We love our pets and want to keep them healthy and happy. But sometimes accidents do happen! In 2015, the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) received 10,893 enquiries about known or suspected poisoning cases in animals.
So, why is poisoning so common?
We’ve all seen just how pets, particularly puppies and kittens, explore their environment with their mouths. From food to shoes, chew toys to grass – they love to put things in their mouths! So it’s easy to see how they might accidentally ingest something poisonous.
It’s not only by chewing though that poisons can be ‘eaten’. Pets, especially cats, spend a lot of time grooming themselves. Sometimes toxins that pets have brushed past get caught on their coats, and our pets can ingest them by licking them off their own coats, or that of another animal.
Pets can easily inhale toxic fumes too. Pesticides and smoke from household rubbish fires are a common cause of this type of poisoning.
It’s also quite easy for owners to make mistakes and accidentally gives their pets medication meant for themselves, or another pet.
Poisoning is so common in household pets partly because a lot of foods and toiletries considered safe in humans can be harmful to pets. You’ve probably heard of dogs being poisoned after eating chocolate or dried fruits, but did you know that xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in many products, from chewing gum to toothpaste, is also extremely toxic to dogs? Or that onions can cause anaemia?
What should you do if you think your pet may have been poisoned?
You might be suspicious that a pet has been exposed to something poisonous because you witnessed the event, for instance, a puppy chomping on a battery, or a cat or rabbit accidentally receiving flea prevention intended for dogs.
In such a case, contact your vet immediately for advice. Remember, that’s what they’re there for! The VPIS provides a 24-hour telephone emergency service to vets, and recently extended its daytime service to pet owners. If you are concerned that your pet might have been poisoned, the VPIS can advise you directly and work alongside your vet.
Of course, we don’t follow our pets everywhere. If you have a dog- or cat-flap, or if your dog ventures far away from you during a walk, you can’t always be sure they’re safe.
So, how might you recognize poisoning in a pet?
If your pet is behaving strangely, for example, they seem particularly sleepy, or startled, they may have accidentally been poisoned. If their movement or posture becomes wobbly or uncoordinated this can be another indicator. Some pets may have a seizure (a fit), or they may tremble. You might also notice signs such as an upset tummy.
Seek advice from your vet immediately if you notice anything unusual. Your vet will work with you to establish whether your pet has been poisoned and, if so, with what. They’ll ask you about your pet’s recent activities.
Some of the most important questions your vet will ask are:
• Where have you exercised your dog?
• Was paddling or swimming involved?
• Can your indoor cat get into your garage?
• Does your pet have access to your bag?
• Have any pets in the household received any treatments or supplements?
• Has anything like this happened before?
Your vet will perform a detailed clinical examination and may suggest taking samples of blood and urine to help reach a diagnosis. Remember, poisoning can be very dangerous for your pet -even if you’re not sure whether Fido or Kitty has been poisoned it’s always worth a quick call to your vet.
There’s a wealth of knowledge regarding treatment and prognosis in poisoning cases. By providing as much information as possible when seeking expert help, you’ll have contributed to getting the best outcome for your pet.