by Nicola Bates BSc (Brunel), BSc (Open), MSc, MA, SRCS, Senior Information Scientist/VPIS Research Lead
Poisoning is a potential risk all year-round but there are seasonal variations in the pattern of poisoning in animals. In the spring this includes exposure to spring-flowering plants, mushrooms, garden products, adders and chocolate.
As the weather warms up, spring flowers such as tulip, snowdrop, grape hyacinth, crocus and daffodils, begin to brighten up our parks, gardens and homes. Pets can also find them appealing and may chew or eat these flowers or dig up the bulbs. Swallowing such plants can cause gastrointestinal upset and some animals may require treatment to control vomiting and replace lost fluids. Occasionally more significant signs occur and there is also risk of a blockage in the gut if large lumps of bulb are swallowed.
Warm weather tempts us all out into the garden, including our four legged friends. Gardening usually means tidying up the ravages of winter, removing weeds and revitalising the lawn using variety of weed killers. Ready-to-use sprays or products are diluted and applied in a watering can, however, contrary to improving the health of your lawn, it may not be so great for your pet. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions before use and clean up spills or puddles of weed killer promptly.
Lawn treatments generally contain fertilizers, weed killers and ferrous sulphate (iron) to feed the lawn and destroy weeds and moss. All the chemicals are irritants and can cause gastrointestinal upset. Walking over a recently treated lawn can also cause local irritation to the feet. There is also the risk of iron poisoning which can result in severe gastrointestinal signs, shock and liver failure but this is only likely if a large amount of lawn treatment is eaten.
Fertilizers, including bone meal, are commonly used in spring and autumn and, although considered of low toxicity, they can still cause gastrointestinal upset and irritation to the skin.
The adder is the only venomous snake native to the UK. With the rise in temperature during the months of March and April the snakes begin to emerge from hibernation. They are not aggressive but will bite if provoked and this is a potential risk as dogs investigate hedgerows and undergrowth where they may disturb the snake. An adder bite can result in rapid swelling around the bite site with pain, lethargy and collapse. There is also the risk of more severe signs and any animal bitten by an adder should be taken immediately to the vet. The adder is a protected species so leave it where it is and do not attempt to catch it – this is not allowed and is dangerous.
Tips on prevention of poisoning
- Store products in their original containers, out of sight and out of reach of pets.
- Ensure storage cupboard doors are closed securely.
- Always read the directions of household and garden products before use and use as directed.
- Replace the tops of containers securely after use.
- Clean up spills promptly.
- Do not allow your pet to walk through spills or puddles of pesticide products.
- Do not allow your pet to drink from watering cans if they contain a garden product.
- If you pet is licking or chewing at their paws after walking on a treated lawn, try to wash
Mushrooms and toadstools
Warm, wet weather encourages fungi to produce their fruit bodies (mushrooms and toadstools). Some fungi cause gastrointestinal signs, while others can cause hallucinations and behavioural changes; however only a few are extremely toxic and can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. There are thousands of types of mushrooms and it can be difficult, and potentially dangerous, to attempt to identify them without expert knowledge. If your pet has eaten a mushroom and there is some left, take photographs of it and then dig it up and take it with your pet to your vet. If your pet vomits and there are remnants in the vomit – collect this too. Your vet can contact the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) to arrange for images to be sent for identification which will allow appropriate treatment, if required, or provide reassurance that the mushroom is not toxic.
Chocolate poisoning, particularly in dogs is common at both Easter and Christmas. Easter eggs and other chocolate products are very attractive to dogs and they can eat large quantities. Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine that can cause toxic effects in animals. The amount of theobromine depends on the type of chocolate. White chocolate is generally low risk as it contains very little. Milk and particularly dark chocolate contain higher concentrations, and can cause agitation, excitability, tremors, convulsions and heart problems. Keep all chocolate products out of sight and reach of pets.
What to do
If you are concerned that your pet may have eaten something inappropriate you can contact Animal PoisonLine for advice on whether you need to visit your vet or if it is safe to keep a close eye on them at home. If your pet is already unwell with significant clinical signs contact your vet for advice.
No-one wants to endure the panic of thinking their pet has eaten something that could be poisonous, so prevention is key. Sensible steps - cleaning up spills, using products according to manufacturer’s instructions and storing products securely will allow you and your pet to safely enjoy the glories of spring.
What to do if you think your pet has been poisoned
- If you can do so safely, remove any suspect material from your pet’s mouth.
- If your pet has vomited, clean it up promptly to prevent your pet(s) or a child from ingesting it. Keep a sample (it may help determine how much was eaten or can be sent for toxicological analysis if required).
- If your pet has skin or fur contamination, wipe off the excess material and, if safe to do so, wash the affected area with detergent such as shampoo.
- If the material is greasy or sticky you could try rubbing butter or margarine on to the fur first and then wash this off with soap and water.
- Do not try to make your pet vomit. NEVER give salt water - this is dangerous.
- If your pet is already showing signs of poisoning such as collapse, severe tremors or convulsions – take your pet to your vet immediately.
- If you are unsure if a visit to your vet is necessary, you can call Animal PoisonLine for advice. It helps to have the following information available:
- What substance or product is involved
- How much has been taken
- When the event occurred
- If your pet is unwell
- If you are advised to take your pet to the veterinary practice, collect a sample of the poison and take it with you. This could be the packaging, the container (if available) or a sample
Triage advice for owners (24 hours)
01202 509000 (charges apply)