It’s a big, tasty world out there. At least that’s what your dog or cat may think. Our pets are curious creatures and our environment presents them many challenges and opportunities. Being scavengers and opportunists, not to mention always hungry, ingestion of plants, foods, objects is part of their every day. While most foods and plants are relatively innocuous, how do you address a potentially dangerous ingestion?
The first step in any toxic ingestion is prevention! Avoiding hazardous situations in the first place is ideal. The ASPCA Poison Control Center fields tens of thousands of calls each year related to pets eating toxic substances. Most common are questions regarding plants. In the recent past we have discussed dangerous and not-so-dangerous plants and pets. The key is not having toxic plants within reach of pets, especially cats! The ASPCA maintains an extensive list of poisonous plants on their website—this is a great resource to consult when adding greenery to your home or garden.
While avoiding specific known toxic plants is important, take care to choose cut flowers carefully, especially those gifted to you. All true lilies are deadly to cats, even the pollen. Plants that are not on the list may not be quite so innocuous. Any plant has the potential to cause mild gastrointestinal signs, although these are not normally life-threatening. Grass is tasty, and loved by dogs and cats, but frequently returns to you as vomit on a rug.
What about a plant you don’t know? First stop your pet from eating it and then try to save a piece of the plant, or at the very least take photos of several parts of it. If your pet appears healthy and not affected by the incident, briefly consult the ASPCA plant website or other reliable horticultural identification resource. Remember that many plants look alike or may look different during stages of growth. Should the pet be ill or there be suspicion of toxicity, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible and have the plant samples and photos available for review.
While plants are amongst the most commonly ingested toxic materials, household cleaners and chemicals can pose a significant danger as well. First don’t panic. Understand what your pet ate and save any container (or take a picture) and consult your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-888-426-4435.
Many times pet parents are unaware of their pet eating a poisonous material. The most common signs of toxicity ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, lip-smacking, depression, and seizures. Changes in appetite, increased or decrease urination, yellowing of the gums, redness or paleness of the gums may also indicate toxicity exposure.
If you are pretty certain your pet has eaten something poisonous, be certain that your pet is breathing and behaving normally. Write down how much you think they ate and the product name and strength. This is especially important if rat poison or human medications are involved! Take pictures of the containers, too. Should the substance be on the pet’s fur, wash it off with mild soap and water, but only if safe to do so for both you and the pet. Call poison control or your veterinarian immediately. Do not try to make your dog vomit as this may be counterproductive, based upon what they ate, especially if a caustic substance or sedative was ingested. Follow poison control or your veterinarian’s directions.
Dan Teich, DVM, is medical director at District Veterinary Hospitals at Eastern Market and Navy Yard