While most people realize that poisonous substances are harmful to pets, they may not be aware of just how many of them there are. Many plants and products are assumed to be harmless, but they can actually produce serious disease or even death in dogs and cats. A good example is the buttercup plant, it may look harmless but the leaves are extremely poisonous.
If this is an emergency
Please contact your Veterinarian/Emergency Veterinary Hospital or the Pet Poison Help Line.
Some of the more common poisons harmful to pets, are as follows:
Phenol is commonly used as a wood preservative or as a disinfectant. Examples of some products containing phenol are: creosote, carbolic acid, Lysol and pine tar.
Kerosene and other Petroleum Distillates
Some examples of compounds in this group are: charcoal lighting fluid, paint thinner, ether, naphtha, fuel and lubricating oil, lacquer thinner as well as rubber solvents. Fuel, solvents and cleaning agents are common vehicles for garden sprays and insecticides.
Phenoxy herbicides are often used as weed killers. Dogs are particularly sensitive to this group of poisons.
Metaldehyde is often used in snail and slug bait. This bait should be placed in areas that cannot be accessed by dogs, cats or other animals. Because of the dangerous nature of this substance, other less hazardous methods of snail and slug control should be used (see "Avoiding the problem").
Organophosphates and Carbamates
Organophosphates and carbamates are two large groups of insecticides or parasiticides.
Some commonly used rat poisons are arsenic, warfarin, red squill and ANTU. However, because poisoning causes unimaginable pain and often results in the secondary poisoning of non-target animals, toxic substances to control rodents (and insects) should not be used. There are more effective, humane alternatives, such as live traps, available. (If a rat poison is used, ensure that animals, other than rats, cannot get near the poison and that dead rats are immediately and appropriately disposed of.)
Two common substances that contain ethylene glycol are antifreeze and brake fluid. Animals are attracted to this toxic substance due to its sweet taste. Ethylene glycol, if ingested by an animal, causes server and often irreparable kidney damage within a short period of time. For this reason it is very important that substances containing ethylene glycol that are spilt should be thoroughly and immediately cleaned up. Antifreeze left in the toilet bowl at the cottage to prevent freezing over the winter must be made inaccessible to the family pets (and children).
There are more than 700 plants that have been identified as producing physiologically active or toxic substances that can be harmful to animals. Contact your veterinarian and/or the poison control centre to find out information on the poisonous properties of a particular plant.
Due to the large number of potentially toxic substances, there can be any number of symptoms present. If you suspect that your pet has ingested, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled a toxic material, you may see one or more of the following signs:
- Vomiting, diarrhea
- Staggering, incoordination
- Breathing difficulties
- Collapse, death
If your pet has been poisoned, it is important that you act quickly and responsibility. Have the phone numbers of your veterinarian and poison control centre nearby. If an animal has, or appears to have, been poisoned, call your veterinarian immediately for advice. If you are sure of the toxic substance the animal has come in contact with and the animal is not showing any adverse symptoms, you might contact the poison control centre. However, if the animal is behaving abnormally or appears ill, then contact a veterinarian at once for instructions. Have the name of the active ingredient or the plant at hand and, if possible, a rough idea of amount ingested, inhaled or absorbed, as well as the time the poisoning occurred.
Avoiding the problem
Often, tragic cases of poisoning can be avoided by simply being careful. Ensuring that all toxic substances are locked away when not being used is important. Immediately cleaning up any spilt toxic substances is also vital.
Simply reducing the amount of toxic substances used is another way of reducing the chances of your pet being accidentally poisoned. For example, a good alternative to using metaldehyde baits for controlling snails and slugs is simply to bury jar lids or small containers. Snails and slugs are attracted to the fermented liquid and literally "drown in their own drink".