As pet parents, we want the best for our fur kids, but sometimes we don’t realize how vulnerable they can be to various things. Keeping your pets safe means educating yourself about the potential dangers that lurk in and around your home. We all know that chocolate, as well as many other human food items, can cause serious illness and death in dogs and cats. However, some of the most dangerous toxicities to pets are not food related. This article will discuss toxins in our everyday environment that can be detrimental, even deadly, to your four-legged companions.
1. Human Medications
You should never give human medications to your pets unless they are approved by your veterinarian. An easy way to prevent your pets from accidentally ingesting human medications is to keep them in an unreachable place. You might not know it, but common over-the-counter medicines like Naproxen (Aleve), Ibuprofen (Advil), and Aspirin are toxic to dogs. These anti-inflammatories made for people are often too harsh on the stomach and intestines of dogs. They can cause vomiting and stomach ulcers as well as kidney damage. In some cases, stomach ulcers can bleed for days causing dark, tarry stools and severe, life-threatening blood loss and anemia. If your dog has eaten an anti-inflammatory medication, he should be seen immediately by your veterinarian. Treatment includes inducing vomiting, administration of activated charcoal, large volumes of IV fluids to protect the kidneys and administration of medications to protect the lining of the stomach and intestines against ulcers.
2. Topical or Leftover Pet Medications
You might assume that a topical flea medication for your dog is okay to use on your cat. This is NOT the case, as cats can have a severe reaction to some flea control products. If you make this mistake or accidentally mix up your pet’s medications, immediately bathe your cat with mild dish soap and water. Make sure you thoroughly wash the affected area of your cat’s skin. Once you’ve done this, bring your cat to a veterinarian or an emergency pet hospital. While giving your dog a cat flea and tick preventative isn’t as bad a scenario, the product won’t provide the necessary strength. This means that it likely won’t work well enough to deter ticks. The bottom line is pets should never be given medications prescribed for other pets.
3. Household Cleaners
Many of us use household cleaners without giving a second thought about how they can affect our pets. Items like chlorine, ammonia, drain cleaners, and laundry detergent are all toxic if your pets ingest them. When using these products, be sure to exercise caution when your pets are around. A good way to eliminate the potential danger is to use safe, non-toxic cleaning products. Lastly, make sure all members of your family keep the toilet lids down, as automatic toilet bowl cleaners contain harmful chemicals that can cause irritation or illness to your pets.
4. Rat Poison
Rat poison, also known as rodenticide, has a long history of causing accidental deaths in dogs and cats. The toxic compound causes a decrease in the clotting ability of the blood, which means pets that have ingested rodenticide have problems with internal bleeding. Typically, it takes 3-7 days for pets to experience clotting problems. However, pets can experience vomiting and lethargy on the day of ingestion. There are two different types of rodenticide: short-acting and long-acting. The type of rodenticide your pet has ingested will dictate how long he needs treatment. Signs of toxicity include bruising, pale gums, lethargy and decreased appetite. Treatment includes administration of Vitamin K. Severe cases may need whole blood or plasma transfusions. A kinder and safer alternative to using rat poison is to use live traps.
5. Plants and Mulch
Several common household and garden plants are toxic to pets, including:
- Tulips and azaleas – toxic to both dogs and cats
- Lilies – toxic to cats, but not to dogs.
- Sago palm – toxic to both dogs and cats
After ingestion, these plants can cause pets to experience vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, decreased appetite and jaundice due to the toxin causing liver failure. Neurologic signs and liver failure can appear a few days after ingestion. If left untreated, many pets will die from liver failure. Treatment includes inducing vomiting if the pet has ingested the plant within the last few hours, administration of activated charcoal, large volumes of IV fluids and liver protectant medications. For a full list of plants and how they can affect your pets, check out the ASPCA’s website.
Cocoa mulch is used in gardens and landscaping around many homes and businesses. While it has many benefits for plants, it can cause severe toxicity and illness in dogs and cats. The mulch is derived from the cocoa plant, the same plant that gives us cocoa powder and chocolate. The mulch contains caffeine and theobromine, which are the toxic compounds in chocolate. Dogs can consume large amounts of cocoa mulch, making it more dangerous than milk chocolate. Signs of toxicity include vomiting, shaking or trembling, weakness, seizures or coma. Treatment includes inducing vomiting, administration of activated charcoal to bind the toxin, IV fluids to help the kidneys excrete the toxin quickly and anti-convulsant medications such as valium if your pet is having seizures.
Dogs and cats that live outside or have access to a garage are particularly susceptible to coming in contact with ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze. There are certain brands of antifreeze that have a sweet taste that animals find irresistible. Antifreeze affects their kidneys by forming deadly crystals inside the renal tubules. Soon after ingesting antifreeze, pets might experience weakness, vomiting, or appear as if they are intoxicated. Pets can develop severe kidney failure in 1-2 days. If your pet has ingested ANY amount of antifreeze, you should take them to your veterinarian immediately. Without treatment, most animals will die. Treatment includes large volumes of intravenous (IV) fluids for several days as well as medication to help the kidneys excrete the toxin as quickly as possible.
If you think your pet may have ingested a toxic substance, have them seen immediately by your veterinarian or bring them to an emergency hospital. Pets Best policy holders may access the 24/7 Pet Helpline to receive support if they think their pet has ingested a toxic substance. The toxins we’ve discussed can be life-threatening, and swift action on your part could save your dog or cat’s life!