Poi­soned pets need life sav­ing treat­ment quickly

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WED­DER­BURN An­i­mal Doc­tor

POI­SON­ING is a com­mon emergency in pets: like young chil­dren, an­i­mals have no aware­ness of the dan­ger of in­gest­ing cer­tain sub­stances. It’s up to own­ers to pro­tect their pets by keep­ing all poi­sons out of reach, but even with the best ef­forts to avoid it, poi­son­ing of pets hap­pens reg­u­larly. There are three com­mon causes.

First and most com­monly, pets some­how man­age to get ac­cess to poi­sons with­out their owner re­al­is­ing it (e.g. steal­ing choco­late or phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts or find­ing some­thing toxic to eat while out on a walk).

Sec­ond, own­ers are some­times not aware of the dan­ger of a sub­stance, so their pets are ex­posed to some­thing with­out their own­ers re­al­is­ing there’s a toxic risk (e.g. cats com­ing into con­tact with Lilies)

Third, and rarest, poi­sons are some­times used in baits to ma­li­ciously harm pets.

Dogs are more com­monly poi­soned than cats: they are scav­engers by na­ture, eat­ing first and ask­ing ques­tions later, so they are more likely to eat some­thing that’s bad for them.

Cats, in con­trast, ask ques­tions first and eat later: they’ll sniff del­i­cately at a sub­stance be­fore de­cid­ing to eat it. This cau­tion pro­tects them against some poi­sons, but to counter this, a cat’s me­tab­o­lism is more sen­si­tive than a dog’s, caus­ing them to be uniquely sen­si­tive to some sub­stances (e.g. Lily pollen and parac­eta­mol). Fur­ther­more, cats tend to be more pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als than dogs, so if they do in­gest poi­son, it’s less likely to be no­ticed by their owner.

There are two sit­u­a­tions when pets need to be taken to the vet for poi­son­ing.;

First, when an owner has wit­nessed the an­i­mal eat­ing the poi­son, be­fore there are any signs of the pet be­ing badly af­fected. This is the ideal sce­nario: in many cases, the poi­son can be re­moved be­fore it has had time to be ab­sorbed into the an­i­mal’s sys­tem, and pre-emp­tive treat­ment can some­times be given to counter the ex­pected ef­fects of the poi­son. It’s re­ally im­por­tant that such cases are taken to the vet as soon as pos­si­ble, ide­ally with as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble about the sub­stance that has been in­gested (e.g. la­bel of drug, sam­ple of cap­sules, photo of plant.)

An ex­am­ple would be a dog that has been known to eat a stash of rat bait: the vet will be able to empty the dog’s stom­ach by caus­ing vom­it­ing, pre­vent fur­ther ab­sorp­tion from the di­ges­tive tract by giv­ing ac­ti­vated char­coal, and give Vi­ta­min K sup­ple­men­ta­tion to counter the ef­fects of the poi­son.

There’s a sur­pris­ingly nar­row win­dow be­tween in­ges­tion of a poi­son and ab­sorp­tion into the sys­tem: ide­ally, vom­it­ing should be in­duced within two hours of the poi­son be­ing eaten, and the sooner the bet­ter. The longer the poi­son is in the stom­ach, the more will be ab­sorbed.

There are some spe­cific sit­u­a­tions where vom­it­ing should not be in­duced: if an an­i­mal has eaten a caus­tic or cor­ro­sive sub­stance, vom­it­ing would make things worse by caus­ing fur­ther ir­ri­ta­tion and dam­age to the oe­soph­a­gus and oral cav­ity.

In the past, own­ers have some­times tried to cause vom­it­ing in their own pets (by giv­ing salt or other sub­stances) but this can be dan­ger­ous, and should not be at­tempted. Vets have in­jectable prod­ucts that can pre­dictably and safely cause vom­it­ing in a con­trolled way. Oc­ca­sion­ally (e.g. if an an­i­mal is un­con­scious), the stom­ach may be pumped out in­stead (so-called “gas­tric lavage”): this can be highly ef­fec­tive but it does re­quire a gen­eral anaes­thetic, and it doesn’t of­fer much ad­van­tage over vom­it­ing in cases where this can be in­duced.

Once the stom­ach has been emp­tied of poi­son, the next step is to try to pre­vent ab­sorp­tion of the poi­son from the in­testines: this can be done by giv­ing ac­ti­vated char­coal, which “mops up” many poi­sons, stop­ping them from cross­ing the in­testi­nal wall into the blood stream. Some­times cathar­tics are also given: th­ese speed up the rate of pas­sage of the in­testi­nal con­tents (caus­ing di­ar­rhoea), so that the poi­son is hur­ried quickly out of the di­ges­tive tract.

With luck, the early re­moval of poi­son from the pet’s sys­tem can be enough to pre­vent the on­set of the signs of poi­son­ing, but in many cases, th­ese ef­forts are only par­tially suc­cess­ful. Fur­ther treat­ment by the vet is needed to help the an­i­mal deal with the ef­fects of the poi­son.

Such cases then need to fol­low the same course to the sec­ond sit­u­a­tion when poi­soned pets are taken to the vet, when the in­ges­tion of the poi­son was not no­ticed ini­tially, and the pet has started to show signs of poi­son­ing. In both sit­u­a­tions, the an­i­mal is vis­i­bly un­well. Life sav­ing ac­tion by the vet is crit­i­cally im­por­tant.

This is more com­pli­cated than you might ex­pect: there are very few poi­sons with highly ef­fec­tive an­ti­dotes, and it’s nearly al­ways a case of us­ing med­i­ca­tion to sup­port the an­i­mal’s health un­til the ef­fects of the poi­son had worn off nat­u­rally. Seda­tives and re­lax­ants may be needed to stop mus­cle tremors and seizures, in­tra­venous flu­ids will be given to keep the cir­cu­la­tion work­ing as ef­fec­tively as pos­si­ble, and good nurs­ing care is es­sen­tial to keep the an­i­mal com­fort­able un­til the poi­son has been ef­fec­tively metabolised by the body. Treat­ment can last sev­eral days, with around the clock care be­ing needed.

The best an­swer? Be very care­ful to en­sure that your pet is never poi­soned.

Dogs are more likely than cats to eat poi­sonous sub­stances

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