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Dogs are naturally likely to eat almost anything, including plants, garbage and even completely non-edible items. Many dogs will play with plastic containers, even those containing highly toxic chemicals, cleaning solutions and solvents. Since many dogs don't seem to be too concerned about the actual taste of these containers and objects, poisoning in dogs is much more problematic than poisoning in cats and other domestic animals. Some of the most toxic chemicals that dogs may ingest include antifreeze from a vehicle and rat and rodent poisons. Antifreeze is lethal with just a few teaspoons and rodent poisons are often highly toxic when consumed in just small amounts.
There are many different objects in any dog's environment that may be potentially poisonous if consumed in sufficient quantities. There is also a fairly large individual difference on how much of some items dogs can eat before showing any adverse effects. Of course the size of the dog is a huge factor in this. A St. Bernard could potentially ingest the same amount of a toxin and show no negative symptoms while a Yorkshire Terrier may be instantly at high risk. Some dogs may also be very sensitive to plant toxins while other dogs seem to have little if any sensitivity to the same plant or plant part.
Dogs can also be affected by toxins or poisons that get on the coat and skin. If you suspect that any irritation on the dog's skin is due to contact with toxins, simply wash the area with warm water to flush off any remaining toxins. If the toxins are in dry powder form always try to remove the substance before flushing the area with water. Brushing or using a soft cloth can be helpful to prevent chemical burns on the skin if water is added. If the chemical is available, read the label as to first aid treatment and follow all directions or call your vet or emergency room. Once you start flushing the area use lots of water and don't stop until you are absolutely certain that all traces of the chemical are off the skin. This may mean flushing the area for several minutes and ensuring that the under coat is thoroughly saturated and rinses. Clipping the hair may also assist if the compound is sticky or somehow attached to the hair.
Knowing what type of toxin or poisonous plant or item that your dog consumed is important in treatment. To identify the toxin first look around the environment for signs of chewing, digging or eating. Plastic bottles, plants, bushes or trees or even carcasses of mice, rats or other rodents may be clues as to the form of poisoning. Remember that in urban and rural areas many people still put out poisonous bait for rats and mice which the dog may eat or may inadvertently consume by eating a dead rodent that has ingested the poison.
Once you have the item you suspect has caused the reaction, or if you can't find it in a very short few minutes, immediately contact your vet or a Poison Control Center. This number should be marked on your emergency card from your vet or will also be available in the phone book. Your vet may also have the number and may make the call on your behalf if this is deemed the best way to provide immediate care. Ideally get your dog to the vet, keep him or her calm and relaxed during transport. If the dog is unconscious or not breathing, provide CPR and assist with breathing during transport.
In most cases, as long as the dog is still conscious, responsive and is able to swallow, the first step will be to cause the dog to vomit to get the poison out of his or her system. The easiest way to do this is to use activated charcoal mixed with water to induce vomiting. Since the dog is not going to voluntarily swallow this a tube is usually inserted by the vet or owner to allow the active charcoal mixed with water to get into the dog's stomach. Within a few minutes the dog should vomit, expelling the charcoal, water and the contents of the stomach.
After vomiting, give the dog Milk of Magnesia to coat the intestinal wall and prevent absorption of any poison that remains in the system. This will also cause the dog to have a bowel movement, again eliminating toxins from the system. If there is no laxative coating solution available mix milk with egg whites and vegetable oil and feed to the dog. A warm water enema will also encourage the dog to eliminate the contents of the bowels.
Immediately get the dog to a vet after any treatment at home. Bring the suspected toxic item or plant with you, as well as be able to describe what you have done and how the dog responded. Keep the dog calm and as relaxed as possible, he or she will be anxious and may also be very lethargic at this point. Knowing what is toxic to dogs and keeping it, as much as possible, out of the dog's environment is part of being a responsible dog owner. Some of the most common house and yard plants are actually the most problematic, so check with your local nursery before planting anything in the yard. Typically the whole plant is not poisonous, just the leaves, stems, flowers or even the roots. Most bulbs are poisonous if the dog digs them up and chews on them, while flowers such as Morning Glory or Chrysanthemums can also be problematic.
The signs of poisoning or contact with toxic compounds can vary depending on the type of substance and the amount ingested or touched. Typical signs of poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea, skin irritations and lesions, seizures and swollen, painful mouth, tongue and throat. Sometimes these symptoms will occur within a few minutes of the dog eating or contacting the toxin or poison or sometimes they may take days to develop until they are significant enough to notice.
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