Within our homes are dozens of substances and food products that, while safe for human use and consumption, are toxic or deadly for our pet companions. While many of these dangers are obvious and avoidable, there are some items we might not consider a danger — until a beloved pet is suffering and needs emergency care. The ASPCA reports over 150,000 calls per year to their poison control hotline.
Infographics and articles abound warning pet owners of the dangers of avocados, but they fail to discuss how and why avocados pose a threat. For cats and dogs the avocado fruit itself is not harmful; the real danger is the possible ingestion of the large pit, a possible choking or intestinal obstruction hazard. For smaller animals such as birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, and certain farmyard animals such as cows, goats, and horses, the real danger is a compound called persin. Persin is extremely toxic to these animals causing respiratory distress, fluid around the lungs and heart, liver and kidney failure, and sudden death. Pet birds will also show an inability to perch if suffering from persin toxicity.
When ingested, unbaked dough will expand, ferment, and release large amounts of carbon dioxide and alcohol into the bloodstream. This process will rapidly cause a bloated stomach, followed by twisted stomach (known as gastric-dilatation volvulus or GDV), and alcohol poisoning. If your pet is showing signs of bloat or GDV including a distended stomach, racing heart, vomiting or non-productive retching, immediate intervention is needed. As the fermentation produces alcohol, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream causing intoxication, dangerous drops in blood pressure and body temperature, seizures, and respiratory failure.
Many pet owners are aware of the hazard posed by chocolate, but are unaware of the quantities or types of chocolate that are the greatest threat. Theobromine is a methylxanthine compound very similar to caffeine that is present in chocolate. Darker chocolate has a higher concentration of theobromine with baker’s chocolate and baking cocoa posing the biggest threats. Pet poison control hotlines report that 95% of emergency calls and veterinary visits due to chocolate consumption are for dogs; smaller dogs often have to be treated for obstructions due to consuming the wrapper on a chocolate as well. Signs of methylxznthine poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, hyperactivity, seizures, and abnormal heart rhythm. Untreated, progressively severe symptoms can lead to death.
Corrosive burns due to detergent exposure are particularly common in cats. A cat might walk across spilled detergent, liquid or powder, that was not cleaned up immediately and then ingest it later while grooming. Drooling, visible burns on the paws or mouth, vomiting, lethargy, and respiratory distress may all be present. Immediate veterinary attention is required as internal damage may be severe.
Commonly sold under the brand name Gorilla Glue, diisocyanate glues as well as other wood and construction glues, pose a large poisoning risk if ingested. Interaction between these glues and stomach acids causes a chemical reaction turning the glue into a rapidly expanding foam. The foam solidifies in the stomach and intestinal tract requiring surgery to remove the foreign body. Gastrointestinal distress symptoms caused by glue ingestion include vomiting, retching, drooling, distended stomach, and loss of appetite. This is an emergency situation and requires immediate intervention.
There is no known cause of the toxic reaction from ingesting grapes, raisins or currants; however, it is known that dogs –and possibly cats and ferrets as well — can suffer severe, acute kidney failure after eating any type of grape or raisin containing product. Unlike other foods, the toxicity of grapes does not appear to be dose-dependent; even very small amounts can be injurious to some animals while others are not affected until a large dose is consumed. Veterinary care will include decontamination via induced vomiting or activated charcoal, kidney function monitoring, and often aggressive supporting care tactics.
While using a small burner or simmer pot to heat liquid potpourri or wax melts may seem like an easy and safe way to scent your home, it has been found to be a danger to pets, particularly cats. The scent is often enticing enough for a curious cat to take a couple licks, and that is all it takes to cause severe chemical burns in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. A high enough dosage will also lead to difficulty breathing, vomiting, tremors, weakness, and possible organ damage.
Many non-smokers brush this danger off as it isn’t a substance in their home, but if your pet is allowed outside at any time, it may encounter and consume dropped cigarette butts. Consumption of nicotine gums pose a double danger to dogs as many brands are sweetened with xylitol which is also toxic. Nicotine raises both heart rate and blood pressure, and in sufficient quantities can cause neurological damage. Many animals will attempt to self-decontaminate (often by ingesting grasses or other stomach irritants) or may spontaneously vomit, but it is safest to have a veterinary evaluation in case further decontamination, IV fluids, or other medication is necessary to stabilize your pet.
Tea Tree Oil
Often touted as a natural wonder-drug for humans for its antibacterial, anti-fungal, possibly anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic properties, tea tree oil should never be used on pets. Also known as melaleuca oil, it is sold in several concentrations with 100% oil resulting in severe poisoning with as little as 7 drops and fatalities with as little as 10ml. Both cats and dogs show similar symptoms when exposed such as weakness, tremors, loss of balance or the inability to walk, coma, and death.
No matter how carefully you guard against accidental poisoning, you need to be prepared in the event it occurs. Proper preparation for an emergency situation will increase the chances of your pet’s survival and return to good health. Build a pet first aid kit, have a list of important phone numbers including animal poison control and your veterinary clinic, and keep a pet transport handy(if applicable) to be able to respond swiftly in any emergency.
4 13 Common Pet Emergencies That Need Immediate Attention
Having a pet is a commitment. Most people misunderstand the most common pet emergencies, and don’t call for help until it’s too late. Understanding and keeping a list of the most common emergencies that require a veterinarian’s attention will help keep a pet healthy for a long time.
1. Severe Bleeding
This is the number one emergency because too many people believe an animal’s first aid can be done at home. If bleeding is severe or lasts more than five minutes, it must be checked by a vet. The fur could be hiding a bigger problem, or the animal might need stitches to heal without infection. The cut could be deeper than it appears, or there could be internal bleeding that needs surgery.
2. Choking and Difficulty Breathing
As with humans, it’s never a good idea to “wait and see” when an animal cannot breathe. Never try to clear the airway, and learn animal CPR to keep the animal safe. Take the vet to emergency care, even if CPR helps the animal breathe again, to make sure the animal is safe. A vet is the best trained person to make sure the animal does not have internal damage that caused the breathing issues.
3. Blood from Extremities
If there is blood in sputum, vomit, excrement, nose, ears, eyes, or mouth, it’s important to find out why. Perhaps the animal was injured while out of your sight, and needs emergency procedures to live. Blood should never be taken lightly. Seek emergency care immediately if blood is found coming from an animal. There could be unseen internal injuries.
4. Inability to Toilet
If the animal has pain in urination or defecation, or can do neither, it’s important to find out why. The animal could have an issue larger than you can handle, and may need a doctor’s care. Animals often do not express pain, so an ongoing issue can progress to a life threatening problem without your knowledge.
5. Injury to Eyes
An animal’s eyes are structured differently than a human’s eyes. If the eye is injured, there could be internal damage to structures close to the brain. Asking a vet for help will save your pet further harm.
6. Eating Poison
Many things that are fine for humans are toxic for animals. Items such as antifreeze, multivitamins, chocolate, pest poison, and more are very dangerous. They are also items an animal will ingest willingly. Learn what items are poisonous to your pet and call a vet emergency service immediately if you suspect your animal has ingested any poisonous substance.
If an animal seizes, vet attention is required immediately. Staggering also falls under this category. These activities indicate a problem with the brain, and the animal needs immediate help. A vet can assess the situation, and might require more tests to find out how to best help the animal.
8. Lameness and Broken Bones
It’s never a good idea to allow an animal to “heal” when he or she displays leg issues. Allowing this to happen will cause the animal unnecessary pain later in life. Avoid these issues by taking the animal to the vet and help him or her live a longer, healthier, happier life.
9. Pain and Anxiety
As stated above, pets will not tell their humans when there is pain. If an animal is exhibiting signs of pain, it has progressed to a severe state and the animal must see a vet right away. Another method of expressing pain or illness is anxiety. If your normally happy dog suddenly snaps at your hand or does not welcome visitors, there might be a physical issue. Call a vet right away to have the animal evaluated to check for any possible pain. If you can pinpoint the area of the pain, it will help the vet’s diagnosis. Note the animal’s change in behavior and anxiety activities as well, as these notes will also help the vet.
10. Heat Stroke
As more stories of animals left in cars surface, so does the awareness of heat stroke. If an animal is suffering from heat stroke, he or she must see a vet immediately. Some signs of heat stroke are:
- panting excessively
- dark or bright red gums
- dry tongue
- staggering, stupor or seizures
- bloody diarrhea and/or vomiting
11. Severe Vomiting/Diarrhea
Many people like to wait these out, but either of these items in their severity will cause dehydration and death quickly. It’s important to find out why the animal is having this reaction. Take the animal to the vet, and try to remember what the animal has eaten. Consider any poisons the animal may have encountered using the poison list mentioned above. The information you can provide about your pet’s most recent activities will help the vet find out what’s wrong.
12. Refusal to Drink
An animal will drink consistently. If the animal has had nothing to drink in the past 24 hours, despite available water, take the animal to the vet. It’s important to understand your animal and keep the water dish clean, but even if the dish is dirty, an animal will eventually drink from it. Any refusal to do so over 24 hours is an indication of an emergency situation.
This item seems obvious, but some pet owners may think their animal is simply sleeping. If the animal cannot be roused from a sleep, contact a vet right away. The animal may have passed out. The vet will need to evaluate the animal to find out what could be happening to make the animal lose consciousness.