What can poison your pets and what to do if it happens

I read a sad story this week. Two dogs were accidentally killed in Lincoln, Maine when they ate some bread sprinkled with a poison called Lannate. It appears that a local farmer may have been trying to get rid of some crows and his neighbor’s dogs got into the bread.

According to an article by BDN reporter Nick Sambides Jr., the neighbor was walking her “dogs without a leash on the border of the farm field on April 23 when the dogs ran ahead and ate pieces of bread. The dogs, she said, immediately began foaming at the mouth and staggering. Both died shortly thereafter, [Dan] Summers [Lincoln’s public safety director] said.”

The deaths are considered an accident — you can read all the details in Nick’s article. It made me think about how lots of people, not just farmers, use pesticides to get rid of all sorts of pests. They use them outside and inside. They even put pesticides on their pets to protect them against fleas and ticks.

Anytime you use a pesticide you need to consider animals that might be in or near the vicinity. The chemicals all have the potential to hurt, sometimes kill, animals (and people) if they aren’t used properly.

Lannate is a brand name for a broad spectrum insecticide called Methomyl. It’s highly toxic to all kinds of creatures, including humans. Nowadays, pesticides tend to be more specific. Something that might kill fleas, for instance, won’t be toxic to dogs or cats (when used properly, but more on that in a moment.)

dog and cat

werner22brigitte / Pixabay

Most common pet poisonings

Dr. Thomas Netland, who owns Cumberland Animal Clinic in Cumberland Center, Maine, says broad-spectrum pesticides are not used as much as they once were, so he doesn’t see many poisonings from them. But he still gets some. “When you get into chemicals and pesticides like that,” he says, “the ones we still run into the most frequently are the rodenticides — rat and mice poisons. They tend to cause bleeding disorders.”

Even little rat and mice traps can cause a problem. Use them if you must, but make sure your pets can’t get access to them. “They vary,” says Dr. Netland. “Some are much more toxic than others, but it’s a pretty common poisoning that we see.”

The second most common poisoning is flea and tick medicine that is used on the wrong animal. “Using a flea and tick medicine on a cat that’s meant for a dog. That’s a fairly common scenario that can really have some pretty serious consequences,” he says. “Cats are not small dogs and some of the pesticides that are very safe for dogs are quite toxic for cats. It’s never ok to use a dog flea and tick product on a cat.”

The third type of poisoning that Dr. Netland often sees does not fall into the pesticide category. It’s pets eating drugs meant for humans, in particular, painkillers.

Two more things he would add to the list:

  • Chocolate. It’s poison for dogs
  • Antifreeze. Apparently, it’s tasty. Fortunately, he doesn’t see many cases of antifreeze poisonings anymore.

Veterinarians are more likely to see poisonings in dogs because dogs will eat just about anything. “Cats are less likely to be poisoned in that way,” says Dr. Netland, “because they tend to be more fastidious about what they eat. The big ones for cats would be people applying insecticides meant for dogs. The second one for cats is stuff they may walk in because they groom and clean themselves. If they have something on their feet they often will lick it off.”

Pet Poison Helpline created this infographic to help make people aware of common household and yard items that are potentially poisonous.

pet poison infographic

What to do if your pet gets poisoned

Symptoms of poisoning will depend on what kind of poison the animal swallowed. According to petMD they include:

  • Generalized lethargy
  • Malaise
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Nausea
  • Agitation
  • Excessive sedation
  • Tremors
  • Twitching
  • Seizures
  • Coma

The first thing you should do if you suspect your pet has been poisoned is to call your vet, an emergency animal clinic or a pet poison hotline. The ASPCA has a 24-hour hotline: 1-888-426-4435 ($65 fee). The Pet Poison Helpline is also available 24/7: 855-764-7661 ($49 fee).

Try to move your pet away from the poison, but do it safely. It may also be harmful to humans. Unless the vet tells you to, don’t try to make your pet vomit because sometimes it can make things worse.

dogs running

Counselling / Pixabay

One more thing about prevention

You can’t be watching your pets every single minute, but Dr. Netland says supervision is a good thing — especially with dogs. If they go out unleashed, it’s important to train them to come when you call. It could save your dog’s life. “People may say their dogs are under voice command and they’re really not,” he explains. “Maybe they would normally come if the owner calls them but if they see something that is very tasty or another pet or something they may not respond to the owner’s voice. If you truly have a dog that you can call and they’ll come in spite of temptations, then that’s one thing, But if you have a dog that’s going to just run off, you have to be aware that they can get into trouble.”

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.