New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL/WINTER 2001


Part One: Household Hazards

by Ardeth Baxter

Life is risky, and despite all your good intentions and precautions, your pet may suddenly need emergency care that will come initially from you. Are you familiar with the symptoms of poisoning, and what you can do if your dog or cat swallows a toxic substance? The following information is not intended to replace veterinary care or advice, but it may help keep your pet alive until you are able to reach a veterinarian. Always consult your veterinarian if in doubt about how to treat your pet, or when his condition appears too serious for you to handle.

Over 90% of the pet poisonings reported to poison control centers occur at home, and about 75% of these cases involve an animal eating or drinking something, and 1% to 2% of all pets that are poisoned die. Almost 90% of poisonings are unintentional. Approximately 20% of all poisonings are from insecticides, and about 15% from cleaning products. Of the drug poisonings, about one-fifth are from antibiotics, antivirals, or analgesics. Approximately 10% are poisoned by topical preparations. About 5.5% poisoned by drugs die.

A large number of household products are potentially toxic, but they fall into two basic categories: the first includes petroleum products, acids, and alkalis; and the second is everything else.

"Seldom Separated"
Lori Faye Bockís image for the
American Humane Associationís National Tag Day 2001.

  I. Household cleaners, drain cleaners, floor polish, furniture polish, lye, oven cleaner, paint remover, paint thinner, shoe polish, toilet bowel cleaner, floor and furniture wax, and wood preservative can all cause mouth, throat, and stomach burns if ingested. Symptoms of poisoning are bloody vomiting, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, shock, depression, coma, convulsions, coughing, abdominal pain, and redness around the mouth.


If you know that an acid was swallowed, rinse out your pet's mouth and administer an antacid (baking soda paste, Milk of Magnesia, Pepto-Bismol). If the substance is an alkali, use vinegar or lemon juice. Milk, egg whites, or vegetable oil can be used to absorb poison from the intestines. DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING because of the risk of a ruptured stomach or a burned esophagus.

Aspiration or inhalation of a petroleum product such as gasoline, kerosene, or turpentine can cause pneumonia and respiratory failure. Administer mineral or vegetable oil by mouth, followed in 30 minutes by Glauber's salt (sodium sulphate- 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds body weight) to delay absorption into the intestinal tract. DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. Artificial respiration or CPR may also be necessary.

II. Acetone, alcohol, antifreeze, strychnine, lead-based paint, aspirin (toxic to cats), chocolate, human medicines, bleach, cosmetics, crayons, DDT, deoderants, detergents, fabric softener, spoiled garbage, hair dye, magic markers, mothballs, wild mushrooms and other plants, perfume, pine oil, shellac, suntan lotions, fireworks, matches, rat and roach poison, gopher poison, snail and slug bait, and weed killer, among other products, can poison your pet. Common symptoms of ingestion are vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, collapse, coma, and convulsions.

Dr. Robert A. Gruda of Gruda Veterinary Hospital in Santa Fe cites antifreeze poisonings as the most common cases he's seen, with rat poison (warfarin) and gopher poison cases (strychnine) following.

Antifreeze: The sweet taste of antifreeze--or ethylene glycol--appeals to dogs and cats. Signs of toxicity are vomiting, drunken gait, weakness, mental depression, and coma, often leading to death. Animals who recover from antifreeze ingestion may have kidney damage.

Strychnine: This is used as a rat or gopher poison, and comes in colored pellets. The first signs of strychnine poisoning are agitation, excitability, and apprehension followed by painful seizures and cessation of breathing. Tapping the animal or clapping your hands can cause a seizure. Later symptoms are tremors, drooling, muscle spasms, leg paddling, and collapse. Cover the animal with a blanket, try not to touch him or make loud noises, and transport him to a veterinarian immediately.

Warfarin: A common rat poison, warfarin interferes with blood clotting, leading to hemorrhage. Some signs of warfarin poisoning are blood in the stool or urine and nosebleed. One dose of warfarin is usually not fatal. Vitamin K (for clotting) is an antidote.

Arsenic: Found in slug and snail baits, ant poisons, weed killers, and insecticides, arsenic ingestion can quickly kill. Signs of poisoning include excessive thirst, drooling, vomiting, staggering, intense stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea, paralysis, and garlic breath. Get to a veterinarian as soon as possible for administration of a specific arsenic antidote.

Lead: Lead poisoning can either be chronic (puppies and young dogs chewing on lead paint-coated substances) or acute. Lead is an ingredient in insecticides, paints, linoleum, batteries, golf balls, putty, roofing and plumbing materials. Ingestion can cause colic, vomiting, fits, an uncoordinated gait, excitation, continuous barking, hysteria, weakness, stupor, and blindness.

Aspirin or Acetaminophen: Even half a tablet can cause cats to experience breathing difficulties, liver and red blood cell damage, and head swelling.


The first step is to remove the poison from your pet's stomach by getting him to vomit. But DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING if over 2 hours have passed since ingestion, or if your pet is very depressed or comatose, has swallowed tranquilizers or a sharp object, is having seizures, or is unable to swallow.

Substances that will cause vomiting are syrup of ipecac (1 teaspoon per 10 pounds body weight), hydrogen peroxide (3%) and water (1-3 teaspoons, repeat every 10 minutes), mustard and water, or salt placed at the back of the tongue (as much as 1 tablespoon). To administer liquid to a cat, tilt the head back at a 45-degree angle and use a spoon or eyedropper to pour liquid into the side of his mouth, pulling out to form a pouch; jiggle the pouch or tap the nose to induce swallowing.

The second step is to delay absorption of the poison from the intestinal tract by coating it with a binding substance such as activated charcoal mixed with water (1 teaspoon per 2 pounds body weight). Never give activated charcoal if the animal is very depressed, comatose, unable to swallow or having seizures. Then wait 30 minutes and administer Glauber's salt (1 teaspoon per 10 pounds body weight) or Milk of Magnesia (1 teaspoon per 5 pounds body weight). An alternative is to get your pet to swallow milk, egg whites, or vegetable oil. The third step is a laxative or warm water enema to speed up elimination of the poison.

In all cases of poisoning, try to keep your pet warm and quiet. If he shows signs of shock (pale gums, weak, rapid pulse, rapid breathing, skin cold to touch), wrap him in a blanket and transport him to a veterinary clinic. If you notice signs of nervous system involvement, then it's too late to try the above treatments; you must get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If possible, bring a sample of his vomit as well as the poison in its original container for analysis. If you know what your pet has ingested but you're not sure if it's poisonous, call the Poison Control Center (listed in the front of most telephone directories) or your hospital emergency room and ask. The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center hotline (which charges a $45-per-case fee, but is available 24 hours a day) is 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435).

Poisoning statistics:
"Veterinary and Human Toxicology", Carl Hornfeldt and Michael J. Murphy, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Books on Dog and Cat Health:
"Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook" and "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook", Delbert G. Carlson, D.V.M. and James M. Giffin, M.D.

"Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats" by Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D. & Susan Hubble Pitcairn.

Part Two of Pet Poisons (Perilous Plants,
Sometimes) Fatal Foods, and Christmas Risks)

For a printable PDF (124KB) called "What You Should Know About Common Pet Perils" that includes plants, foods, household chemicals, frostbite, heat stroke, burns, insect stings, snake bites, and swallowed foreign objects,
please click here.

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