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Ten Most Common Pet Poisons
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
March 2006
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March 2006 News

Human medications - the number 1 poison in all petsEach year, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center receives tens of thousands of calls involving animal exposures to potentially poisonous substances. In 2005, the Center managed more than 100,000 calls pertaining to a seemingly inexhaustible variety of items. Below is a compilation of the types of calls that the Center assists with, listed in order of the frequency reported:

  1. Human Medications: In 2005, more than 46,000 calls involving common human drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements were managed by the Center. "Ingestions of certain medications could be very harmful or even fatal to pets," cautions Dr. Steven Hansen, Senior Vice-President of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. "Owners should never give their pet any medication without the direction of a veterinarian, as even 1 extra-strength acetaminophen can be deadly to a cat, and just 4 regular-strength ibuprofen can lead to serious kidney problems in a 10-pound dog." Medications should always be stored in a secure cabinet above the counter and out of the reach of pets.

  2. Insecticides: Over 21,000 cases pertaining to products used to kill fleas, ticks and other insects were handled last year. "While there are products for eliminating fleas, ticks and other pesky bugs that are safe for use in households with pets, a key factor in their safe use is reading and following label instructions exactly," advises Dr. Hansen. "Some species of animals can be particularly sensitive to certain types of insecticides, so it is vital to never use any product not specifically formulated for your pet." It is also a good idea to consult with your pet's veterinarian before beginning any flea and tick control program.

  3. Rodenticides: In 2005, approximately 6,900 calls about rat and mouse poisons were received. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestions can lead to potentially life-threatening problems including bleeding, seizures, or even damage to the kidneys or other vital organs. "Should pet owners opt to use a rodenticide around their home, they should make sure that the bait is placed only in areas completely inaccessible to their animals," Dr. Hansen instructs.

  4. Veterinary Medications: Close to 6,200 cases involving animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventives, dewormers, antibiotics, vaccines, and nutritional supplements were managed by the Center last year. "Although these products are formulated for use in pets, it is very important to always read and follow label directions for use exactly," advises Dr. Hansen. "As with flea and tick preparations, many medications are intended for use in certain species only, and potentially serious problems could result if given to the wrong animal or at too high of a dose."

  5. Household cleaners - 5th biggest pet poisonHousehold Cleaners: In 2005, approximately 5,200 calls pertaining to cleaning agents such as bleaches, detergents and disinfectants were received. "Household cleaners can be quite effective in disinfecting surfaces in the home when used appropriately," says Dr. Hansen, "but gastrointestinal irritation or even severe oral burns could result with some cleaners depending on the circumstances of exposure." Additionally, irritation to the respiratory tract may be possible if a product becomes inhaled. "All household cleaners and other chemicals should be stored in a secure location well out of the reach of pets," Dr. Hansen recommends. When cleaning your pet's food and water bowls, crate or other habitat, a mild soap such as a hand dishwashing detergent along with hot water is a good choice over products containing potentially harsh chemicals.

  6. Herbicicides: Around 4,600 calls pertaining to various types of herbicides came through the Center's lines last year. Most herbicides are considered to be relatively safe when used appropriately. However, directions such as "keep animals away from treated area until dry" need to be adhered to in order to avoid the potential for problems such as damage to desirable vegetation, minor skin irritation or stomach upset if ingested.

  7. Plants: Over 4,400 cases involving plants were handled by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in 2005, including such varieties as lilies, azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, kalanchoe and schefflera, among others. "There are many different species of plants that could be harmful to pets if consumed in large enough quantities," cautions Dr. Hansen. "For example, just one or two sago palm nuts can cause vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, and even liver failure, while lilies are highly toxic to cats and even in small amounts can produce life-threatening kidney failure." While poisonous plants should certainly be kept away from pets, it is also a good idea to discourage animals from nibbling on any variety, as even non-toxic plants could produce minor stomach upset if eaten.

  8. Chocolate: More than 2,600 chocolate calls were received by the Center last year. Depending on the type, chocolate can contain large amounts of fat and caffeine-like substances known as methylxanthines. If ingested in significant amounts, chocolate could potentially cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity and in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures, and could even be fatal. "Typically, the darker the chocolate, the greater the potential for poisoning," says Dr. Hansen. "Baking chocolate contains the highest amount of methylxanthines, and just two ounces could cause serious problems for a 10 pound dog."

  9. Home Improvement Products: In 2005, approximately 1,800 cases involving paint, solvents, expanding glues, and other physical hazards were managed. While the majority of water-based paints are low in toxic potential, stomach upset is still possible, and artist's paints can contain heavy metals that could be poisonous if consumed in a large quantity. Solvents can be very irritating to the gastrointestinal tract, eyes and skin, and could also produce central nervous system depression if ingested, or pneumonia if inhaled. "Prevention is really key to avoiding problems from accidental exposures," says Dr. Hansen. "Pet owners should keep pets out of areas where home improvement projects are occurring, and of course, label directions should always be followed when using any product."Fertilizers - 10th biggest pet poison

  10. Fertilizers: More than 1,700 calls pertaining to plant fertilizers were handled last year. In general, most fertilizers are fairly low in toxicity. However, the consumption of significant amounts can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. Additionally, some fertilizer formulations may also contain insecticides, which could potentially lead to further problems if eaten.

For more information on other substances potentially hazardous to animals, log onto: www.aspca.org/apcc.

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