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March 2011

Common Poisons for Pets & Who to Contact

Did you know there are many commonly used items in your home poisonous to your pet?  With National Poison Prevention Week, March 20-26, now is the perfect time to learn about potentially harmful substances to your pet. Dr. Marla Lichtenberger of the Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals & Specialty Service, says the most common toxicities in pets include: chocolate and other food items (grapes, raisins, onions), pesticides and antifreeze.  Accidental overdoses of both human and animal medications are also common forms of poisoning.

The chemical compound, theobromine, in chocolate is what makes it toxic to pets.  With Easter just around the corner, there will be increased access to chocolate in households.  Pet owners have to be extra cautious not to leave chocolate and other candy out within a pet’s reach!  Dr. Lichtenberger cautions that baking chocolate is the most dangerous type of chocolate for pets. This chocolate is toxic at just two ounces for every 15 pounds of body weight.

Although poisoning symptoms vary depending on the type of toxin consumed, there are some main symptoms all pet owners should recognize.  These symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to seizures and even sudden death.  With theobromine poisoning, specific symptoms include: restlessness, panting, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and potentially death.

If you suspect poisoning in your pet, you should contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital.  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) pet poison control center can also be contacted for advice.

If poisoning is suspected in your pet, it is best to begin treatment as soon as possible.  It is important for decontamination (such as induced vomiting) to be performed within the first few hours after exposure.  Other treatments veterinarians may use are activated charcoal administration (activated charcoal binds to poison, preventing it from being absorbed), hospitalization and fluids. There are also other remedies that can be used depending on they type of exposure.

According to Dr. Lichtenberger, poisons are going to be more toxic to older, sick and debilitated pets.  On the other hand, younger, more active pets are more likely to get into chocolate and other poisons.  So it is important to take poison prevention precautions with any pet, regardless of age!

Don’t harm your pet intentionally.  Prevent mistakes by following these steps!

  • Keep all drugs, both human and animal, stored in a location not accessible to pets.   Many medications come in a chewable form which is appealing to pets.
  • Do not give your pet any human medications without consulting a veterinarian first. Animals metabolize medications differently than us, making even over the counter medications dangerous.  For example, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is very toxic to cats.
  • Supervise your pet outdoors.  Do not let your pet roam where fertilizers or pesticides are stored or may have been applied.

In the case of an emergency, pet owners should have a pet poison safety kit in their home.  Dr. Lichtenberger says items to have on hand include: phone number for your veterinarian, emergency clinic and the ASPCA poison control hotline (888-246-4435), 3% hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting only after veterinary advice), dish soap to bathe exposed areas, and saline solution to flush eyes exposed to topical poisons.

According to the ASPCA website the top 10 pet toxins from 2010 were:

1. Human Medications
Human medications are the number one poison that occurs in pets.  The most common culprits include over-the-counter medications (ibuprofen, acetaminophen), antidepressants and ADHD medications.

2. Insecticides
Insecticides are commonly used on pets for flea control and around your home to control insects.  Always follow label directions when applying flea control medications to your pet.

3. Rodenticides
Pets are attracted to bait used to kill mice and rats because of the grain base used.  Rodenticides can cause seizures, internal bleeding and kidney failure.  Make sure these items are in areas inaccessible to pets.

4. People Food
Gum containing xylitol, grapes, raisins, onions and garlic are all poisonous to pets. Xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in gum and mints can cause low blood sugar and liver failure in pets.  The component in grapes and raisins poisonous to pets is unknown but can cause kidney failure in pets.  Onions and garlic contain thiosulphate, which is toxic to pets and can cause anemia if enough is ingested.

5. Veterinary Medications
Many medications prescribed by a veterinarian are flavored for the ease of giving to pets.  If pets have access to this medication they are likely to overdose on the medication if they find it tasty.  Contact your veterinarian if your pet ingests more than his or her recommended dose of medication.

6. Chocolate
As previously mentioned, chocolate contains theobromine and other methylxanthines (a relative of caffeine), which act as stimulants to pets.  The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to pets.

7. Household Toxins
Cleaning supplies, such as bleach, acids, and other detergents, can cause injury to the mouth and stomach.  Other household items such as batteries and liquid potpourri are also dangerous.  Always keeps these toxins in a secure location.

8. Plants
Pets can ingest both house and outdoor plants.  Lilies can cause kidney failure in cats, while sago palms can cause liver failure in dogs and cats.  Make sure to keep an eye on your pet while outdoors and keep house plants out of their reach.

9. Herbicides
Many herbicides have a salty taste, causing pets to ingest them.  Always follow label directions and keep pets off treated areas until they are dry.

10.  Outdoor Toxins
Antifreeze, fertilizers and ice melts are all substances that animals can have access to outdoors.  Keep these items in locked sheds or on high shelves where your pets cannot get to them.

For more information or questions regarding pet poison prevention, contact your WVMA member veterinarian!

Raising Backyard Chickens—What You Need to Know!

Raising “backyard” chickens is becoming increasingly popular for people living in urban settings.  Not only do you get fresh eggs, but it allows you to have some family fun while doing so!  Below are tips on starting your own chicken flock and providing veterinary care for the flock.

Why should I raise chickens?
There are many advantages to raising chickens.  The convenience of always having fresh eggs available is the main one.  Raising chickens is also very enjoyable, as is raising any pet. Dr. Stephanie Hirsbrunner, from Country View Veterinary Service in Oregon, Wis., says that many first-time chicken owners are amazed to discover the personality and intelligence that chickens have!

What are the laws & regulations when raising backyard chickens in Wisconsin?
According to Dr. Hirsbrunner, the laws regarding raising chickens in urban areas vary with each city.  Prospective chicken owners should check their zoning regulations and ordinances to find out if raising chickens is allowed.

Information regarding chicken coops (“houses”), butchering, and whether or not you can let your chickens roam free can also be found in your city’s regulations.  State law requires a premise ID for all owners.  A premise ID is a registration number, free of charge, which will be assigned to your chicken flock.  It is a valuable tool for animal heath officials when responding to animal disease outbreaks.  To obtain a premise ID number and learn more, contact the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium.

When raising backyard chickens, don’t forget about your neighbors!  Dr. Hirsbrunner explains that roosters (mature male chickens) can be loud! Dirty coops are unsanitary and can be smelly, so keep coops clean. 

How often should I have a veterinarian inspect my chicken flock?
Dr. Hirsbrunner recommends having your chicken flock monitored yearly.  By allowing your veterinarian to evaluate the flock, their environment, and feed rations he/she can make suggestions for your flock.  Regular health exams will also allow your veterinarian to be informed of the health status of your flock and asses sick chickens more efficiently.

If you think your chickens are ill or have any health issues, contact your veterinarian.

What are common mistakes while raising chickens and how can they be prevented?
Dr. Hirsbrunner stresses that the coop design for your chickens is extremely important.  The coop should be able to keep predators out and your chickens comfortable.  Make sure the coop is properly insulated and well ventilated.  Poor coop design can lead to the occurrence of diseases—and no one wants that!

Since your chickens most likely have access to dirt, they are exposed to many intestinal parasites. Dr. Hirsbrunner recommends fecal samples from the flock be tested for intestinal parasites at least twice a year. 

Sanitation is very important when raising chickens.  Even healthy chickens can transmit diseases.  A major disease transmitted from chickens is Salmonella.  Salmonella is bacteria that pass from feces to people or other animals.  Salmonella is usually passed to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Ensure thorough hand washing after handling chickens or the eggs.

Who should I contact if I’m interested in raising chickens?
You should contact your WVMA veterinarian to advise you on chicken health.  Dr. Hirsbrunner stresses, “It is always important to establish a relationship with a veterinarian before a chicken gets sick.”

Your veterinarian can also provide you with credible websites and breeders that can help with purchasing chicks, feeding chickens and selecting proper housing.

Contact your WVMA veterinarian to embark on your backyard chicken adventure!

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