(Original Post Date: 5/2/14)
The next topic in our series of toxic exposures are household items that we often use on a regular basis. There are several household items that our pets can get into that can be very dangerous to them. All potentially hazardous products and materials must be made unavailable at all times in order to protect any curious dogs or cats.
Most household surface cleaners are generally non-toxic, and may only cause mild digestive upset. Concentrated cleaners, however, are more dangerous and can cause erosion and burning of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. They include cleaners or bleach labeled as "ultra," toilet bowl cleaners, and oven cleaners. It is important to NOT induce vomiting, as this can cause further damage. Instead, the pet's mouth should be flushed out with water.
Batteries can also cause erosion and ulceration of the mouth and digestive tract, especially if they are bitten into. All batteries are dangerous, but lithium batteries are the most damage and within the shortest time period (severe tissue damage can occur within 30 minutes of exposure to the chemicals within these batteries). Vomiting induction is not recommended, and often the battery needs to be removed either with surgery or endoscopy to prevent further damage. Anti-ulcer medications and possibly pain medications are used as treatment.
Fire starter logs do not usually contain toxic substances, but they can cause a risk of blockage in the stomach or intestines, as they do not get digested or broken down in a pet's stomach.
Liquid fuels (gasoline, kerosene, paint solvents, wood stains, etc.) cause digestive upset, but their fumes can cause respiratory problems. It is important to not induce vomiting, due the risk of inhaling the fuel, causing pneumonia. It is important to monitor a pet's breathing and for coughing even for a few days after ingestion in order to look for evidence of respiratory damage. Treatment consists of anti-vomiting medications and supportive care for any respiratory symptoms.
Unless a pet has eaten it directly from the bag, traditional fertilizer rarely causes toxicity. The chemical applied to grass is usually quickly washed off, and a pet that eats treated grass may only develop mild digestive signs if any at all. However, organic fertilizers actually pose a greater risk to pets. They often contain bone or blood meal, which pets may find appetizing, possibly resulting in ingestion of a large quantity. This can cause pancreatitis or an obstruction. Signs of these are vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or lack of appetite. Also, blood and bone meals are often mixed with other, more toxic chemicals.
Oxidizer packs are found in foods (such as beef jerky) to absorb oxygen. They are also found in unused hand warmers. They contain iron (black powder in the packs), which in high enough quantities, can cause iron toxicity. Depending on the dose ingested, the effects can range from mild digestive upset to organ failure. These oxidizer packs differ from silica gel packs (usually labeled "Do not eat"), which usually contain sandy white or yellow beads, and are not poisonous.
There are several different types of rat poisons (rodenticides), and unfortunately, some are designed to be edible. If there is any suspicion that a dog or cat has consumed a rodenticide, it is important to bring the package to the veterinarian in order to determine the active ingredients, amount that could have been ingested, and the amount of the ingredient. The active ingredient cannot be identified by its appearance alone. Some rodenticides prevent blood from clotting, which can lead to excessive bleeding, either externally or internally (into the lungs, abdomen, etc.) Symptoms of intoxication do not occur until 3-5 days after ingestion. Affected animals may be lethargic, have pale gums, bruising, unexplained or prolonged bleeding, or coughing.
Other, newer types of rodenticides (bromethalin and cholecalciferol) are more deadly. Bromethalin toxicity causes symptoms in 2-24 hours (depending on the amount ingested) and affect the nervous system. Symptoms include abnormal behavior, trouble walking, tremors, and seizures. Cholecalciferol causes high levels of calcium and phosphorus, leading to kidney failure. Animals will develop signs of lethargic, increased drinking and urinating, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. Aggressive treatment is needed for these types of rodenticides, and prognosis is guarded.
Ethylene glycol is the toxic ingredient in antifreeze. Due to its sweet taste, it is attractive to animals. The first stage of toxicity occurs within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion. Animals can start with increased thirst and urination, then develop into signs of depression, incoordination, trouble walking, even seizures or coma. The second stage causes signs of increased breathing and heart rate.
The final stage occurs about 24-72 hours after ingestion, as kidney failure worsens. Symptoms include vomiting, decreased appetite, severe depression, and decreased urine production. An antidote is available, but must be started within eight hours of ingestion in order to be effective. Other treatment consists of intravenous fluids, digestive protectants, and other supportive care for kidney failure.