Pets sometimes eat or drink things that they shouldn't. They can be poisoned by many commonly found items and substances in and around our homes and yards. High-profile media articles about dogs falling ill after eating poisoned meat deliberately left in parks are alarming, but actually, most pet poisonings are accidental and happen in the pet's very own home. Here's what to look for and tips on what to do if you suspect your pet has been poisoned.
Many common household items that can be dangerous to pets. Young, active, inquisitive pets are most at risk for being poisoned, especially if unsupervised. Some pets are also exceptionally clever and can figure out how to access cupboards or countertops - places that many of us would consider safely out of their reach. Securely store items away from curious pets to help prevent an accident.
The products we use to clean our homes commonly contain toxic substances that can be dangerous to pets if ingested. Note that pets may not necessarily be after the substance in the container; many pets find bottles or containers fun to play with. An innocent, playful 'attack' on a container of chemicals may puncture the container and spill the contents, making it easy for the curious pet to sample.
Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and poisoned baits (for rodents) can all be deadly. Use non-toxic, pet-safe products wherever possible. Keep pets off and away from any treated areas at least until dry or whenever the product label says it's safe (and consider keeping them away for several days afterwards, just in case).
Both household plants and those often found in our gardens, can be poisonous to pets. Some types of fertilizers, plant food, compost heaps, and even mulch (like cocoa mulch) can be dangerous to pets.
Try to choose plants that are non-toxic to pets whenever possible. Poisonous plants can be replaced over time and as budgets permit. If parts of your yard include toxic plants, fence them off so that your pets cannot access them.
Antifreeze can be fatal to pets even in small quantities. Antifreeze has a sweet taste that appeals to pets so be sure to immediately clean up spills.
Most of the antifreeze available is ethylene glycol-based. Some brands have a bittering agent added to them to make them less appealing to pets - but they are still deadly if ingested. Instead, look for a propylene-based antifreeze product; it's less toxic to pets and wildlife.
More information on "pet-friendlier" antifreeze is available from the BC SPCA.
Many types of foods are toxic to pets. These include foods that are commonly found in an average household, as well as additives found in many types of processed foods (such as the sweetener Xylitol which can be found in chewing gums, toothpaste, and peanut butter, among many other products).
Holidays in particular can be tricky - chocolate, for example, is often in abundance during some holidays like Hallowe'en or Christmas, but can cause severe illness or even death in pets if consumed in sufficient quantities. Baking chocolate in particular is very dangerous; a small amount can kill a cat or small dog.
A simple lock on the refrigerator or cupboards will help to prevent inquisitive pets from getting into mischief.
Even medications specifically meant for pets can be deadly if given in the wrong dosages; in combination with contraindicated drugs; or to another species of pet (for example, giving dog medication to a cat, or vice versa). Don't attempt to figure out medications or dosages on your own or through research on the internet. Bring your pet to a veterinarian who can prescribe the correct drug and dosage for your pet's individual situation.
Never give 'people medication' to a pet, even in small dosages, unless your veterinarian has specifically prescribed it for your pet. Many well-meaning people have given their pets their own medication, only to end up with a veterinary emergency on their hands. Many human medications are extremely toxic to pets.
Medications stored on countertops, fridge tops, etc... can be knocked to the ground and the container chewed open. Keep human medications safely stored, out of reach, in a lockable cabinet if you can. Some pets are very adept at opening cabinets! It's also a good idea to store human medications separate from pet medications to minimize the risk of giving your pet the wrong kind.
Additional common items found around the home that can be toxic to pets include (but isn't limited to):
Another potential source of toxins includes any 'critters' your pet may ingest. For example, rodents are sometimes killed with poisoned bait. Dogs or cats who ingest the poisoned rodent will in turn also ingest the poison itself. Other examples of potentially poisonous critters include some species of toads and spiders.
Here are a few useful tips on common household poisons and how to protect your pets:
The signs that indicate that your pet may have been poisoned will vary depending on what it is that they consumed. Common symptoms include:
Symptoms may not show up immediately. It depends on what type of poison was consumed, how much was consumed, and the size of your pet. If your pet consumed something he shouldn't have a day or two previous to his symptoms appearing, don't rule it out that he may have been poisoned.
Time is critical. Do not try to 'wait it out' and see if your pet gets better - get medical advice right away. Contact a veterinarian. In many cases, immediate medical attention is necessary to give pets their best chance at recovering from a poisoning.
Many bigger cities also have an emergency vet clinic if your regular vet clinic is closed for the day. If you cannot reach a vet, call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661 (a consultation fee applies).
The more detailed you can be, the better the vet (or poison control hotline) can help you to help your pet. Try to stay calm and gather the following information:
The faster your pet gets help, the easier it will be to treat them and the better the prognosis.