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Poisons: Emergency first aid

Any known or suspected case of poisoning needs immediate veterinary treatment. Your first priority should be to call the hospital for emergency advice and to get your pet to us — or your nearest vet — as quickly as possible.

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If this is not possible, here are some basic first aid treatment you can use at home.

While there are some first aid treatments you can carry out to assist a pet that has been in contact with toxic materials, you should only do so if you:

a) Know the type and source of the poison/toxic substance.
b) Know when it was ingested by your pet, or when they came in contact with it.

Different types of toxic substances require different treatments and it’s critically important that you give your pet the correct first aid. Treatment may also vary depending on the length of time between a substance being swallowed and the onset of visible symptoms. For symptoms of poisoning in dogs and cats, see Poisons: Recognising Symptoms. If your pet is showing any of the symptoms listed the effects of the toxin are already underway.

If in any doubt, call the hospital and speak to Dr Bek, who will advise you how to proceed. Remember that there is a very narrow window of opportunity for a veterinarian to successfully treat poisoning cases. Contact us promptly!

Household products affecting skin and eyes:

If your pet has been in contact with a common household product that can be toxic to the skin or eyes, such as many caustic cleansers, solvents, bleach, fertilisers, garden products etc., check the product label and treat your pet accordingly.

If the label advises you to wash with soap and water or flush your skin or eyes after contact with the product, treat your pet the same way. Wash the animal’s skin with a mild soap such as dishwashing liquid and plenty of water (avoiding the eyes, mouth and nose) or flush the skin and eyes with plenty of fresh, clean water.

Ingestion of toxic foods or substances:

If your dog or cat has swallowed any of the following items you should induce vomiting immediately afterwards, before it has time to digest. That means within 5 to 15 minutes. After half an hour digestion has begun and the toxin will have entered the bloodstream.

  • Prescription and over the counter drugs and medication (human and animal).
  • Insecticides, including flea and tick products for pets.
  • Herbicides, weed killers etc.
  • Rat and mice poisons.
  • Plants and foods toxic to dogs and cats (jump to complete list).
  • Alcohol (including products that may contain alcohol, such as cough medicines, mouthwashes, after shave etc.).

Inducing vomiting:

Safely inducing vomiting in an animal is not as simple as in humans unfortunately. If you can get your pet to the hospital promptly — within an hour or so after they have swallowed something toxic — the prognosis is reasonably good even without you carrying out any first aid.

However, sometimes you may have to take action before coming to the hospital. If the animal has not already vomited, by inducing vomiting you may eliminate at least part of the toxin from the stomach. However, this must be done before the swallowed material has time to begin to digest.  The most common recommendation, using a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, is not really appropriate in Australia, where most homes will not have this in the cupboard. Hydrogen peroxide is also not effective on cats, who need stronger veterinary drugs to force vomiting.

Alternative emetics which are reasonably safe to use are:

Table salt. A maximum of 2 teaspoons in a cup of water for an average sized dog, less for small breeds.
Copper sulphate crystals — give two crystals, about the size of a pea.
Washing soda crystals (sodium carbonate). Give 3 to 5 crystals orally. Do not use laundry detergents or washing powders.

Make your dog walk around after administering these emetics. He should vomit within about 10 to 15 minutes.

These solutions are not suitable for cats. Get a poisoned cat to the hospital where we can use the appropriate treatments.

You should not try to induce vomiting for any acidic compound or petroleum based or corrosive substance. You should not attempt to induce vomiting except on veterinary advice.

Foods and plant materials toxic to dogs and cats:

  • Chocolate, especially unsweetened baking chocolate
  • Sugar free chewing gum, lollies and other sweets containing xylitol
  • Onions, including leeks, garlic, shallots
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Avocado
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Alcohol, including beer, wines and spirits and products containing alcohol
  • Pear pips and stone fruit kernels (peaches, apricots, plums and cherries etc.)
  • Broccoli
  • Potato peelings
  • Tomato leaves and stems
  • Yeast dough
  • Mouldy foods
  • Tobacco products (do not attempt to induce vomiting if your pet has ingested nicotine)
  • Caffeine (more toxic to cats)
  • Plant materials from the lily, ivy, Aloe Vera and Chrysantheum families

Some of these materials may be less toxic to cats than to dogs. Some, like caffeine, are more dangerous to cats, but none of them should ever be fed to your pets, either raw or cooked. If your dog or cat is known or suspected to have ingested quantities of any of these foods/materials you can assume some degree of poisoning has occurred even if your pet is not showing symptoms. Consult the hospital for advice.

You can find more detail on how these foods can affect your pet’s health here.

E&OE. These articles are intended as a guide only. They should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any individual animal and no person should place reliance on information derived from them, where such reliance may result in loss, damage or injury. Always consult a qualified veterinarian to obtain advice.

Although Alpine Animal Doctors make every effort to ensure that the information contained in our articles is accurate and up-to-date we can accept no responsibility for errors or omissions that may occur.