Keeping Your Furry Family Safe  A National Poison Prevention Week Reminder

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If your pet is one of the thousands each year who’ve had a close call with a potentially toxic substance, you know how frightening, and expensive, it can be.

National Poison Prevention Week, (NPPW) March 18-24, is a reminder of all the dangers lurking in our pantries, under our sinks and in our medicine cabinets.

Last year, our son’s dog Miley Blair, had a close call in our home. 

A few moments of inattentiveness was all it took. The eight-pound Bichon Frise found a rum cake that was perched on a cake plate on the sidebar in the dining room.  Through some trick of acrobatics, or perhaps sheer persistence, she managed to pull the cake onto the floor and gnaw her way through the hermetically-sealed packaging, devouring more than half of the rum cake before we found her.   

Chocolate crumbs, still fresh from her kill, hung in the white fur around her snout as she innocently looked up, cocked her head to the side as if to say, “What? Did I do something wrong?”

Fortunately, Miley was okay. It turned out the small amount of rum wasn’t harmful because much of the alcohol evaporates during baking; it was the raisins and chocolate that were problematic.

Despite what I thought had been a thorough puppy-proofing of the house before her arrival,  she still managed to remind us that pets are curious and quick, and that, in combination with a distracted owner, can be dangerous. 

Foods, drugs, chemicals, batteries, some household plants top the list of the many items that can harm pets. According to National Capital Poison Center at Poison.org, reports of pet poisoning exposures topped 54,019 in 2016.  

Dr. Katherine Galatis, a doctor of veterinary medicine at The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, says the most common poisonings in animals are rat poison, antifreeze, raisins, grapes, chocolate, marijuana, chewing gum and any item with xylitol, which surprisingly is now appearing in foods such as peanut butter. Antifreeze, which tastes sweet and is appealing to dogs and cats, is highly poisonous and causes rapid kidney failure. One lick of antifreeze may be enough to cause kidney damage and possible death.

Her advice?  “Proper storage and disposal of items is key. Storing garbage bins in a cabinet or in a closet is a good idea and always store all cleaning supplies out of reach of animals, keeping them locked away when possible," Galatis says. She also notes that cleaning solutions can cause respiratory harm when inhaled, not just ingested, by animals—especially to birds and reptiles, so be sure there’s always adequate ventilation.

“The most important aspect of dealing with toxicities is to address the situation ASAP,” Galatis says. “The sooner you discover the ingestion or suspect possible ingestion, talk with your veterinarian and treat immediately. The body has a higher chance of absorbing the harmful item/chemical the longer it is in the body without treatment. The sooner we can get the animal medical attention, the easier treatment will be as well. There is also a lot of follow up and monitoring associated with these situations that persists beyond immediate medication treatment, since the damage may take time to show itself.”

Accidents do happen, but like the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take some time during NPPW to look around for dangers. Some may be hiding in plain sight, like on a cake plate in the dining room.

If you suspect poisoning, call your vet immediately. Other resources are the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (1-800-548-2423 / 1-888-426-4435) staffed with veterinarians and toxicologists 24 hours a day or the Pet Poison Helpline (1-800-213-6680) also available 24 hours a day. Fees may apply.

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