that are present in the water can lead to vomiting and loss of appetite. Keep toilet lids down or keep the bathroom door closed in order to prevent this. Keeping the toilet lid closed can also keep curious kittens from falling into the toilet water and drowning.
Household chemicals - Concentrated cleaning products can cause painful burns and ulcers in the mouth and esophagus if even a small amount is licked. Some high-strength glues like Gorilla Glue can cause irritation in the stomach and can sometimes expand and harden into a foreign body that must be removed surgically. Oil and oil-based solvents can cause gastrointestinal irritation, and can cause significant lung damage if they are vomited and aspirated. If you have chemicals that you would keep away from children, keep them away from your pets.
There can be other threats inside the home that you may not think about, some of which the pet does not have to ingest to cause problems. The following is a list of some of the more common ones we see in our practice:
String, yarn, rubber bands, tinsel, thread and even dental floss are easily accessible, easy to swallow, and can cause intestinal blockages or strangulation.
Cords and plugs can look like chew toys to pets. Tape down or cover cords to help avoid shocks, burns, or other serious injuries. Unplug lights when you are not at home, especially if you have puppies or kittens that tend to chew on things.
Use fireplace screens to avoid burns. Install and use a sturdy glass door screen to have a barrier between your pet and the fireplace or wood stove.
Do not leave dog tags or collars on your pets if they will be in a wire crate while you are out of the house. Pets can be choked this way.
Small pets can fall from heights by squeezing through indoor or outdoor railings. Protect them by lining the rails with mesh or using a child-protective covering in these areas.
If you have a pool, only allow your pets to have supervised access. Completely cover the pool with a sturdy cover if it is not in use. Install graded steps in and out of the pool as dogs cannot climb ladders. Train your pet how to get out of the pool in case an accident occurs.
Chip bags and other food packaging have posed serious suffocation risks to our pets. These may include chip bags, plastic grocery bags, cereal boxes, pet treat bag liners, dog and cat food bags, etc. When a curious pet puts his or head into the bag looking for leftover crumbs, the bag creates a vacuum-like seal around their neck. As they try to breathe, the bag tightens around the neck and cuts off oxygen. Most owners do not realize that these bags can pose a hazard to their pets. Keep all of these types of bags stored safely away from your pet’s reach. Tear or cut up all bags after use. Keep trash can lids tightly fastened. Keep the kitchen pantry door closed tightly.
This is certainly not a complete list of possible toxins or hazards in the household, but hopefully it raises awareness of some of the more common ones we see. If you suspect your pet has ingested poison, please call Animal Hospital of North Asheville at 828-253-3393, REACH at 828-665-4399 if after-hours, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 1-888-426-4435 immediately for guidance. It is important to stay calm and inform the person you speak to of any information regarding the poison your pet was exposed to, the amount ingested, and if known, the time since exposure. Also, if your pet is experiencing any abnormal symptoms, please report that as well. Save any packaging that has a brand name or active ingredients listed. If your pet is having seizures, trouble breathing, or has lost consciousness, transport them to your veterinarian or closest emergency hospital immediately.
We hope that all of your pets have a safe, happy and very healthy 2015!