What to Do When Your Pet Gets into Household Toxins

[protect pets from toxins]

Not sure if it’s toxic? Assume it is.

Life would be much easier if pets could read the words “Warning!” or “Toxic!” on product labels. Then we wouldn’t have to worry when a chocolate bar or pack of gum goes missing. But until your pet learns to read, you should learn what to do in the scary event that your pet eats something harmful.

Dr. Tina Wismer, a veterinary toxicologist, is the medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, which was founded in 1978 as part of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Wismer, who is also an adjunct instructor at the college, shares information for pet owners, beginning with the difference between a poison and a toxin.

“In general, the two words can be used interchangeably,” Dr. Wismer says. “We often consider poisoning a more life-threatening event, while toxicity is used when any level of a substance adversely affects the pet.”

Long List of Household Toxins

Most pet owners have been warned that chocolate, rat poison, antifreeze, and gum or candy containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be toxic to pets.

Dr. Wismer says that onions, garlic, chewable over-the-counter medicines, and water-proofing sprays are lesser-known household threats to pets. The ASPCA website describes the potential toxicity of more than three dozen foods, medications, and household products as well as more than 1,000 plants. If you aren’t sure if something is dangerous to animals, assume it is until you have a chance to confirm otherwise with your veterinarian.

If your pet has managed to eat something dangerous, you should watch for behavioral changes. “Lethargy and agitation are two of the common responses to a toxin,” Dr. Wismer says. “The pet may also salivate excessively, whine, or vomit. It all depends on what and how much was consumed.”

First Step: Make a Call

If an owner notices anything out of the ordinary, Dr. Wismer says the first response should be to call a veterinarian. “Don’t wait,” she cautions. “It could be the difference between life and death.”

Never try to induce vomiting in your pet at home. Some toxins can become even more harmful on their way back out, damaging the esophagus or accidentally being inhaled by the distressed pet.

If you think it’s an emergency, bring your pet into the ER. “Expect to be asked questions about what your pet ate, how much was eaten, and when it was eaten,” Dr. Wismer says. It’s often helpful to bring in the label or wrapper of the product consumed.

Another alternative is to call the poison control helpline. “Expect similar questions to those you would be asked in the ER,” Dr. Wismer advises. “They’ll ask about health problems the dog could have and they’ll determine if they can treat it at home or if the pet should be brought to the veterinarian.”

The animal poison control center is well equipped to handle calls from owners. With 21 veterinarians on staff, they receive up to 1,000 calls per day from all over the United States and Canada. It is a useful number to have on the fridge in times of emergencies: (888) 426-4435. (A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.)

Watch for Symptoms, Watch Out for Puppies

Dr. Wismer offers some cautionary advice for pet owners. “First of all, not all symptoms show up right away. Symptoms can be delayed hours or even days. For example, it can take 3 to 7 days before signs of toxicity show up in a pet that has eaten rat poison.”

She also reminds owners who have an older pet that bringing a puppy into the home requires extra vigilance. “Your new puppy will get into things your old dog does not,” she says. “So even if you already have a dog, it’s important to puppy-proof the house for the new arrival.”

If you have questions about possible toxins in your home, contact your local veterinarian.

By Danielle Engel