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What Are the Most Common Causes of Pet Poisoning?

dog not eating

As much as we cherish our pets, creating situations that put our beloved companions in danger can be easy. Poisoning is a common cause of illness and death in pets, with 232,000 confirmed pet poisoning incidents in the U.S. annually.

Even if an owner is diligent about making sure toxins and harmful substances are safely out of reach, pets have minds of their own. A normally voracious dog not eating its food or a playful cat becoming listless and lethargic could be symptoms of accidental poisoning.

If your pet is behaving unusually or you suspect they may have been exposed to dangerous materials, look for these warning signs.

Is the Cat or Dog Ignoring Its Food?

Cats or dogs refusing to eat isn’t always cause for alarm. While some pets eat anything and everything they can get their paws on, others can be quite finicky. Animals have distinct personalities, much like their human owners.

For this point, you need to compare your pet’s behavior to their normal attitude. If your dog would typically wolf down their food at the first opportunity, that could be a sign that something’s wrong. The same is true if a cat that usually pesters you for food suddenly goes quiet.

It bears mentioning, however, that no matter how picky your pet is, they should never refuse to eat anything for extended periods.

This symptom isn’t necessarily a sign of poisoning. A dog that refuses to eat could be suffering from several health issues, including dental problems, side effects from recent vaccination, or a chronic illness. Any case of persistent appetite loss should merit a veterinary visit.

Does a Pet Exhibit Behavioral Changes?

This point ties into the aforementioned appetite loss. That animals have distinct personalities can make it easy to identify when something isn’t right.

A simple example would be if an energetic pet suddenly becomes lethargic. As with appetite loss, this isn’t always caused by poisoning. Some causes can be benign like a summer heat wave causing your dog to tire from activity faster than they usually would.

Sudden lethargy without an apparent cause should be cause for concern, however. If you can’t explain a cat or dog’s sudden listlessness, you should seek veterinary advice.

A symptom that should almost always cause alarm is if a pet suffers a sudden loss of coordination or mobility. Cats or dogs who are unsteady on their feet may be under the influence of some kind of toxin. Failing that, they may be suffering from a neurological condition or even a stroke.

The only time this shouldn’t be cause for concern is if your pet was recently under the influence of medication. In this case, your veterinarian will have advised you that your pet may experience a loss of coordination for a limited time. Barring that specific caveat, you should take a wobbling or unsteady animal to see a vet as soon as possible.

Does the Pet Suffer From Diarrhea?

Mild bouts of diarrhea are not unfamiliar to most dog owners. They are a common occurrence across all breeds. However, severe or persistent gastrointestinal distress could be a sign of a serious problem.

Many toxins can irritate the digestive system, causing bouts of serious diarrhea. Spoiled food and foreign objects like plastics and metals can have the same effect.

Left unchecked, diarrhea can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration. So, regardless of whether you suspect poisoning or not, you should exercise caution with any dog that’s experiencing diarrhea. A veterinarian may need to put them on fluids to treat serious bouts of dehydration.

Diarrhea is less common in cats and should never be ignored. Even mild cases can be signs of underlying digestive problems that can cause your pet considerable discomfort and pain. Sudden, severe bouts usually point to something the cat recently ate, potentially something toxic.

Always consult a veterinarian as soon as possible if a cat is experiencing any amount of diarrhea. They’ll be able to diagnose if the cause is poison, parasitic infestation, or another chronic health problem.

Is There Blood or a Foreign Object in Their Stool?

A pet that suffers from diarrhea may have blood in their stool. This can be a side-effect of gastrointestinal distress and is a telltale sign that their symptoms are serious enough to warrant veterinary attention.

Blood in their stool without significant diarrhea can be a sign of something more serious. Many poisons can damage the digestive system directly. Blood in the stool can indicate harm to the sensitive linings of the stomach and intestines.

Never take blood in the stool lightly. Take the suffering pet to see a veterinarian immediately.

Has the Animal Been Vomiting

As with some other symptoms, a cat or dog vomiting may not be that unusual. Some animals are overzealous eaters, for example, especially rescues who have spent time as strays. That feast-or-famine mindset is often impossible to train out of an animal, and they may gorge themselves until they make themselves sick.

Some pets may also eat wild grass or other things that don’t agree with them. While this can make them vomit, it’s usually harmless.

Vomiting is a symptom of many common poisons, however. If your pet is vomiting more than usual, or you see blood in their vomit, take them in to see the vet.

Does the Pet Have Unexplained Bruising or Bleeding?

Many poisons will attack sensitive areas of the body first. Small blood vessels and the delicate membranes found in the eyes and nose are often affected. This can cause bleeding and bruising throughout the body.

The best places to look are areas with little or no hair. Check the gums, the inside of the ears, the belly, and the groin. Nose bleeds or bloody urine can likewise be caused by poisoning.

Tremors and Seizures Can Be Signs of Acute Poisoning

Though they’re not very common, animals can and do have seizures. These indicate that something abnormal is happening in a pet’s brain. Causes can include blood abnormalities like low blood sugar or severe anemia, cancer, brain tumors, brain trauma, a metabolic disease, and exposure to toxins.

Whatever the cause, seizures often indicate a life-threatening condition and should always be treated as an emergency. Remain calm and gently take hold of your pet to prevent them from hurting themselves.

Do not put your hand near their mouths. Cats and dogs (and humans, for that matter) cannot swallow their tongues during a seizure. That’s only a myth, and you can sustain a serious bite by trying to force their mouths open.

Seizures that last more than a couple of minutes may cause overheating. You may need to cool your pet down by applying water or damp towels to the groin, neck, paws, and head.

These are temporary measures to prevent your pet from hurting themselves in the moment. Once you have control of them, you need to seek emergency help immediately.

Poisons and Harmful Foods to Watch Out For

Many pet owners will say that their pets seem almost human at times. While some of them certainly have outsized personalities, it’s important to remember how different we really are. Many well-meaning owners have accidentally poisoned their own pets by sharing food with them or leaving dangerous materials in insecure places, never considering that cats and dogs might be attracted to them.

Chocolate is the best-known dog poison in the average household. While harmless to humans, chocolate contains the stimulant theobromine, which is toxic to dogs.

If you suspect your dog has gotten into the chocolate, be on the lookout for diarrhea, vomiting, hyperactivity, and abnormal heart rhythm.

While it’s not usually as dangerous for them, chocolate can also be a cat poison. Their smaller bodies cannot handle the stimulants theobromine and caffeine in any significant quantity. Large amounts of either can quickly prove fatal.

The signs of chocolate poisoning in cats are similar to the symptoms in dogs. Look for vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, tremors, and increased heart rate.

Household pesticides and rodenticides are common dangers, too. A pet poison you may have around your house is the anticoagulant warfarin or other related toxins. These are used to kill rats, mice, and other pests by preventing blood from clotting and causing hemorrhaging.

Cats or dogs that eat these poisons can experience life-threatening bleeding events. The effects may not appear for several days, so keeping a close eye on any pets you think may have ingested one of these poisons is essential.

Learn All the Signs of Pet Poisoning

A dog not eating or a cat behaving erratically aren’t always signs of a medical emergency. But considering how quickly pets – and small animals in particular – can succumb to poisoning, it doesn’t pay to take chances.

If you notice any of these symptoms, especially serious ones like seizures or unexplained bleeding, don’t delay. Access our AirVet telehealth network as soon as possible to see if your pet needs to be seen and to get a referral to an emergency service provider near you.

The All Animal Vet Clinic is here to help guide you through the journey of owning a new puppy.

Contact us to schedule an appointment in our Lebanon, Indiana Clinic.