Ever hear the phrase “fur babies?” It’s become a pop culture reference to our fuzzy pet friends with whom we share our homes, hearts and lives. More than a clever name, this way of thinking about our pets serves an important purpose in keeping them safe.
“Pets should be seen like they are children,” says veterinarian owner of Westside Animal Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., Dr. William (Bill) Murphy. “When it comes to pet poisoning, it’s up to us to protect them. They don’t know something is bad.”
In his practice, Murphy sees most poisoning cases when pets ingest common things — items that are not toxic to humans, but toxic to pets. Tylenol, for instance, can kill cats.
“Tylenol poisoning can be treated, but only if you get to it quickly,” he says.
The artificial sweetener xylitol is another dangerous offender because it shows up in so many processed foods. It’s horrible for animals and makes them hypoglycemic, Murphy says. It’s especially problematic because it shows up in seemingly innocuous consumables. Dogs ingest it when they find it on sidewalks, usually spat out by a careless human. It’s also used in diet peanut butters, which a pet owner may offer as a treat, unaware of the danger.
A grape may sound like a healthy treat, but it should be avoided. Grapes and all types of raisins (such as sultanas, currents and golden) risk causing kidney failure in a dog.
Murphy also sees human medications as problematic.
“People give pets human medicine,” Murphy says. “Many of these reach a toxic dose before a therapeutic dose in pets. Always, always, always talk to your vet before administering your pet medicine.”
In addition to items that are generally safe for people, but not pets, Murphy offers a list of other common, overlooked household goods that when ingested can put a pet’s life in danger.
• Trash or laundry. “Stinky is very attractive to a dog,” Murphy warns. “Worse yet is eating a sanitary napkin or the bottom of a meat package. Both these products swell inside the stomach.”
• Fat. Dogs do not handle fat well. Too much can cause pancreatitis.
• Bones. Murphy explains that bones can perforate interior organs.
• Tobacco or marijuana. Exposure to smoke from cigarettes or weed can burn a dog or cat’s sinuses. “Exposing pets to smoke is abusive,” Murphy says.
• Antifreeze. Antifreeze smells sweet and enticing but destroys the kidneys.
• Rat poison. Rat poison is toxic by design. It attracts animals to encourage consumption.
Plants represent another category of toxic consumables for pets. Murphy warns that lilies and cats do not mix. Cats that chew a few leaves may die from exposure. Crocuses will destroy a cat’s liver and kidneys. Azaleas and oleanders, a popular plant in the South and West, are also toxic. Tulips, aloe vera, rubber trees and asparagus ferns are not fatal, but can cause uncomfortable blisters in the mouth.
Poisoned Pet? Do This.
In the event a person suspects their pet has ingested something toxic, there are specific things that can be done to increase the odds for a positive outcome. Murphy says a pet owner’s first step should be to call poison control, a vet or an emergency vet.
“Let them know you are calling for a poisoning, so you get prioritized,” Murphy says. “You want to get the toxic substance out before it’s absorbed. At our practice we have some very handy treatments that are quite effective, including one that we drop in the eye.”
One thing a pet owner should not do is induce vomiting. According to Murphy, it’s safer to keep a toxin in the stomach. Vomiting risks aspiration and caustic exposure to the throat. Above all, do not use hydrogen peroxide, which Murphy says causes gut issues and simply adds another problem on top of the poisoning.
Is there such a thing as a best treatment for pet poisoning? Murphy says yes.
“Prevention is really the best treatment of all.”