It's not just toddlers that can get into your drain cleaner or antifreeze. Curious pets also frequently come into contact with dangerous chemicals. In fact, Animal Control Poison Centers around the globe log in hundreds of thousands of calls each year from worried pet owners whose animals have been accidentally exposed to household poisons.
Among the most frequent causes of poisoning in dogs are such items as human medications, insecticides and rodenticides. Obviously the latter two are direct poisons, designed to kill household pests, and in a dog they usually cause bleeding, seizures, kidney damage and death. Even flea and tick medicines designed specifically for dogs can occasionally cause problems if the animal proves to be allergic and/or the instructions are not followed exactly.
It's particularly dangerous when dogs get into or are given human medications, such as painkillers, cold medicines, antidepressants and dietary supplements. It's never a good idea to give your dog an aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen tablet that's designed for human beings. Further, all of these medicines should be stored in a secure cabinet out of the dog's reach.
Even medications designed for your pet still can cause a problem, if the dog is allergic, if the dosage is wrong for the dog's size and weight, or the medication is not administered properly. Common offenders include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, dewormers, heartworm prevention preparations, nutritional supplements and vaccines. Many of these products are designed only for certain species (either dogs or cats, but not both, for example). Most also are prescribed and administered based on the dog's weight, which makes following the exact dosage instructions critical.
Household cleaners, herbicides and pesticides are the other primary category of chemicals behind most animal poisonings. Sensitive animals may react after walking across a pesticide-laced lawn or getting into an open bottle of cleanser. Household and yard plants also can be a deadly toxin; azaleas, lilies, mistletoe, rhododendrons and scheffleras are particular offenders.
If your dog has been exposed to any harmful chemicals, especially lye, acids or strong cleaning supplies, you need to immediately:
Wash the affected area with running water for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
If chemicals are in the eye, flush the eye with large amounts of water or saline for at least 15 minutes. Saline solution is preferred, since it is less irritating to eye tissue and raw skin than pure water. You can make your own by quickly dissolving 2 teaspoons of table salt in 1 quart of water, or 9 grams of salt in 1 liter of water.
Brush away any dry chemicals, making sure to cover and protect yours and your pet's eyes, nose and mouth.
Take the animal to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Just as there are steps you should do to help your animal, there are also steps to avoid. When your animal is exposed to chemicals. Specifically, do NOT:
apply any "neutralizing agents" to the dog's skin or eyes. These often cause a chemical reaction that produces heat and can worsen the injury.
rinse your pet in a tub or any other stagnant source of water if it has been exposed to dry chemicals. These chemicals are usually activated by water; therefore the rinse water must be flowing (such as from a garden hose) in order to remove the chemicals completely and prevent further damage.