As pet owners, we’d do anything to protect our pets. So it’s important to have a good knowledge of what common household items are poisonous or toxic to our dogs and cats, and to know what to do should exposure occur. This is the first part of a series, and will cover chocolate, paracetamol and ibuprofen, lilies, bleach and antifreeze.
This brief and by no means all-inclusive guide is intended for general educational purposes, and NOT to be used in emergency situations. If your pet has come into contact with something which you are concerned could be toxic, contact your local vets immediately – it could save a life.
BUT – if this is not the case and you are simply looking to become a better-informed pet parent, then read on.
Pet Poison 1: Chocolate
- Toxicity depends on the amount ingested, and how big (or small) your pet is.
- I have absolutely seen pet parents waste time and money bringing their pets for emergency consults where a miniscule and totally insignificant amount of chocolate has been consumed. For example, if your Labrador steals a single treat-sized Mars bar trust me, we ain’t going to do anything about it.
- VetsNow have a very useful chocolate toxicity calculator which you can use to assess whether your dog is likely to need veterinary attention:
- Cats are usually not stupid enough to eat chocolate.
Pet Poison 2: Paracetamol
- Highly toxic for cats, who can’t safely metabolise it.
- If your cat eats any paracetamol at all – even a tiny amount – get them to the vets ASAP (ideally within 30 minutes so the vet can make them vomit).
- They are then going to need to stay in on fluids and an acetylcysteine (antedote) drip.
- For any dog with no pre-existing liver problems, paracetamol is a fairly safe drug and a mild or moderate one-off overdose is unlikely to cause lasting harm.
- I regularly prescribe paracetamol 10mg/kg every 8-12 hours for long term use, and up to 20mg/kg per dose for short term use…this equates in practice to one 500mg tablet twice daily, for a 35kg dog.
- A single dose of up to 50mg/kg is unlikely to do your dog any harm; that’s one 500mg tablet for a 10kg dog, for example. Any more than this and it’s safest to take your dog to the vet without delay.
Pet Poison 3: Ibuprofen
- Overdose can cause stomach ulcers, problems with blood clotting, and kidney damage in dogs and cats.
- The lowest toxic dose for dogs is 10mg/kg, and most ibuprofen tablets you get over the counter are 200mg.
- This means if a dog smaller than 20kg eats a single ibuprofen tablet, they need to see a vet, the sooner the better.
HOWEVER; for the sake of not fear-mongering, it is worth mentioning that in reality we don’t tend to see serious harm from ibuprofen at doses below 25mg/kg for cats, and 50mg/kg for dogs….this does not mean you shouldn’t take your pet to the vet, because there will always be exceptions…but it is reassuring to know.
Pet Poison 4: Lilies
- I double checked, and there is only one “L” in the middle 😉
- Cats are plantophiles and will absolutely rub their face on flowers if given the chance.
- If this happens, I don’t care how much your cat dislikes water, you need to immediately and thoroughly rinse the pollen off completely, until there’s no trace of it left.
- Then towel dry your pet, and take them to the vet, along with the lily itself in a plastic bag to help with identification. Even better if possible, bring the sticker that came on the lily packaging.
- Not every lily is actually toxic – in fact, some species are “false” lilies – so it is really helpful for your vet if you are able to tell them exactly what species of lily your pet has come into contact with.
- Toxic lilies cause an array of problems from eye irritation through to kidney failure. If in doubt, immediately consult your vet.
Pet Poison 5: Bleach
- There are a few different types of bleach out there but the most common type of household bleach is Sodium Hypochlorite.
- If your pet has bleach on their paws or body, rinse this immediately and thoroughly with lukewarm or cool water.
- If it’s in their eyes, you need to flush with cool water for a full 20 minutes.
- If your pet has ingested the bleach, do not do anything to cause them to vomit! This is extremely important as vomiting bleach with damage the oesophagus (food pipe) and, if accidentally inhaled into the lungs, will be fatal.
- Instead, immediately encourage your pet to drink milk with egg whites quickly whisked in if you have any. If you don’t have any, encouraging them to drink water is the next best thing.
Of course, these are all just first aid measures that you can do quickly at home, before the next obvious step – which is taking your pet to the vet as soon as possible.
Pet Poison 6: Antifreeze
- Antifreeze toxicity tends to be a very seasonal epidemic, and may not be something you need to worry about if you live somewhere where temperatures do not drop below freezing.
- Unfortunately often licked up by cats in the winter months; they tend to like it because of it’s sweet, sugary taste.
- Antifreeze forms crystals in the kidneys, damaging the tissues and causing kidney failure.
- Alcohol will actually bind antifreeze, preventing it from being able to form crystals and allowing it to pass through the kidneys and out of the body in the urine without causing harm.
- Every vet practice I’ve worked in has kept an unopened bottle of vodka in the back…no, not for when times are hard…
- We administer vodka diluted in sterile saline as an IV drip for cats who have ingested antifreeze.
- Gives them a killer hangover, but the important thing is they survive.
- There is a better antidote for antifreeze than vodka. It’s called fomepizole but it’s really hard to get hold of…so, for UK vets at least, it’s often vodka or nothing.
- Unfortunately if untreated 3-4 teaspoons of antifreeze is fatal for a dog, and far less for cats, so if your pet has ingested antifreeze you should take them to the vets right away.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but I do not recommend that you attempt to treat a suspected antifreeze poisoning at home by getting your pet drunk. It likely won’t end well. Get ‘em to a vet ASAP.
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