What to do if you suspect your pet has been poisoned…
Poisonous substances can come in all sorts of forms: many items which are safe for humans are dangerous for pets! Please see our first aid advice below, or for DOGS and CATS ONLY, use our poisons guide.
Poisonous items include:
- Any medications – including your pet’s medication if an overdose is suspected or if the medication is given via the wrong route! For example, a topical medication could be eaten by your pet or accidentally administered orally.
- Pesticides, weed killers and rodenticides (also consider this if your pet is seen eating a rodent or animal which may have been killed by a rodenticide).
- Many chemicals including anti-freeze, disinfectants, and beauty products.
- Food items – the list is endless! Common foods include chocolate, raisins, grapes, onions, garlic, avocado, products containing xylitol, alcohol, products containing caffeine and mouldy food items. Remember that food items that may not be poisonous can lead to other problems such as gastrointestinal upsets or pancreatitis.
Animals can be poisoned through different routes including:
- Ingestion (eating something toxic)
- Absorption through the skin (e.g. walking through spilled chemicals)
- Injection (e.g. insect stings, snake bites)
- Inhalation (e.g. carbon monoxide poisoning). Birds are particularly vulnerable to gases and aerosols so the use of these around birds should be avoided.
Symptoms of poisoning include:
- Profuse dribbling
- Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Skin ulcerations or ulcerations of the mouth and tongue
- Swelling (particularly if bitten by a snake)
- Confusion or anxiety
- Flickering of the eyes
- Increased breathing rate
- Increased heart rate
- Stumbling/staggering around or appearing off-balance
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Jaundiced appearance of the eyes and gums
What to do if your pet has been poisoned
1. Check for danger – especially if you are unsure of the source of poisoning. If out and about, consider the possibility of the presence of a snake or a chemical that is harmful to humans.
2. If you suspect your pet has inhaled something harmful (such as carbon monoxide) or if there is any hazardous substance such as spilled unidentified liquid present, do not risk your own safety. Ventilate the area if possible. You may need to call 999 and ask for the fire service if you suspect danger.
3. Stay calm and approach your pet quietly, reassuring him or her. If you suspect that your animal has come into contact with a toxic chemical or substance, try to avoid touching your pet without any protection. Wear gloves if you have them to hand, or create a barrier with whatever you have (coats, blankets).
4. Call your vet immediately, even if your pet appears to be well. Advise them that you believe your pet has been poisoned and of what the cause might be. Inform them of any symptoms your pet is showing and the approximate time that the pet may have been poisoned. Keep hold of any packaging – this will provide useful information to your vet.
5. Flush any chemical residue from your pet’s fur with plenty of tepid water.
6. Try to stop your pet from licking it’s fur – use a buster collar if you have one to hand.
7. Do not make your pet sick unless otherwise advised to by your vet.
8. Do not feed your pet.
9. Get to the vet as quickly as possible. Poisoning cases are time-critical so any damage caused can be greatly reduced or avoided if the pet is seen immediately.
What to expect at the vets
- Depending on the situation, it is likely that your vet will want to see your pet as quickly as possible. In some cases, you may be referred to another clinic to ensure prompt, accurate treatment can be given.
- The vet will assess your pet and establish any relevant information. You may be asked questions about the incident itself, such as what the poisonous substance was, how much was involved, and when it occurred. Other questions may include your pet’s age, when it last ate, existing medical conditions and any other medication your pet may be receiving.
- Depending on the toxin and how long ago it was eaten, your vet may want to make your pet sick. It is important not to try to do this as home, as this is contraindicated with some substances.
- Your vet may call a poisons advice line if they are less familiar with the product your pet has come into contact with. It is useful for them to have any packaging or information about the toxic substance available when they make this phone call.
- The vet may wish to perform blood tests to check the function of different organs and blood components. Different toxins affect different systems, whilst some affect several systems simultaneously. Some poisonous items may not cause their maximum effect immediately, so blood tests may need to be repeated at intervals.
- Hospitalisation for your pet may be required so that they can be closely monitored and medicated. This will usually include fluid therapy to help support vital organs such as the kidneys.
- Your pet may require medications at home in the days following discharge from hospital. It is important that you follow any instructions carefully and complete the medication courses.
- Your vet may wish to see your pet for a check-up – it is important that your pet attends, even if he or she seems well! Specific indicators of an on-going problem may not be obvious to you, but your vet will be looking for these.