At the SPCA Veterinary Hospitals in San Francisco, we receive hundreds of calls each year from concerned pet owners who believe their pet may have ingested something dangerous. Poison Prevention Week, which begins March 21 of this year, is an opportunity to learn about potential dangers and how you can protect your pet.
Did you know that some of the greatest toxin dangers reside in your own home? Most poisoning is caused by pets accidentally ingesting prescription and non-prescription human medicines. Always make sure your medications are safely kept out of your pet’s reach, and don’t forget about those that may be kept in places like purses, backpacks, and bedside tables.
Human food is the second leading cause of animal poisoning. In most cases, pet owners give their pet something poisonous without realizing that it could be dangerous, but of course pets also accidentally ingest dangerous food that they find at home or on their walks.
Chocolate is one of the most common problems. It contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which are toxic to dogs and cats. Even a small amount of a cocoa-based product can make an animal very sick.
Xylitol, which is often used as a sugar substitute, is extremely toxic to dogs. It can be found in products like candy, baked goods, chewing gum, some types of peanut butters, and many supplements and vitamins. Always check the ingredient label before giving your dog any of these sweet treats. Just a small amount of xylitol can cause dangerously low blood pressure, liver failure, and sometimes death.
Onions, garlic, chives, green onions, shallots, and leeks are part of the Allium family and are poisonous to both dogs and cats. The signs of poisoning can be unusually delayed and may not be seen for several days. Toxic doses can damage red blood cells and cause gastroenteritis such as nausea, drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Grapes, raisins, and currants can all cause kidney failure in dogs. We don’t yet know which substance in grapes causes kidney failure, and individual dogs vary greatly in how sensitive they are to this food. Some dogs seem to tolerate small doses, while others show signs of intoxication after just a small amount.
Hundreds of plants have been found to produce enough toxic substances to cause reactions in pets, ranging from mild stomach upset to death. Always do your research before adding any new plants or flowers to your home. Some common poisonous plants are tulips, azaleas, sago palms, and oleanders.
Lilies, popular at this time of year, are extremely dangerous for cats. Just a tiny amount, even a nibble on the flower or a lick of pollen, can be enough to cause fatal kidney damage. If you suspect your cat has come into contact with a lily, contact your veterinarian right away – every minute is important. Almost any symptom can be indicative of lily poisoning, including vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, lack of coordination, or a fever. If possible, try to bring a sample of the flower to the vet.
Rodenticides are extremely dangerous to both pets and wildlife. Dogs, and less often cats, sometimes consume the poison when they find it. Rodenticides also pose a hazard when pets eat rodents that have ingested the poison. Never use rodenticides in your home. Instead, prevent rodents by keeping your home clean, closing all openings to the outside, and storing food in plastic containers if necessary. When leading your dog outside, stay vigilant and try to keep him from putting anything in his mouth.
When cats are kept indoors, they are protected from rodenticides and many other hazards. Ethylene glycol, found in many antifreeze products, has a sweet taste that attracts dogs. A very small amount can cause severe poisoning. Watch out for antifreeze as dogs often lick the poison from driveways. Ethylene glycol is sometimes found in lower concentrations in products such as windshield deicers, brake fluids, and engine oils.
The symptoms that pets show after ingesting something poisonous can vary greatly depending on the substance. As a rule of thumb, if you suspect your pet has ingested something and you are not sure whether it could be dangerous, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the better.
Do this right now:
1. Check your household for the items and substances listed above.
2. Save your vet’s phone number to your cell phone contacts.
3. Find the location of the nearest 24-hour emergency clinic and save its phone number and address in your contacts as well.
4th Have your poison control hotline number ready.
You can contact the SPCA Veterinary Hospitals in San Francisco at (415) 554-3030. We currently offer emergency services at both locations seven days a week: 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on the Pacific Heights Campus, 2343 Fillmore St., and 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the Mission Campus, 201 Alabama St.
The Animal Poison Control Center is open all day for emergencies related to animal poison. Call (888) 426-4435.
For more tips on protecting your pets, check out the SF SPCA on Facebook (@sfspca) and Instagram (@sanfranciscospca).
Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB, DACAW, CAWA, is Senior Vice President, Rescue and Welfare at the SPCA in San Francisco. Email behavior and medical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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