March 30, 2016
In years past, most pet parents just worried about letting their pets get into chocolate or the Easter lilies. Those issues are still a concern, but in our changing world the risks are becoming a bit more diversified. Let’s talk a bit about the trends in toxicity over the past few years.
The CDC estimates 48.7% of people have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days. That makes for a lot of pill vials that look like a tasty treat to dogs. Make sure you keep them high and away from your animals, because prescription toxicity is one of the most common cause of poisoning we see in the clinics. It’s not as easy as keeping them out of reach. Cat owners know that if you leave a vial of the counter or table your cat will gleefully bat it off and watch if fall because…..well, just because. Then your dog will be glad to “dispose” of it for you, especially since “child safe caps” rarely translates to “retriever proof bottles.” For whatever reason, a dog will pull a prescription bottle out of a purse or off a counter and chew through it. The most common drug toxicities I see are antidepressants, blood pressure meds, and pain meds. And remember, just because a little is safe for you, does not mean it is safe for your pet. For example, a single Tylenol can kill a cat, and ibuprofen can cause gastric ulcers and renal failure in dogs and cats. If you animal swallows any medication, get them to your vet immediately. If we can get the pet in before much is absorbed, it can make a big difference.
While prescriptions are causing many toxicities, we’re also seeing a huge increase in marijuana toxicity with the new legalization in some states. A study from Colorado in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care reported an increase of 400% in the number of dogs treated for marijuana poisoning after it was legalized in the state. In the past 5 years, one pet poison hotline saw a 200% increase in calls for pot toxicities. So, even if you don’t need to hide your stash from the police, you’ll still have to secure your marijuana from the pets. Be especially careful with edibles, because your dog has no idea what is in those brownies.
Xylitol – the Deadly Sweetener
In the past few years, we’re also seeing an awful trend due to a virtually unknown poison: Xylitol. Found in sugar-free gum, medication, candy, and even peanut butter, this artificial sweetener is one of the biggest toxicity issues to hit the veterinary profession in years. I’d bet you have something containing Xylitol in your pantry or purse right now, and as little as two pieces of gum can kill a pet. The animal’s blood sugar will drop within 30 minutes of ingestion, causing collapse, possible seizures and even liver failure. So make sure you scan the label for Xylitol before leaving something where a pet can get it or offering it as a treat.
Another more recent trend in toxicity comes with changes in rodenticides, which are among the most potent poisoning we see because their purpose is to kill animals. The early ones contained a warfarin like substance caused the animal to bleed to death. But, newer and more powerful ones will stay in the pet’s body for up to 6 weeks, so it is crucial that the animal takes Vitamin K1 for at least 6 weeks. The vet will check multiple clotting tests to make sure there is no problem. Don’t wait and see if you think your pet may have eaten rodenticide or a pest that has, because many animals will not appear sick. Instead, they develop signs up to weeks later, when there is no treatment. Be aware, especially in barns and old houses, where the builders would sometimes drop bars of rodenticide behind the drywall to prevent infestation.
I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel paranoid, but I do urge you to be conscious of the many poison risks to your pet in your very own home. Keep your emergency vet’s number and the number for poison control programmed into your cell and be aware of what is in your home and how it is stored. Toxicity is definitely one of those areas where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Other posts by Dr. Riggs
Get an Embrace Pet Insurance Quote