Chemicals in and around the home have become a part of everyday living, and as pets do not read warning labels, they are at risk of poisoning by ingesting or being exposed to these products. Before applying ANY chemicals to the garden, home or directly to the pet, it is important to fully understand the safety precautions that must be followed. For the safety of pets (and humans), these compounds should be stored in pet proof and child proof areas. In this handout, some of the more common toxins will be discussed - but all new products in the home should be treated with caution and package inserts and warning abided.
**** IMPORTANT NOTE : some products, such as snail & slug baits, rat poisons and herbicides (weed sprays) carry a "Pet Friendly" label, as bitterents have been added as a taste deterrent. Unfortunately, pets are rarely put off by bitterents and will consume the product regardless, resulting in fatal toxicity ****
These products often come as a colored cereal - based pellet designed to kill snails and slugs before they have a chance to consume garden plants. Poisoning can occur whether the pellets are eaten out of the garden or directly from the box in the shed. Even very finicky dogs (and sometimes cats, and occasionally horses and cows) find these pellets irresistible. There are three main toxins in snail baits, so bringing in the package the bait came in can be helpful in determining which bait has been consumed, as the therapy for the different baits varies. Metaldehyde and methiocarb are the active ingredients in most of the common baits, and are often seen in blue and green pellets or granule form, but can occasionally be purchased in liquid form. Only very small doses (less then 1 teaspoon per 4.5 kg) are required to result in toxicity. Signs of poisoning include drooling, foaming at the mouth, muscle twitches which develop into whole body tremors, increased body temperature, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and death. Treatment is aimed at removing toxin from the body, preventing further absorption, controlling tremors and preventing death from dehydration and overheating. Removing the pellets often involves emptying the stomach through vomiting or gastric lavage and cleaning out the colon via enemas, the latter two procedures often requiring a general anesthetic. Activated charcoal may be given by mouth or stomach tube to reduce toxin absorption. An intravenous fluid drip may be started to maintain hydration and maintain kidney function, and muscle relaxants, tranquilizers and / or general anesthetics may be required to control tremoring. If treatment has commenced early enough (ie before overheating and dehydration have damaged the brain and other organs permanently), recovery is possible.
Another product for the control of snails and slugs has recently entered the market, and has been advertised as being pet safe. This product is usually sold as a red pellet containing the active ingredient Iron EDTA. This chemical does not produce the severe shaking and tremoring noted with metaldehyde and methiocarb products. Instead, the iron component of these pellets causes damage to the cells lining the intestinal lining as well as the energy - producing mechanisms in other cells in the body. Initially, pets that have consumed this bait will display signs of gastrointestinal irritation, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea , followed in some pets by an apparent recovery. Unfortunately, pets may begin to show signs of toxicity within a day of "recovering", resulting in severe dehydration, weakness and occasionally seizures. Treatment of this toxicity involves removing unabsorbed toxin from the system through vomiting, gastric lavage and/ or enemas, absorption of toxin through activated charcoal administration, hydration support through intravenous fluids, as well as administration of medications to decrease intestinal damage, control nausea and bind absorbed iron.
Rodent baits are usually sold as cereal - based pellets or flavored blocks designed to be eaten by nuisance rodents. These toxins are known as anti-coagulants, as they interfere with the animal's ability to clot it's blood, resulting in fatal internal or external bleeding. Unlike snail pellet poisoning, there are no immediate effects, and animals which have consumed the toxin may not show any external signs for 5 to 7 days. These toxins interrupt the recycling of vitamin K1, which is vital to producing clotting factors (the chemicals in the blood that help to seal damaged vessels). Signs of toxicity vary depending on where bleeding has occurred, and can include cuts that will not stop bleeding, unexplained bruising, sudden lameness, difficulty breathing, swollen abdomen, rectal bleeding, vomiting or seizures, depending on where the bleeding has occurred.
Rat poisons vary in length of action, some of the older generation toxins, such as warfarin, lasting 7 - 10 days while newer, more potent toxins, such as brodificoum, may last 4 a 6 weeks. Another, currently only commercially available, poison has also been released which may produce phosgene gas to be released when animals are made to vomit, endangering humans in contact with the animal. Given the variety of poisons available, it is advisable to bring the packaging from the poison into the veterinarian in cases of suspected ingestion, as this can aid in identifying the active ingredient so appropriate care is commenced.
If an anticoagulant rodenticide has been consumed or has been suspected to be consumed, it is important to seek veterinary attention immediately. In animals which have only recently consumed the toxin (less then six hours before presentation), vomiting will be induced and activated charcoal administered in an effort to remove the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract and prevent further absorption. A blood test will then be collected approximately 72 hours after the approximate time of consumption, checking the Prothrombin Time (PT), assessing whether the clotting factors have been affected. If PT is normal, no further treatment is needed. In cases where it is prolonged (or where treatment was commenced after toxin had been absorbed, supplemental vitamin K1 will be administered, sometimes for several weeks, to combat the effects of the poison. 72 hours after the treatment has been completed, a PT test will be collected to verify success. This vitamin K1 treatment is different then the vitamin K supplements available in vitamins, and is only available as a prescription. In very severe cases, where clinical signs of bleeding have resulted from the poisoning, hospitalization, blood or plasma transfusions and supplemental oxygen may be required.
Glyphosate is classified as a low toxicity in pets and is generally safe for home use when used in an appropriate manner. Toxicity has been reported in animals which have been exposed to sprayed areas where the chemical has not been allowed to dry properly or has been mixed in a higher concentration then recommended by the manufacturer. Acute exposure can lead to salivation, lethargy, inappetance, vomiting and diarrhea due to irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Treatment usually involves supportive care to correct dehydration and protect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract via medication. As with all household chemicals, it is important to read and follow the manufacturer's guidelines for appropriate and safe use of the product.
Products designed to control insects come in a variety of sprays, gels, baits, sands, sprays and traps. Most of these products are designed for use around the home, though some (such as flea/ fly sprays, spot ons, shampoos, dips and collars) have also been developed for use directly on animals to control external parasites. Some species are incredibly sensitive to certain insecticides and these chemicals should never be used on or around these species. Cats are extremely sensitive to permethrins, found in so,e dog flea preventatives, and these chemicals can cause tremors, salivation, convulsions and death if consumed. Rabbits and guinea pigs are extremely sensitive to fipronil, a chemical found in many spot and spray on flea and tick products, and can die of neurological complications, such as convulsions, if exposed. If exposure is suspected, pets should be washed with warm soap and water, and veterinary attention sought immediately. In pets exposed to other toxins, veterinary advice should be sought for immediate advice.