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What to do if your pet is poisoned

Approx. 9 minutes read

All pet heroes just LOVE sharing their living space with their pets. It’s why we buy them the highest quality food that they can eat out of fancy food bowls; give them oodles of toys and take them out for walkies to keep them happy and healthy. There’s lots to do to give your pet the best life, but there are also some warnings to heed to ensure your pet is SAFE within your property and home.

Sometimes accidents do happen, which is why we have put together this guide about what to do if your pet is poisoned.

What does pet poisoning mean?

The idea of pet poisoning instantly brings to mind the malicious type of poisoning where criminals use rat poison or two-step to try to get rid of family pets. They do this so that they can come back and commit a burglary without any teeth-bearing obstacles.

However, non-malicious poisoning or accidental poisoning is a common, though preventable occurrence. Our pets are curious and explore the world with their noses and mouths. This means there is always a risk that they may eat something that could make them very sick. What type of poisoning is most common for pets?  The most common causes of toxicity include foodstuffs, plant material, medications, and household chemicals, which cannot be processed or excreted efficiently by pets’ bodies and therefore make them sick.

Human foods that pets should not eat

We have extensive articles on human food that is poisonous for dogs as well as what cats can and cannot eat from the kitchen. The more common human foods that pets should never eat include:

  • xylitol
  • chocolate
  • caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks)
  • alcohol
  • onions and garlic
  • raw meat
  • uncooked eggs
  • bones
  • grapes/raisins
  • avocado
  • cherries
  • dairy (milk, cream)
  • macadamia nuts
  • salty snacks

Read our articles to find out exactly why these foods are a no-go for your pets, and never chance it. Even if you’ve fed your pet a bit of chocolate, raw meat, or avocado (for instance) and nothing has happened to them, the toxicity can build up over time until it damages their liver and kidneys. Rather be safe with your beloved pets and avoid giving them these foods altogether. If you cannot resist their cute mewing or puppy-dog eyes, rather give them pet treats as a training reward, and just ignore them if they beg for human snacks.

What plants are poisonous for pets?

When our furry and purry friends are gallivanting in the garden or pottering about indoors, many people don’t give a second thought to the fact that there may be poisonous plants in our pets’ immediate environment! Our article covers a list of the most common plants that are poisonous to pets, which include:

  • cycads
  • delicious monster
  • cannabis
  • lilies (arums, clivias, tiger lilies, etc.)
  • yesterday, today and tomorrow
  • syringa berry tree

Other garden toxins may include fertilisers, organophosphates (insecticides), herbicides, as well as rodenticides like Rattex. There is also the danger of your dog or cat killing or ingesting a rat or mouse that has already been poisoned, in which case your pet will be poisoned too (we shouldn’t have to mention that it’s better to not use rat poisons to begin with).

Keep medications away from pets

Whether it’s your headache pills, anti-inflammatories, antacids, vitamins, or tummy medication – any chronic or acute medication is dangerous to your pets. All human and pet medication should be securely locked away in a first-aid kit, medical cupboard or other location that cannot be pried open by curious fingers (of children) or persistent noses (of pets). When pets ingest the wrong medication, it can be extremely toxic; even fatal.

Household chemicals that are toxic to pets

It should be a no-brainer that all household chemicals and cleaning products are toxic to pets. From bleach to washing powders, fabric softeners, dishwashing liquid and all forms of detergents – none of these cleaning agents belong anywhere near pets. (This is also a very good reason to switch to natural cleaning liquids or pet-safe household cleaners and deodorisers.)

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Another very risky chemical to have around is antifreeze. It contains ethylene glycol and has a sweet taste, which is what makes it appealing to dogs. Even antifreeze licked off a garage floor is potentially fatal, so keep this common household item securely locked away and make sure there are no leaks under your car.

Household chemicals can cause external burns, skin irritation or sores, but they can also cause stomach upset and damage to internal organs when ingested. Make sure you always know where your pets are, especially when you’re cleaning or working with chemicals.

What are the symptoms of poisoning in an animal?

Different toxins have different effects on different pets. One thing is for sure – if your pet is poisoned, you will definitely see symptoms. How do animals act when poisoned? They will display physical symptoms, which can include gastrointestinal symptoms, motor symptoms, behavioural symptoms and blood-related symptoms:

  • excess salivation
  • frothing at the mouth
  • losing their appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • tremors
  • muscle spasms
  • seizures
  • collapse (medical emergency!)
  • fatigue/lethargy
  • pale/blue gums
  • difficulty breathing
  • dysregulated body temperature
  • burns in the mouth or on the face
  • swelling

What should I do if my pet is poisoned?

If you ever see any of the above symptoms in your dog or cat and you suspect poisoning or toxicity, take them to the vet immediately! If you are far from the vet, phone ahead of time to let them know you are bringing in a poisoned pet and to ask for advice, depending on the type of poisoning. Give the vet as much information as possible and listen carefully to what they advise you to do on the way to the veterinary practice or hospital.

Poisons can be inhaled, ingested (eaten), licked, or absorbed – and in each case, your counteraction will be different, for instance:

  • Inhalation: The pet will need fresh air as quickly as possible.
  • Ingestion: If the pet has eaten something toxic, you will need to make them vomit as soon as possible. EXCEPT if the toxin is warfarin from a rodenticide. Symptoms from rat poison will occur days after ingestion, meaning that inducing vomiting is pointless and potentially dangerous. If your pet has eaten mouldy food or ingested medication, they can be given activated charcoal to try to minimise the absorption of the toxin while you take them to the vet.
  • Absorption: If your pet has been exposed to chemicals, put on gloves and try to remove as much of the chemical substance as possible with paper towels. The vet may advise you to rinse off any substances with water, but don’t do this unless instructed.

No pet hero is expected to automatically know what to do when a dog is poisoned, but it will be very helpful to the vet and to your furry friend if you can identify what toxin your pet has been exposed to. Make a list of the symptoms your pet has shown, as well as the timeline from when you first noticed the symptoms. All of this information will be helpful to the vet in identifying the type of toxicity your pet is experiencing, how long they’ve been exposed to the toxin and what type of treatment they may need to give them the best chance of recovery.

What home remedy can I give my dog for poisoning?

Your vet will probably strongly advise against trying a home remedy for pet poisoning. Even if you know which toxin your pet has inhaled, ingested or otherwise been exposed to, it’s best to let a veterinarian treat your pet to ensure they get the help they need. The only instance in which a home remedy for pet poisoning may apply, is when your vet advises you to administer it.

For instance, if you are far from the vet’s office and it will help your pet’s case to induce vomiting as quickly as possible, this can be done with hydrogen peroxide. The dosage will depend on the size of the pet, so only induce vomiting by your vet’s instruction. The case in which this may be necessary is if your pet has accidentally eaten toxic foods like chocolate, raisins or onion. Once your pet has vomited successfully, still take them to the vet to get the appropriate treatment.

Never use salt water to get your pet to vomit as this could cause dehydration, which is very dangerous for your pet even under normal circumstances.

Do not induce vomiting when your pet:

  • has swallowed a sharp object
  • has ingested a caustic substance
  • is only semi-conscious

A sharp or large object may damage the oesophagus or cause a blockage if it becomes an obstruction on the way up again. A caustic substance can irritate the oesophagus and lining of the mouth when it is vomited up. A pet who is weak or passing out can accidentally inhale whatever substance they vomit up, causing aspiration and pneumonia.

How will the vet treat a poisoned pet?

Your vet will want to know what poison your dog or cat has been exposed to. If you can, take a sample with you to the vet practice. If you don’t know, the vet will be able to perform blood tests, observe the presenting symptoms and make a decision about what treatment to administer. For the most common poisons, the vet will have a treatment available to help your pet. However, if the poison is unknown or it cannot be quickly identified, the vet will first help to stabilise your pet’s condition and then neutralise the effect the toxic substance is having on your pet’s body. This means potentially flushing your pet’s stomach or even operating on them to remove a substance or object from the stomach.

The type of veterinary support offered to a poisoned pet will be determined by their condition – whether they are having seizures, experiencing shock, having difficulty breathing or are experiencing pain. The pet may be held for observation overnight or for a few days, and their recovery will be determined by their overall health and how much of the toxin they were exposed to, for how long.

How to prevent your pet from being poisoned

We cannot be around our pets 100% of the day or cage them up and prevent them from living, but we can reduce their risk of being poisoned by applying some forethought. The following tips can help to prevent your pets from being poisoned:

  • Keep your common household cleaners, medicines, and other substances toxic to pets, in a separate room or lockable cupboard. Keep the door closed to prevent pet access to these areas. Keep substances like antifreeze and car cleaners in the garage and train your pets to never go into the garage. The same rules apply for keeping children away from these poisonous substances, so be very strict about access.
  • When you are using household cleaners, keep your pets away. Either ask a child, partner or friend to take your dog for a walk or play with your cat in another location while you’re cleaning.  
  • Research which plants are poisonous to pets and remove these from your property. Only plant indigenous, pet-safe plants to ensure there is no risk of toxicity to your furry and purry friends.
  • To prevent your pets from eating human foods that are toxic to them, only feed your pets high-quality pet food and treats – and save the human food for your own dinner table. This is the easiest way of preventing food poisoning in pets. Teach your kids that pets must never get human snacks and have a routine in place to train pets (and kids) that certain actions will guarantee them a treat. For instance: only give your dog or cat a certain kind of treat when they are on their dog bed or cat tree. Use the ‘place’ command to cement this type of training.
  • When taking your dog for a walk, always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your dog leashed (it’s the law) to prevent them from wandering off and eating something they shouldn’t. Even when your pup is on the leash, always be aware of what they are sniffing at, and stop them immediately if they attempt to eat something on a path or pavement.
  • Have a routine in place so that your pet knows when it’s time to eat, sleep, train and play. A tired pet is a good pet. A bored pet will be super curious and will want to satisfy their busy mind by sniffing, getting into the garbage, digging in the garden or chasing little creatures. It’s during periods of boredom that they can get into mischief and increase the risk of eating something toxic.

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