Learn from the past to prevent a modern pet poison tragedy
It seems like almost every day or week of the year is devoted to recognizing a person, event or special cause. Since this week it’s National Poison Prevention Week, I began writing this blog on the topic of pet poisonings. Halfway through, I realized that although the information is certainly useful, it would be more interesting to connect it to a famous person who might have firsthand knowledge on the topic. Socrates, one of the world’s most famous philosophers, was not a chemist but since he did himself die from poisoning I will credit him with being an expert whether or not he deserves this distinction. First let’s find out what kind of poison was responsible for killing Socrates, and what information such a genius philosopher might shed on the topic of pet poisoning if he were alive today.
It is widely known that Socrates died by ingesting hemlock. Hemlock is a poisonous plant that is found in many parts of the world including the U.S. where it is considered an invasive species in many regions of the country. Hemlock can cause a significant risk to grazing farm animals if they come into contact with it. Although not likely to make its way into households with pets, the poisonous chemical found in this perennial plant is called coniine, which is very similar to the popular recreational drug that we all know as nicotine. Coniine and nicotine have a very similar chemical structure and behave almost identically in the human body. Even a small dose of these chemicals is extremely dangerous to both pets and humans. So although our pets are not likely to come into contact with hemlock on their own, nicotine on the other hand is becoming more and more available in products and doses that pose a huge danger to our pets.
A few years ago nicotine in the homes was pretty much only found in cigarettes but now it is being marketed in formulations such as gums, patches, and inhalation liquids that can easily be ingested by an unsuspecting pet. What would Socrates’ first advice be? Nicotine is a poison even in small doses so please keep pets away from it.
Socrates believed that people who did the wrong thing simply didn’t know any better. In an effort to educate the public and prevent such wrongdoing, he may have published a short list similar to this one of substances that could pose a poison risk for our pets:
- Chocolate and other human foods
- Rodent poison
- Medications (prescription and non-prescription). Even those prescribed for the pet could be given or ingested in the wrong dose or to a different pet in the home and pose a significant risk.
- Household plants such as azalea, tulip, foxglove, lily, holly, rhubarb, and pits from many common fruits such as peaches, apples, and apricots.
- Household chemicals such as antifreeze, gasoline, tar, certain volatile oils, caustics, alkalis such ammonia, and laundry detergent, acids such as bleach and drain cleaners.
If a pet is poisoned, the symptoms may occur right away or they may take hours or even days to show up. Possible symptoms may include bleeding, vomiting, salivation, seizures, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. Poisonings are life-threatening events and will usually require quick medical attention. If you suspect that your pet has been poisoned, immediately contact your veterinarian or poison control center for guidance on what to do.
The ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center phone number is 1-800-548-2423. Calling poison control could be a life saver because in some cases it is helpful to induce vomiting to at least get rid of some of the poison in the system, while other times (such as when the chemical is caustic in nature or is a volatile liquid) the vomiting can do more harm than good. In some cases giving a little food to eat may help delay absorption or dilute the toxic substance. That delay in absorption could help give your pet a little more time so you can get them over to the veterinarian for proper treatment.
If you are instructed to induce vomiting, here is a suggestion on making that happen:
Give 1 teaspoonful (5ml) of hydrogen peroxide 3% (the regular kind from the pharmacy) for each 10 pounds of body weight. For example, if your dog is 60 pounds the dose would be 30ml or about 1 ounce. If vomiting still does not occur, you may repeat this one time. If your dog or cat still does not vomit or you’re not sure if the substance is even poisonous, please just call the veterinarian and get the proper care. Your veterinarian can guide you in the right direction or have you come in if the situation requires it. Veterinarians have powerful medications to induce vomiting that you would not have around the house.
Many ingested poisons can also have adverse effects on the kidneys and the liver. If damage to the liver may have occurred, the veterinarian may recommend an over-the-counter medication called Denosyl. Denosyl increases glutathione levels, an important antioxidant that protects the liver cells from dangerous toxins. This medication is best given on an empty stomach and can be started a few days after the suspected poison has been ingested.
Lastly, one of Socrates’ philosophies is in the area of perceived knowledge or the lack thereof, one of his famous quotes being “What I do not know, I do not think I know.” If you suspect poisoning has occurred, do not guess on the solution or incorrectly think you know what to do. Instead, call your veterinarian or poison control and get proper advice. Our handy Pet Poison Control Chart can help you recognize the most common causes of pet poisoning; print it out and post it where it can be easily reviewed in the event of an emergency. If you have any medication related questions, you can also call your 1800PetMeds pharmacist who will be more than happy to help you.