What poisons are used on dogs?
The most commonly used poisons are organophosphates (malathion, disufloton, acephate, parathion), carbamates (Aldicarb, Temik/‘two-step’) and rat poison. Organophosphates and carbamates are insecticides used for both agricultural and household applications. Temik is often used despite being a restricted substance, and may be combined with other substances. The tiny bluish-black granules, which are white on the inside when crushed, are commonly hidden in something tasty such as a piece of sausage, polony, meat or bread. Clinical signs of poisoning start within minutes to hours after exposure to the poison. Temik can kill dogs very quickly or even suddenly due to a build-up of secretions in and/or paralysis of the breathing system.
Symptoms of ‘two-step’ poisoning can include the following:
- Excessive drooling, runny nose or tearing of the eyes
- Pinpoint pupils
- Vomiting, diarrhoea
- Difficulty breathing, very fast breathing or coughing up slime (excessive secretions in the airways)
- Abnormally slow heart rate
- Muscle tremors, shaking, twitching, weakness or loss of balance
- Convulsions, seizures
- Disorientation, unconsciousness
The complication of rat poison
Rodenticides are also sometimes used, either alone or in combination with other poisons. Rat poison is available in several pelleted and cake forms and is sold under different brand names. One particularly important difference from other poisons is that it is designed to start causing signs of poisoning only three to seven days after being ingested, after which death can occur quickly.
Remember that your dog doesn’t necessarily have to eat the poison itself; they can also be poisoned by eating or chewing another animal that has eaten the poison. Rats can travel quite far in a short amount of time and it is not uncommon for them to ingest poison at one house and scavenge a few blocks away to succumb or be caught at another house. Both first and second (longer acting, more toxic) generation coumarin and warfarin products are ‘blood thinners’ – they prevent blood clotting, which both prevents and stops bleeding. Clinical signs are thus related to bleeding, but keep in mind that you may not necessarily see any blood as the bleeding is often internal, i.e. into the stomach and chest cavities.
Typical signs of rodenticide poisoning include:
- Lethargy, weakness, exercise intolerance
- Pale gums
- Bleeding or bruising of the gums or skin
- Bleeding from the nose
- Prolonged bleeding without stopping, from minor wounds or scratches
- If bleeding occurs into the joints, you may notice limping and/or swollen joints
- If bleeding occurs into the lungs, you may notice coughing or difficulty breathing
- Bloody diarrhoea or dark ‘tarry’ faeces, vomiting blood
What to do if you think your dog has been poisoned
Time is of the essence when discovering a poisoning – the faster you act the better your dog’s chances of survival, although there are never any guarantees. Follow these steps immediately:
- Remain calm and focus on what you need to do, but do not waste any unnecessary time.
- Have someone phone the vet to tell them you are on your way or, if you are alone, phone the vet in between the following actions.
- Vomit and excretions often contain some of the poison – keep all animals, children and uninformed persons away from these excretions. Confine your dog in a small room or courtyard if necessary; ideally an area with a tiled floor as it will be easier to clean afterwards. Keep in mind that some poisons can be absorbed via the skin – take extra care when handling your dog if it has soiled itself. Wear gloves if possible and wash any areas of exposed skin that come into contact with the excretions.
- Remember that poisonings are often a preparatory step for a premeditated crime – notify your security company or the police immediately.
- DO NOT try to dose any home remedies (e.g. eggs, milk, etc.) – these are ineffective and will only serve to waste valuable time in getting your dog to the vet. Activated charcoal may absorb some poisons, but getting your dog to the vet ASAP should take preference above the potential benefit of dosing activated charcoal.
- Preferably do not try to induce vomiting – consider doing so only in extreme circumstances.*
- Get your dog into the car and rush to the vet. Use an old blanket or towel as a stretcher to carry your dog if it is unable to walk by itself. Be careful if your dog is convulsing or otherwise not fully conscious – you may get bitten accidentally.
- When arriving at the vet, try to remember how long ago you discovered the poisoning, which symptoms presented and everything you have done since discovering the poisoning. The vet will choose the correct treatment protocol based on clinical signs and the information you provide.
*When can I induce vomiting?
As stated, it is not advisable to induce vomiting as at-home methods are often ineffective and will likely end up wasting valuable time. Only consider it when instructed to do so by the vet or otherwise in extreme circumstances where you are unable to get your dog to the vet immediately and have no other option. Furthermore, inducing vomiting, if successful, will only buy you some more time – you must still rush your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Do not induce vomiting if your dog has vomited already
Only consider inducing vomiting if your dog is fully conscious, not having seizures or convulsions, not having any difficulty breathing and able to swallow. If at any point in time your dog develops these signs, stop immediately and rush your dog to the vet. If you are not successful after a maximum of 10 minutes, stop and rush your dog to the vet. Do not let your dog or any other animals re-ingest the vomit.
Do not induce vomiting if your dog is showing signs of rat poisoning (such as bleeding) – it takes several days to start showing signs, by which time the poison will have already moved out of the stomach.
How to induce vomiting
Prepare a ball of high-foaming washing powder mixed with a small amount of water to form a paste and force it down your dog’s throat. Alternatively you can prepare a 50/50 solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water. Measure 1 ml per kg of bodyweight (e.g. 6 ml if your dog weighs 6 kg, 20 ml if your dog weighs 20 kg) and force it down your dog’s throat. Do not repeat this procedure more than twice.
Safely cleaning up afterwards
Cleaning up afterwards is a messy and likely emotional job.
- Protect yourself! The poison is just as dangerous to you as to your dog and can potentially be ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. Wear rubber gloves, protective clothing and closed shoes. Do not smoke, eat or drink, touch your face or handle any uncontaminated household articles before changing your clothes and thoroughly washing your hands and other exposed skin.
- Restrict access to all contaminated areas to only the persons cleaning up. These areas include any floor or surface that has been in contact with vomit, saliva, faeces or any other secretions. Do not allow any animals, children or uninformed persons into the area until it has been thoroughly cleaned.
- Collect all remaining poison and seal it in a plastic container. Sprinkle slaked lime over the area and water down the area as well as any run-off very well. Collect all solid waste and soiled articles and seal them in plastic containers.
- Brush a 10% solution of sodium bicarbonate into carpets, floors, furniture, doors and other household items that were in contact with the poison or excretions from your dog; leave for at least eight hours before washing off with water. Absorb the water into an absorbent material (wood-based cat litter pellets also work well) before washing a second time with a strong household detergent. Do not dispose of washing water in the drain or garden!
- Wash all washable items such as rugs, tablecloths, towels, cushions, etc. thoroughly in the washing machine.
- Contact your local municipality or Poison Information Centre for advice regarding the safe disposal of toxic waste.
- Seek medical attention immediately if you or a family member starts to feel ill during the cleaning process – you may have been exposed to the poison and started experiencing symptoms of poisoning yourself.
Prevention of poisoning
Keep the vet’s contact details and address saved on your cell phone as well as in an easy-to-find place in your home. If your usual vet does not have 24-hour facilities, find out which other practices in your area do and make sure to have their contact details ready at hand – you never know when you might end up needing them.
Frequently check all areas accessible to your dogs for any strange food sources and dispose of these immediately when found. Pay special attention to fence lines along your property as well as any areas where you think it might be easy to toss something over a fence/wall/hedge into your property.
Contact a dog trainer or behaviourist for advice on how to discourage your dog from eating anything other than their usual food or taking titbits from strangers.
Pay attention when taking your dogs for a walk and do not let them chew or eat anything they find. Do not let your dogs off to rummage around for strange things to eat in overgrown areas, bushes or shrubbery – stick to pathways and pavements and keep your dogs on a leash.
Discourage all animals in your household from catching, chewing or eating any rodents and pick up and dispose of any dead rodents in your yard or house as soon as you find them.
Reconsider your use of rodenticides and ask your neighbours to do the same. It’s not just family pets that may be negatively affected, but also birds of prey and other predatory animals that feed on rodents. If you have a mouse or rat problem, rather use a humane trap and ask for advice from your nearest owl or raptor rescue centre.
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