Having pets ingest things they shouldn’t is not an uncommon problem. Lacking opposable thumbs, pet’s often use their mouth as a tool of examination and exploration. Not surprisingly, this frequently results in things being swallowed.
For many substances, there are some basic principles followed by emergency rooms. First and foremost is the principle of decontamination: trying to clear as much of the product from the system as possible. This often includes inducing the patient to vomit to try to evacuate things from the stomach if not already passed into the intestines for absorption. Vomiting usually relies on the exposure to have been within the last ½ - 1 hour. Vomiting should only be encouraged if instructed by a veterinarian and never when the exposure involves anything sharp or caustic (soaps, detergents, etc.). Activated charcoal is frequently given to coat the intestinal tract and minimize absorption of anything that got past the stomach. Typically a cathartic is added to the charcoal to help speed passage through the system. Commonly, fluids are given to exposure patients to help increase metabolism and excretion of ingested products.
For cases when vomiting is not recommend, not successful, or simply not sufficient to clean out the system; gastric lavage/gavage (“pumping the stomach”) may be necessary. This often involves light anesthesia and having an endotracheal tube (breathing tube) placed down the trachea (wind pipe) to help ensure that nothing back washes into the lungs. Warm water is pumped into the stomach, then syphoned back out again. This process is repeated until the return water is clear and clean. Afterwards, charcoal and cathartics are often administered, then the stomach tube is pulled, and the patient is allowed to wake up.
After decontamination is performed, therapeutic plans are established based on the nature of the offending product.
1. There are three common types of rodent bait. The first and somewhat more common of these compounds are blood thinners that bind with vitamin K in the body and prevent blood from clotting - causing the patient to bleed to death. Treatment plans for these will involve serial blood clotting profiles (blood test run every 48 hours for ~7 - 10 days) or the administration of Vitamin K for a long enough period of time for the coumarin to successfully clear the system. This can sometimes take 4 - 8 weeks. Many veterinarians will recommend a clotting test after several weeks of therapy to determine the length of treatment. The other two rodent poisons (bromethalin and cholecalciferol) are much more dangerous as there are no antidotes available and they require imediate treatement when pets are exposed. Successful treatment requires accurate identification of the poison so always keep packaging available for reference if these products are used around the house.
2. While small doses of chocolate won’t hurt most pets, chocolate can be toxic in large doses. Chocolate toxicity starts with a stomach upset at lower doses, moves on to neurologic signs like twitching and jerking at larger doses and then causes heart toxicity at higher doses which can cause cardiac arrest. Toxic levels depend on the strength of the chocolate. Darker, stronger chocolate is more toxic than lighter milk chocolate. Toxic levels can be reached with milk chocolate at about 1/4 oz. of chocolate per pound of body weight. Dark chocolate is twice as toxic with bakers chocolate twice as toxic as dark chocolate. Cocoa powder is the most toxic at twice the toxicity of baker's chocolate. After decontamination, many chocolate patients are hospitalized for heart monitoring. An accelerating heart rate could indicate the need for anti-arrhythmia drugs to calm the heart until the chocolate metabolites are out of the system.
3. Many pets are exposed to people medications by chewing on pill vials, and from medication falling on the floor. These products often produce the same symptoms in pets for which they are designed in people - through often the exposure is at dangerously high doses, since pets are smaller than we are. Blood pressure medications can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure, anti-anxiety drugs can cause depression and comas. Anti-inflammatories can often cause gastic and intestinal bleeding or major organ damage. Hospitalized treatment and monitoring of appropriate parameters is often indicated.
You can find helpful links to Pet Poison Control numbers on our Links page.