Managing Pet Toxicosis: A Vet Tech’s Guide

Published on April 3, 2020 by Charlie Buehler

A cat staring at medication.

One of the responsibilities of a vet tech is educating pet parents about the proper care of their pets. Vet techs can help pet owners with choosing the most appropriate and nutritious foods, based on the age of their dog or cat. It’s essential to explain to pet owners about the importance of regular wellness exams and staying up to date on vaccines. Dog and cat owners should also be aware of the potential problems that can arise from pet toxicosis.

What Is Pet Toxicosis?

Toxicosis is defined as any condition in a human or animal that’s the result of ingesting a toxin or poison. Toxicosis can cause a variety of pathological conditions in pets, and some may be more severe than others. It’s challenging to determine what toxic substances a pet may have ingested because there aren’t specific symptoms or signs of poisoning. A lot depends on how much of the substance your pet may have ingested and the size of the pet.

How to Tell If Your Dog or Cat Has Ingested a Toxin?

Dogs and cats are often exposed to toxins accidentally and may ingest a substance that smells or tastes good. Signs that your pet may have ingested a poison include:

The symptoms of toxicity in a cat or dog will depend on which of the organs is affected by the toxic substance. For example, if the kidneys are affected, the symptoms may include:

When a toxic substance that a pet has ingested affects the liver, the following symptoms may include:

If the toxins are scattered through a dog or cat’s system, there may be no visible symptoms, but your pet may be lethargic and have difficulty digesting food. Another issue that should be addressed as soon as possible is that your pet’s immune system is compromised due to the toxins, so your dog or cat is more prone to developing infections.

Pet owners must be responsible and keep potentially harmful substances out of the reach of their cats and dogs. Household cleaners and chemicals should be kept in closets or on shelves in a shed or garage where pets can’t reach them.

If pet owners commonly take medications, whether or not they’re prescription drugs, take them in the bathroom with the door closed. If you drop any medication on the floor, pick it up immediately before a curious pet can get to it.

What Different Items Are Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

Most pet parents are aware that dogs should never be fed chocolate, and cats should be kept away from specific varieties of plants. However, there are a lot of items that are toxic to dogs or cats. They include:

More pets are poisoned by chocolate than any other food, and dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate. Xylitol, the sugar substitute, is another common cause of food poisoning in pets. A lot of baked goods and processed foods contain this ingredient. It’s always a good idea to check the ingredients list in foods and keep them away from your pets.

Currants, grapes, and raisins are extremely toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure. Chives, garlic, and onions can cause a rapid heartbeat and jaundice. Cats are prone to getting sick from certain foods, but since most cats are finicky eaters, they aren’t as likely to consume large quantities of human food.

Household cleaners and even batteries can cause chemical burns on paws, in the mouth, or in the stomach. If a pet bites into a TV remote control and punctures the battery, it can cause burns.

Insecticides and rat poisons can cause different reactions in pets, depending on the ingredients. If you’re treating your lawn with chemicals, keep your pets indoors and away from the area. Directions on the packaging state how long to keep pets away from treated areas. Some dogs and cats aren’t attracted to rat poison, but if they consume a mouse or rat that’s eaten the poison, it can be toxic.

Medication Toxicosis

Anti-depressants, heart medications, and ADHD drugs are the most common medications that are toxic to pets because they’re prescribed more often than a lot of other prescription medications.

When there are children in the family, there are additional risks since children will sometimes give their medications to their cats or dogs. If it’s necessary to put a child’s medication in food so they’ll take it, make sure that the medication is taken and not left on a plate where a pet can find it.

Cannabis and CBD oil is another toxin for both cats and dogs. Whether the substances are used for recreational or medical uses, they are still extremely toxic to cats and dogs. The higher the THC, the more psychoactive effects the animal may have. Although CBD oil does not have any psychoactive effects, it is still very toxic to cats and dogs. The biggest signs of toxicosis in cats and dogs is neurological. There is no quick way to test whether a cat or dog has ingested cannabis or CBD oil, however the truthfulness of the pet owner will help the veterinary technician treat the pet. Treatment depends on the route the animal received the toxin depending on inhalation (second-hand smoke), vaporizer or edibles. All cannabis, CBD oil and edibles should be kept away from all cats and dogs for their safety.

Veterinary medications can be a hazard to pets if they’re consumed in larger quantities than your veterinarian prescribes. A lot of prescription medications prescribed by vets are available in flavors to entice your pet to eat them. Your pet’s medications should never be left in a place where they can reach them.

Plant Toxicosis

Lilies are most commonly the culprit when cats are poisoned by plants. Tiny bites of a flower, a leaf, or a small amount of pollen from the lily can cause severe cases of kidney failure in cats. However, dogs aren’t affected by the toxic effects of lilies. Peace lilies, Philodendron, and Cycad palms are all extremely toxic to dogs and cats.

Be an Educated Pet Owner

It’s hard to resist a pet that’s begging for a bite of your meal or snack, but there are certain foods that pets must never eat. Although it wouldn’t likely cause a toxic reaction, cats and dogs shouldn’t eat each other’s food. Both species have different nutritional needs to stay healthy. These are the human foods that should never be fed to pets.

Foods Cats Can’t Eat

Foods Dogs Can’t Eat

In addition to raisins, grapes, and currants, these are the foods dogs must not eat:

Pet parents should be familiar with the potential hazards to their cats and dogs. The ASPCA website has valuable information about poison prevention on their website. An excellent suggestion is to keep the ASPCA Poison control phone number in a prominent place in case your pet should ever consume something toxic.

The ASPCA Poison Control Center has a lot of information on their website to educated pet parents about how to protect their dogs and cats from hazards, including poisonous plants, household cleaners and pesticides, and foods that pet parents should never feed their dogs and cats.

What to Do if a Pet Does Ingest Something Toxic?

In one year, the ASPCA Poison Control Center received more than one hundred thousand calls from parents whose pets had ingested something toxic. Take into consideration that’s only the national hotline. Countless other pet parents call their veterinarians each year because their pet has consumed something poisonous.

If you have a poison emergency with your pet, the essential thing is to act quickly. In addition to the foods, household products, insecticides, and medications that pets must be kept away from, natural supplements and homeopathic remedies should be kept away from pets.

Although there are symptoms that are commonly associated with a pet ingesting something poisonous, sometimes there aren’t any noticeable symptoms. Depending on what your pet has ingested, it may take longer for symptoms to be apparent. If a pet like a large dog has consumed something toxic, they may not have ingested enough of the substance to get sick. However, the dog should still be checked out by your veterinarian.

If you find an open container of food or other substance, a package that’s been ripped open, or something that’s spilled, there’s a chance that your pet may have consumed something toxic. Call the ASPCA hotline immediately for advice. If your pet has consumed something toxic, here are the steps to take.

  1. Get your cat or dog into a safe place where they can’t consume anymore of the toxic substance. If you have other pets, make sure to get them out of the area into a safe place.
  2. Call your veterinarian immediately, even if your pet isn’t exhibiting any symptoms. It’s best to err on the side of caution. If your veterinarian isn’t available, call the nearest emergency clinic or ASPCA Poison Control Center.
  3. Some pet parents attempt to induce vomiting if their cat or dog has ingested a toxic substance. You should never try this step unless advised by your veterinarian. Some materials are caustic and can cause severe damage to the pet’s esophagus if you attempt to make the pet vomit the substance back up.
  4. Prevent your cat or dog from trying to groom themselves. This step is essential if your pet has gotten the toxicosis on their fur or paws. You should never attempt to bathe your pet to remove the substance before you check with your veterinarian.

Treatment Options for Pet Poisoning

The treatment your veterinarian prescribes will depend on what your pet has ingested. The vet may want you to bring your pet into the hospital for IV fluids or to induce vomiting in a supervised environment. If a pet has consumed chocolate, the vet may choose to insert a catheter to keep toxins from being absorbed into the bladder. Another option may be activated charcoal, which can absorb the toxins.

Did learning about managing pet toxicosis interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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