You do your very best as a pet parent to keep your pets safe and healthy. But accidents (and curious pets) happen, and it’s possible that your cat or dog chewed, licked or swallowed something they shouldn’t have — or did they?
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether your pet did actually come in contact with something toxic, especially if you weren’t home or in the room at the time. Here are some signs to look for if you think your pet has been exposed to something poisonous and what to do about it.
Seek Treatment Immediately if Poisoning Is Suspected
For many toxins, getting your pet treatment and access to an antidote (if one’s available) as soon as possible is crucial for a good prognosis. If there is a possibility that your pet has consumed, inhaled, licked or otherwise been exposed to something toxic, immediately call your veterinarian or an after-hours emergency clinic, or one of the two animal poison control centers in North America:
Do this even if your pet is acting normal. The sooner you speak with a veterinary professional, the sooner you can take the appropriate action to help your pet.
Know the Signs of Poisoning
Different toxins have different effects on your pet’s body — some signs are subtle (e.g., lethargy, loss of appetite) and others are severe (e.g., vomiting, collapse, seizures). The severity and timing of signs depends on the toxin involved, but there are general signs that can suggest poisoning. They include:
- Vomiting or diarrhea, possibly with blood in their vomitus or feces
- Drooling excessively
- Trouble breathing
- Twitching, seizing or irregular body movements
- Changes in appetite, drinking or urinating
- Weakness or collapse
These signs could also be caused by something other than poisoning, so it’s important to have your pet checked by your veterinarian to determine the cause. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, take a complete history and possibly run laboratory tests to determine if your pet has been poisoned or if there is another medical condition causing their symptoms.
Tummy Bug or Toxin?
Vomiting is a common sign of poisoning, but pets can vomit for less scary reasons, too. Here are some things to look for and consider when you (and your veterinarian) are trying to determine whether the cause behind your pet’s vomiting is due to a toxin, another medical condition or because their stomach didn’t agree with something.
Do you see foreign material in the vomit? Check to see if your pet ate something they shouldn’t have like a toy, a sock, a paper towel, or something else they thought would be a good idea to chew on (and are now regretting). Also, see if any of the foreign material is potentially toxic (e.g., medication, rodenticide pellets). Some objects may be less obvious toxins; for example, dryer sheets contain chemicals that can be harmful if pets chew or ingest them. Contact an animal poison control center or your veterinarian if you aren’t sure whether something is poisonous or not.
Your veterinarian will also want to know the consistency and color of the vomit. Vomit can be chunky, granular, foamy, slimy or liquid and can vary in color, including clear, yellow, brown, green or red (or other colors if food dye is the source). Bright green- or teal-colored vomit suggests your pet ate mouse or rat poison, and red suggests bleeding is occurring in the stomach, esophagus or mouth.
Other information your veterinarian will need to know includes:
- Frequency (number of times, number of days or weeks)
- Time of day
- Brand and type of normal food
- Time since last meal and/or treats
- Anything unusual that might have been eaten
- Changes in appetite
- Any other symptoms or changes in behavior that you’ve noticed
If your pet is vomiting and they have other signs of poisoning (listed above) seek immediate veterinary care. Also seek veterinary attention if your pet vomits multiple times in one day or vomits for more than 24 consecutive hours. When in doubt, call your veterinarian. They can determine whether you need to bring your pet in to the clinic or monitor them at home.
Common Household Toxins
There are many objects that can be found around your home and yard that are toxic to cats and/or dogs and should be kept out of their reach. Common household toxins for cats include “true lilies” (e.g., tiger, day, Asiatic and Easter lilies), acetaminophen and dog flea and tick medication containing permethrin. For dogs, chocolate, grapes and products containing the artificial sweetener xylitol are commonly encountered toxins. Other household poisons include:
- Household, yard and automotive chemicals (e.g., insecticides, antifreeze, fertilizer)
- Certain house and garden plants (e.g., tulip bulbs, sago palms, oleanders)
- Rodenticides (mouse and rat poison)
- Pet and human medications (prescription and over-the-counter)
- Some human foods (e.g., coffee grounds, onions, macadamia nuts)
- Medicinal or recreational marijuana
- Animal-produced toxins (e.g., from toads, wasps, snakes)
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Hopefully your pet is never exposed to something toxic, but it’s important to know what to do if they are, and to have some supplies ready, just in case. As we mentioned above, the first thing to do is call a veterinarian or poison control center immediately. They can assist with how to get appropriate help for your pet.
If you own a dog, keep 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (and a syringe) in your medicine cabinet in case your veterinarian wants you to induce vomiting. It’s important not to induce vomiting unless directed by a veterinarian. Some toxins can damage the esophagus, mouth or nose, or be aspirated into lungs if vomiting is induced. Also, do not induce vomiting if your dog is unconscious, unable to stand, having trouble breathing or having a seizure. There are currently no at-home methods for inducing vomiting in cats.
If you know what toxin your pet was exposed to, bring the product packaging, the plant, the medicine or whatever it was with you to the clinic. Photos will also work if you can’t bring the toxin. This will help the veterinarian identify the toxin and start treatment as soon as possible. If your pet vomited, collect a sample in a clear plastic bag and bring it with you, as this may help with toxin identification.
Hopefully your pet will never be exposed to a toxin, but it’s important to know what to do if they are. Remember that calling your veterinarian, an after-hours emergency clinic, or an animal poison control center is the first thing you should do if you suspect your pet is poisoned, so they can receive appropriate care as soon as possible.
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