The signs of poisoning will be different for each poisoning. The range of signs is confusingly wide and sometime pose quite a challenge for the veterinarian to diagnose.
Some poisons are irritants to the gut and cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Some poisons damage the brain or kidneys causing depression. “Ratsak” type poisons cause the animal to bleed internally or externally. Some poisons such as “Baysol” and “Defender” cause excitement and convulsions.
Identification of the poisoning in pets
Occasionally it is possible to identify a specific poison from the contents of the stomach or droppings, or from the history given by the owner, but more usually we are forced to rely on the clinical signs to identify the poisoning.
We do not do specific tests in-house other than snake bite envenomation tests.
Initial critical care when a pet is admitted to hospital
An intravenous catheter may be placed in a vein of a leg or neck which can stay in place for several days at a time, thereby allowing us to medicate many times over. This catheter will have a bandage covering to protect it. In cases where there is increased excitement or convulsions, sedatives may be given. Oxygen may be administered by mask or by passing a tube into the airway of the animal via the nostril or mouth if the patient has laboured breathing.
Treating pets hospitalised with poisoning
If it is suspected that the animal has eaten a toxic substance the veterinarian may give a drug to cause vomiting and /or proceed to wash out (lavage) the stomach under a sedative or anaesthetic.
Charcoal may be administered to absorb the toxic substance. A bowel wash out may be performed to help remove the toxin from the gut. Intravenous fluids and other drugs may be given to support patients until they have recovered sufficiently to eat and drink normally.
It is possible for a pet to improve initially and then deteriorate, so we are cautious in our monitoring. Clinical examinations, laboratory work and respiratory and cardiac monitors may all be used. In particular, the kidneys and the liver, as the main cleansing organs in the body, are particularly at risk of delayed damage.
Home Care after a pet has been hospitalised for poisoning
After your pet has recovered sufficiently we may ask you to transfer them to your own veterinarian directly for follow up care. Occasionally we will send the pet home with you but ask that you see a veterinarian the next day. This check is very important since poisoning cases often take several days to completely recover and complications can arise in this period.
We try to stay in touch with you so that you, and we, understand the situation clearly. We would ask that you ring us twice daily to check on progress while your pet is in hospital with us.
The success rate of treating pets that have been poisoned
If we can intervene early in the course of the condition we can usually provide adequate supportive care to achieve a good result. Only a small proportion of poisons are totally irreversible in their effects.
Important information for your vet
1. Let us know if you have any possible toxic chemicals at home
2. Advise us if any medications are used by people in the house
3. Check your yard for any suspicious foreign material which your pet may have been exposed to.
4. Let us know of any medical problems your pet may have
Written by Dr Caitlin Logan