When animals are known to have swallowed something poisonous or present with symptoms suggestive of poisoning, we often follow familiar, standard procedures. For example, our most common dog poisoning is caused by rat bait. If you know it has just been eaten, and we can make the dog vomit it up within one or two hours, that is usually all we have to do. If it is too late for that, and because symptoms take a minimum of 48 hours to manifest, there is time to start the vitamin K antidote. Even if the animal is near death from loss of blood, a blood transfusion, in conjunction with vit K, can turn things around. Sadly, most poisons have no antidote and treatment is supportive only.
As long as the poison is not corrosive – like strong acids and alkalis – and it has been recently swallowed, then making the animal vomit it up is good. Using fingers down the throat or force-feeding a table salt drink don’t seem to work in pets. But if you have washing soda crystals (hydrated sodium carbonate) it works reasonably well. Push one small crystal down beyond the back of the tongue in a cat or about 1cc of it per 20kg in a dog. The vet has access to products that rarely fail.
If you have the labelled container of the poisonous product your pet has been exposed to, this will be useful for the vet to see. If the identity of a suspected poison is not known then it probably never will be. A few toxins are readily tested for by our diagnostic labs. They can tool up for a number of others but this can be expensive. Those forensic labs used on TV programs like CSI operate in a different universe from the one I live in.
For less common poisons, we sometimes want more information and refer to textbooks. Several times over recent decades I have rung the National Poisons Centre (0800 POISON). Sometimes the operators have been really helpful. Yes, their info is orientated toward the human animal and there can be marked species differences in terms of potential poisoning levels or even danger of possible treatments, but in many cases signs to be on the lookout for will be similar.
However, I rang the centre a few weeks ago to be told they are no longer discussing animal poisonings. Apparently, there had been an adverse event where human-based recommendations had gone badly in an animal. Luckily, nowadays, you can ring the Animal Poisons Helpline (0800 TOX PET).
David Haugh, Wellsford Vet Clinic