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The first thing that I will say about essential oils is that not understanding them or not being educated on appropriate use is what tends to cause the concerns that we see with dogs. If you are going to use essential oils in your daily life, find a reliable source to gain the education that you need to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe.
What are essential oils? They are basically the volatile, organic component of plants that give each plant its distinctive fragrance and taste. These compounds are found in the roots, stems, leaves, nuts, seed and virtually all parts of the plant. They are considered volatile because their molecules quickly go from a liquid or solid state into a gas or aroma. This is what makes aroma therapy possible. When you open a bottle of an essential oil, you very quickly smell the aroma as the molecules escape the bottle in the form of gas.
We have certainly seen an increase in essential oil toxicity in recent years due to the increase in pet owner’s desire to treat more holistically or with natural remedies. In dogs, the most common essential oil toxicities that we see are to Melaleuca or Tea Tree Oil, Pennyroyal, Oil of Wintergreen, and Pine Oils. I want to break down each one of these potential toxins to give you a better understanding of where the danger exists with each of these oils.
Melaleuca oil, also known as tea tree oil, is our most common essential oil offender in toxicities to dog. Tea tree oil originates from the leaves of the Australian tea tree. These exposures often occur with application or administration of the concentrated tea tree-oil by well-meaning pet owners attempting to treat their pet for various skin conditions or external parasites such as fleas. It is equally absorbed with both dermal or oral administration and both result in toxicity. These toxicities are not caused by the very low concentrations of tea tree oil in the various shampoos made for dogs. The concentrated products are the primary culprit. We can see signs of depression, ataxia (very uncoordinated gait), paralysis of the rear legs, vomiting, hypothermia (low body temperature), and dermal irritation. These exposures will require veterinary intervention. The signs can be present for up to 4 days with aggressive care and treatment.
Pennyroyal is an oil from Mentha Pulegium, more commonly known as European Pennyroyal or squaw mint. Pennyroyal has a long history in folk medicine with use as an insect repellent. It can be used by unsuspecting pet owners to treat flea infestations or to try to prevent flea infestations. Again, oral or dermal exposures can both result in toxicity. The short answer on the toxicity with pennyroyal is that it causes hepatic necrosis or liver failure. We can see the dog become sick after exposure with vomiting, diarrhea, both of which can be bloody, lethargy and death due to hepatic necrosis. Again, aggressive veterinary care is needed to try to support the liver and prevent liver failure. Pennyroyal is a known toxin to dogs and all forms of it should be avoided in dogs.
Our third essential oil of concern is Oil of Wintergreen. It is derived from the Gaultheria Procumbens or the Eastern Teaberry. Long story short, Oil of Wintergreen contains methyl salicylates, more commonly know as aspirin. It is many times used topically as a pain reliever for muscle aches and pains but may also be used in holiday candies with bakers having bottle of concentrated product. Dogs can show signs of aspirin toxicity and we can see signs of vomiting due to severe gastrointestinal upset and ulcers, along with potential renal and liver failure. Aggressive veterinary care is needed for gastrointestinal protection and renal and hepatic support.
On to Pine Oils. Pine oils are derived from Pinus sylvestris or the Scots Pine located in Europe. In fact, it is the national tree of Scotland. Pine oils are used as a natural disinfectant, deodorizer, household cleaning products and massage oils. The touted benefits of pine oil include increasing circulation, aids in decreasing swelling, tenderness and pain in sore joints and muscles along with antibacterial properties. What we can see in dogs with dermal or oral exposure can be dermal or gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting that may be bloody, drooling, weakness, ataxia, along with affects to the central nervous system, and potential renal and liver affects. Again, aggressive care is needed to limit or decrease the exposure and prevent worsening clinical signs.
Another element of concern with essential oils is with the risk of aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. Because of the viscosity of oils, we get concerned with the dog getting the oil in their lungs not only when ingesting it, but because of the irritation that it can cause to the gastrointestinal tract, we can see the oil be aspirated when it is vomited back up. For this reason, we do not recommend induction of emesis with oil products and immediate veterinary care is needed with most of these exposures.
Prevention is the best medicine in limiting essential oil toxicities in dogs. Many of the exposures that we deal with are from well-meaning pet owners that have used an essential oil without knowing the consequences or risks involved with these types of volatile oils. I would recommend discussing any use of essential oils with your veterinarian prior to use. If they do not have experience with essential oils, they will likely know someone in the veterinary profession that they can refer you to get the information that you need for safe use of essential oils.
If you have an exposure to an essential oil product in your pet, please do not hesitate to contact us for information. We are here 24/7 to assist you and your pet!
Every day at Pet Poison Helpline we receive calls where a medication or supplement has been accidentally dropped and a pet has ingested it. The caller is often distressed, and, rightfully so because many medications administered in correct doses for a human constitute a dangerous dose for a pet. Even worse, some medications and supplements are not tolerated at any dose by certain species of pets.
The callers vary and may be the pet owner, a pet sitter caretaking another’s pet, or guest in a household with pet animals. Besides the frightening incident that is transpiring, these callers have another thing in common – they never anticipated they would drop their medication nor how fast a pet would ingest the product. Often callers either take their medications or administer the medications to another person in the household with the pet close at hand. Makes sense right! Our pets love to tag along as we walk from room to room. Pets also watch us attentively while we eat learning that items we place into our mouths are usually food. Therefore, when that pill or tablet is dropped the pet will pounce upon it likely believing they have consumed a food treat. And it only compounds the situation that their natural instinct to NOT share drives them to swallow quickly and ensure that the goodie (or in this case – the baddie) is 100% theirs.
My suggestion for reducing these incidents is as simple as a closed door. First, please be thoughtful when taking or administering medications. Don’t make medicating an add-on to talking on the phone, putting on your clothes, preparing meals, or the fill-in-the-blank of daily chores that we all have to accomplish. Medications are both inherently helpful AND dangerous so take a few minutes to focus on the task when handling and administering them. Second, place the pet OUTSIDE of the room where you will be taking or administering the medication and CLOSE THE DOOR firmly. LOCK the door if you think another family member may open it during this process and allow the pet entry. Take or administer the medication being sure that it was swallowed if giving it to another. I suggest taking the medication over a plugged sink, if able, so that if dropped you have a smaller area to search for the product. That said, if a pill is dropped you should SEARCH and FIND. Do not underestimate the dedication of a pet to find that dropped pill within hours, days or weeks and ingest it. When the medication is safely ingested by yourself or the appropriate patient, open the door and rejoin your pet.
So please safeguard your pet and CLOSE the DOOR when you medicate yourself or others, because the best way to treat a toxicity is to prevent an intoxication!
Kia Benson, DVM
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology
The ASPCA estimates that close to 900,000 cats in the United States are euthanized yearly. Many are killed because they are deemed to be “un-adoptable”. Such cats are either poorly socialized or behaviorally challenged, and may have even been feral. They cannot be or are not content to be indoor/outdoor cats living with people. These cats are too shy, too fearful or have too many behavioral (i.e. not medically related) litter box issues to successfully live indoors.
A few years ago, many humane societies and shelters started to develop Barn Cat aka Working Cat programs. The programs are designed to re-home these less than adoptable cats to facilities where they can act as working cats. Barns, stables, factories, wineries, feed storehouses, ranches, and warehouses are all places that can act as homes for working cats.
How are these programs different from the reality of barn cat life for many cats already? Most “regular” barn cats are never spayed/neutered or vaccinated, resulting in high overpopulation rates plus a high death rate in these cats from infectious illness. In contrast, cats who come into a Barn Cat program through a humane society or shelter are fully vetted. They are checked/treated for fleas and ear mites, spayed or neutered, micro-chipped, dewormed, tested for infectious diseases, and up to date on necessary vaccines.
Adoption of a homeless barn cat through a shelter program also means that the human adopter has committed to provide a warm and dry shelter (insulated in cold months), litter box, daily food and water, and veterinary care for the adopted cats. Some of these “unadoptable” barn cats have even gone on to become house pets after they have acclimated to their caretakers.
While the primary job of these re-homed barn cats is to control the mice and rat population at their new home, they still need to be given food and water daily. Working Cats cannot maintain their optimum health by eating rodents alone – many hunts and much energy usually needs to be expended in order for a cat to land even a single rodent meal. Since most cats are just following their instinct when they hunt for mice and rats, withholding meals will not mean that the re-homed barn cats will catch more mice. Plus, feeding helps keep the re-home barn cat from wandering too far, or from finding another home that offers food.
Barn Cat Adoption/Working Cat programs are an environmentally-safe alternative to poisonous pest controls. These programs save lives – both the lives of the cats in the programs, AND the lives of wild animals who are no longer exposed to modern rodenticides.
Barn cats, the original form of pest control. What was old is now new again, but with better health care and working environments for the employed cats!
Renee F. DiPietro CVT, Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator
Veterinary Information Specialist
Fresh homemade bread is a comforting pleasure for many people. An even more gratifying experience comes when we have the opportunity to create this staple food from scratch yourself. Winter days provide ample opportunity for simple, yet primal projects that can bring immense satisfaction to the cold worn soul. A few simple innocuous ingredients (water, salt, yeast, flour) combine to produce a rising mass of dough that can be baked into any number of bread incarnations. Boules, baguettes, Italian loaves, pizza dough, rolls…there are numerous possibilities. For some of us, the rising of the dough is magical, an alchemy of sorts that never fails to thrill. When we strip away the Abracadabra we find basic science is the root of the transformation. It is in this basic science that an unexpected hazard for pets can be found.
Yeast are single celled fungi. They are the verbs of bread making. They are the action guys. These industrious organisms cause alcoholic fermentation. With the right conditions (moisture, warmth, nutrition) they consume sugars in the dough mixture. This consumption initiates the production of ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. As carbon dioxide is produced, gas forms in the dough which is what causes that lovely rise. During the baking process the alcohol in dough dissipates to only a small, non-harmful amount. It is in the raw dough that danger is found for our pets if they ingest it.
The problem with ingestion of raw dough is both one of toxic potential and mechanical issue. Clinical signs are often evident within an hour but can appear later. The rising of bread dough occurs rapidly, and the dough continues to expand in the warm and wet environment of the stomach. This ongoing expansion of material can cause bloat, foreign body obstruction, stomach torsion, hypovolemic shock, and in very severe cases stomach rupture. Affected pets will often have a distended abdomen, abdominal pain and be retching or vomiting unproductively. Discomfort can also be expressed as agitation, panting, or pacing.
In addition, the alcohol produced and contained in raw dough can cause alcohol toxicity for our pets. Symptoms such as lethargy, difficulty walking, vocalization, behavior change, urinary incontinence, blindness, and coma are possible. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is also a dangerous component of alcohol toxicity. These clinical signs can progress to both respiratory and cardiovascular collapse. Both the toxicity and mechanical risks can result in death as can the combined symptoms of both issues.
The above described condition is a horrible situation for a pet to endure. This scenario is also heartbreaking, stressful, and expensive for the pet owner. The problem is very easily avoided. It is as simple as rising your dough in a place where your pet will have absolutely no access. I much prefer to rise my dough in my living room by my woodstove as you can see in the image in this article. It adds to the ambience and satisfaction of the whole project. Typically, though, I make a different choice as my dogs often hang out in the living room. I can only use my favorite spot by the woodstove if I know my dogs will be outside or secure in another area of the house until the rising process is finished. I am fortunate to have a bread proofing option on my oven. Once I have prepped the dough for rising it goes into the oven. Once it has risen I take it out quickly to transfer it to the pan or stone I will bake it on, preheat my oven, and then it goes straight back in. I do not leave the dough unattended at all. I have a wily 13-year-old Jack Russell Terrier who is not challenged by height and who would be all over that dough given only a split second of opportunity. For those without a proofing option in your oven it is important to find a secure space where no pet has access to the dough while it rises and before it is baked.
If your pet does manage to consume raw dough this is an urgent situation. Immediately contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. It is important to act quickly but don’t try any home remedies or treatments of any kind without the advice of your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as misguided treatments can make the situation worse.
While pet sitting, the family is trusting you to keep their animals safe while they are away. Unfortunately, stressful times like when an owner is away might be the very time that a normally docile dog becomes a counter surfer for the first time, grabs, and eats something poisonous. Taking some precautions before the family leaves, and when you first arrive, can help to minimize dangers to the animals in your care.
Have a discussion with the pet owner before your arrival about safety measures in case something goes awry while they are gone. Ask the owner to leave their veterinarian’s contact information in a central location, such as the refrigerator or kitchen counter. Find out where their veterinarian is located in case you need to take an animal to their facility. It is also helpful to have the pet owner write a signed letter giving you permission to take their animals to the veterinary clinic in the event of an emergency where they cannot be reached.
Symptoms of poisoning in pets can include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, breathing changes, seizures, loss of balance/trouble walking, weakness, collapse, or behavioral changes. It can be difficult to know what’s normal behavior for each animal if you are not accustomed to being around them. Communication with the pet owners about the symptoms you are seeing can be very important.
If you think that a pet ate something toxic, call their veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline before attempting any home remedies. Look through the house for evidence of items that have been knocked over, chewed on, or are out of place. If you need to go to the veterinarian, take the packaging of the product with you for identification.
There are numerous household products that are toxic to animals. Walking through the house when you first arrive to identify and possibly put things that could be hazardous out of paws’ reach can help to avoid some scary situations during your stay with these pets. For example, bottles of medication or supplements can be left out on counters while owners are packing for their trip, which can prove to be too tempting to a dog that is coping with a big change in their household. This is a good time to clear counters and tabletops! Leave a note for the owner if you moved any of their items so that they will know where to find them. This will also help to alert their attention to the fact that the product is toxic to animals, and may help them to avoid an exposure with their pet in the future. Chances are, they will be very grateful for your expertise.
The following infographic details some common items in each area of the household that are poisonous to pets. Taking the time to identify hazards ahead of time can help to prevent injury to the animals in your care. More extensive lists of household toxins are available on the Pet Poison Helpline website.
Jo Marshall,CVT, NREMT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist
Pets can get into anything! And their owners feel terrible and guilty that they let it happen. But I am here to tell you, sometimes you just cannot prevent it. Dogs, especially are just going to do what dogs are going to do regardless of what we feel or think about it. We have all had some bad days with our pets and thankfully, most days with our furry friends are the best, but sometimes when things go wrong, it goes really wrong.
These things seem to happen when it is the least convenient and the most stressful time for us, the pet owner. I sometimes wonder if dogs in particular, are opportunists or if they are experiencing the same stress that we do and respond to it in really self-destructive ways. Take for instance the busy holiday season we have just survived. We are all busy with baking, shopping, decorating, and many times we have guests in the house. This is always the time that Fido will pick to raid your visiting Grandmother’s suitcase of her weeks’ worth of medications or go shopping under the Christmas tree and eat a raisin filled fruit cake or a box of chocolates that your friend left for you.
You may have a particular challenging dog that gets into anything and everything and just when you think you have the entire environment pet-proofed, that over-achiever dog develops a new life skill like the ability to open a cabinet or door. Or they suddenly decide that something that they have never looked at before is now the new highly sought-after thing to investigate. Again, I sometimes think that they are just opportunists.
We have other exposures where we may have a pet get into an illicit drug. The owner is worried about our judgment of the situation and maybe even concerned about legal ramifications. I will assure you, we are not here to judge; our sole goal is to provide your pet with the best possible care to survive whatever has happened regardless of the exposure.
Again, we do not judge here! We are all pet owners and we have all been humiliated a time or two by our own pets! We are all pet owners who even with our experiences of working in a poison control center, have had the unthinkable happen in our own homes more than we would like to admit. I asked my co-workers to share some of their own pet horror stories with me, I got the most hilarious accumulation of stories that I just had to share will all of you! These stories are hysterical now but at the time, we had a pretty stressed out pet owner (even though we are trained professionals, our pets are all part of our families as yours are to you).
I am going to start with a few of my own dog tales of the things that my pets have gotten into over the years. I had a very naughty Rat Terrier that lived the life of a raider of all foods. She was only 12# but ate 2 full bags of marshmallows one day while I was at work. She was an opportunist and our other dog could open the cabinet doors in the kitchen. So he opened them and she did the eating. When I came home that evening she looked “jet-puffed” and until I got into the kitchen, I had no idea what she had gotten into. The most interesting part of that ingestion was her marshmallow poops for the next 24 hours. The one ingestion that my dogs have done that I have never been able to figure out involved a 20 bag of flour that I had setting on my kitchen counter for Christmas baking. My Vizsla, Dash jumped up and tore the bag open and spread it all over. The worst part was the heating vent was just below where the bag was setting on the countertop. The flour spilled into the heat duct work and I was unfortunately reminded of good old Dash getting into the flour every time the furnace turned on and flour gently dusted the entire house. I cleaned up that mess for months! My Labrador tore the closet doors off the hinges in my office to get to the Girls Scout Cookies I had hidden from both him and my kids. I think he ate about 4 boxes of Thin Mints that day. That dog has such a cast iron gut that I was never able to induce emesis with him with hydrogen peroxide. He was no worse for the wear! Just this fall my little female Vizsla chewed a light bulb that I had changed and briefly set on the table to take to the recycling. In five minutes or less she had chewed it up and again, no harm done.
I have many more stories like this with my dogs but it is time to share the love, or should I say, the humiliation with my co-workers and their pets.
Tanya shared a fishy tale: Years ago, we were at our cabin in the woods. My husband threw the grease from our fish fry into the snow, which my two dogs went and ate without us knowing. An hour later we hopped into our car to head home, and both dogs began vomiting fish grease all over our back seat! The car stunk for 6 months and the seats were permanently stained with grease.
Becca told me about her cat and what he passed in the litter box: I was scooping the cat’s litter box and noticed a bright pink substance strangely resembling bubble gum within a piece of stool. After some investigating, I found a full, intact, standard size birthday balloon. How he managed to swallow it and pass the thing, I’ll never know. But he lives to tell the tale!
Mary’s cat, Lyman, eats ribbon off gifts. She has a no-ribbon policy in her house since she found ribbon in his stool…. still curled up like on the present!
Lindsey’s cat Hunni, at 3 months of age, ate a big wooden thumb tack. She plucked it right off a new cork board I just bought and swallowed it…right in front of me! I couldn’t believe it! I was in tech school at the time and was working at a vet clinic part time. I dropped her off at the clinic on the way to school. Everyone at the clinic thought she’d end up needing surgery due to the size of the tack and how small she was, but her x-rays showed the tack was moving through. It made it all the way to her colon while I was at school…so I got to take her home that night. She pooped out the giant tack a few hours after we got home!
Chris related: My lovely Nala decided the eating a garbage can full of week old fish, a tub of butter, and other various things would be a great idea… Of course, the tech in me was conflicted, do I vomit her and risk aspiration with the butter, or not and risk an obstruction with all the other stuff she ingested…Well thankfully she made the decision for me by vomiting not once, not twice, but three times in my room, the only place in the house with carpet…. Needless to say, it took quite a while to get the smell out of the carpet! And this is just her most recent endeavor. Hmmm – I think Chris has a perpetual trouble seeker!
Sandra’s little pug puppy has turned into quite the litterbox turd burglar! Yuck!!
Ashley told me about her mom’s dog. After her mom scooped the cat box into a plastic grocery sack and set out on the porch to take out to the trash. She turned her back and it disappeared. The entire sack full of cat poop passed whole through my dog and was discovered the next day. That one is a double yuck!
Casey told me about her dog Nala and the fortune cookie incident! Her dog Nala ate a fortune cookie (wrapper and all). The next day she vomited up the entire cookie with the wrapper still around it intact with cookie and fortune still inside. I should have read the fortune but never did, I still regret not reading that one.
Charlotte’s childhood dog ate crayons and Play-Doh constantly. Her poop was always a rainbow of colors. I, too had a crayon eater in my life, poop patrol was always laughable!
Tabatha shared a story about her newly adopted bloodhound! She ate an entire pair of women’s size 10 moccasin style slippers. I don’t mean she tore them up. I mean she completely ingested both shoes. Everything was either vomited or passed. No surgery required. That one was a close call!
Kristi’s dog Meka ingested a lot of things but the most memorable was the time she ate one whole leg of a pair of my jeans. Some H202 later and she threw it up…whole! I wasn’t expecting that, I thought she would have chewed it up and swallowed pieces of it. Since then we have found out she has a chronic liver issue & when it acts up that’s when she starts eating strange things.
Lacy’s little Maltese; Bailee who was 9 years old at the time, had unknowingly gotten into a bag of those googly plastic eyes that you use for crafting. The way we found out was she vomited off the end of our bed in the middle of the night and I turned on the lights and there were 2 eyeballs staring back at me…literally! We figure she must have gotten into the bag a couple days before and a couple of the eyeballs hung out in her stomach. When I was picking up the yard the next day I found a stool that also had an eyeball in it staring back at me!
Jess’s old man cat started eating ribbon from the Christmas gifts, which certainly isn’t interesting or unusual, except the ribbon was printed with words like Merry Christmas and Ho! Ho! Ho! Made for some very comical litter box scooping. You must look for humor in that chore!
Sharon’s dog ate an entire roll of toilet paper. Since this product breaks down when wet (not a big FBO risk) and he was being treated for chronic diarrhea, this turned out to be a win-win with a brief period of solid stools!
Casey’s cat Tobi ate the nipple off many of my daughter’s bottles when she was a wee babe. And yes – one ended up getting obstructed and surgery was needed. Just an FYI on this exposure, this is common for cats to eat the nipples off baby bottles, requiring surgically removal.
But here are my 2 favorite co-worker pet stories:
Jenna said her fox terrier ate her engagement ring when he was 6 months old. We brought him to the vet and they took an x-ray. My ring was in Tucker’s stomach, but it was too big to pass through his intestines. Surgery was anticipated. Before going into surgery, the DVM induced vomiting and up came my ring. After being in Tucker’s stomach for a while, my ring came out sparkling and shining!
Jess related that her dog once ate a two-piece swim suit and both pieces came out whole about 2 weeks later while on a walk. I was wondering what had happened to it! Really funny to see but I was so thankful it didn’t obstruct.
So, there you have it! We are all in the same boat with these crazy pets of ours! We are not here to judge, but are here to help you with these very stressful moments of pet ownership. We are here 24/7 to give you a hand and put your mind at ease along with providing understanding and compassionate care recommendations.
Kia Benson, DVM
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology
Essential oils are volatile, organic constituents of plants that contribute to fragrance and taste. They are extracted from plants via distillation or cold pressing. Essential oils are utilized in a variety of ways: as insecticides, in aromatherapies, personal care products (e.g., antibacterials), flavorings, herbal remedies and liquid potpourri.
Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin, and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and as such have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.
Essential oils that are known to cause poisoning in cats include oil of wintergreen, oil of sweet birch, citrus oil (d-limonene), pine oils, Ylang Ylang oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, pennyroyal oil, clove oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil. Symptoms that develop depend on the type of oil involved in the exposure and can include drooling, vomiting, tremors, ataxia (wobbliness), respiratory distress, low heart rate, low body temperature, and liver failure.
Diffuser Types and Health Hazards
Until recently, the use of essential oils for aromatherapy was restricted to such devices as candles, liquid potpourri products, room sprays, passive diffusers, or applying it to skin like perfume.
Passive diffusers work by evaporating the oil, producing a pleasant smell. Types include: 1) reed diffusers, where the reeds soak up the oil and disperse its fragrance into the air; 2) heat diffusers like plug-in/electric oil diffusers, candle burners, or table top warmers that use heat to evaporate the oil, 3) non-motorized, personal evaporative diffusers (necklace pendants, bracelets, etc.) that use room air currents to diffuse the aroma, and 4) motorized diffusers that use a fan to blow air through a filter or pad that has been permeated with an essential oil.
Unless the oil in a passive diffuser gets onto a cat’s skin or is ingested in some way (e.g. the diffuser tips over onto or near the cat, or the cat ingests a personal diffuser), the main hazard to cats from essential oils dispersed through passive diffusers is respiratory irritation.
Inhalation of strong odors or fragrances can cause some cats to develop a watery nose or eyes, a burning sensation in the nose/throat, nausea leading to drooling and/or vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Difficulty breathing in a cat is evidenced by labored breathing, fast breathing, panting, coughing, or wheezing. NONE of these signs are normal in cats. A coughing episode in a cat can be mistaken by owners for the cat trying to vomit up a hairball. However, in this case the cat crouches low to the ground, with little to no abdominal movement that is more typical of vomiting. No hairball is produced.
Cats suffering such symptoms need to be moved immediately into fresh air, and require emergency veterinary treatment should their symptoms not quickly resolve once they are in fresh air. Cats with pre-existing respiratory issues such as asthma, airborne allergies, or cats exposed to second hand smoke from their human companions, are at greater risk for developing severe respiratory irritation than cats without such conditions.
Recently, active essential oil diffusers have hit the market. The active diffusers differ from passive ones in that actual microdroplets or particles of oil are emitted into the air in addition to the pleasant aroma of the oil. Nebulizing diffusers (pressurized high-speed air stream and an atomizing nozzle) and ultrasonic diffusers (electric current causes an instrument to emit a vibration) fall into this category.
The droplets dispersed by these new diffusers may be small, but they still pose a risk to cats. Depending on how close the cat is to the dispenser, the essential oil microdroplets may collect on the cat’s fur if it is the same room as the active diffuser. The oil can be either absorbed directly through the skin, or ingested when the cat grooms itself.
Drooling, vomiting, tremors, ataxia (wobbliness), respiratory distress, low heart rate, low body temperature, and liver failure can potentially develop depending on the type of essential oil that was used and the dose that the cat was exposed to.
Like oil and water, essential oils and cats really do not mix. Owners should be cautious using essential oils and diffusers in their homes in order to protect their cat(s) from a toxic risk. Most importantly, concentrated essential oils should never be directly applied to cats.
Renee DiPietro, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
Rainy days and winter weekends are often fertile ground for the seeds of creativity. Parents and industrious children search for recipes for homemade arts and crafts. Why buy when you can make? One such project is making homemade slime. This gelatinous, globby, material can be squished, stretched, and lobbed much to the delight of active little minds and sometimes even become a hand squeeze stress reliever toy for adults. Lessons in science, math, and art are all rolled into one! These recipes are designed for children so an expectation of inherent safety exists. This being said, these products are not meant to be ingested and do pose a variety of toxicity risks and hazards when ingested by our pets (or children!).
There are endless recipes for homemade slime to develop different colors, textures, and themes. There are foamy slimes, holiday slimes, crunchy slime, liquid glass slimes, stretchy slimes, and many more concoctions. Many of the ingredients are relatively benign but some do hold significant toxicity risks.
Ingredients can include table salt, epsom salt, boric acid, school glue, shaving cream, laundry detergent, hand Soap, saline contact lens solution, baking soda, food coloring, liquid starch, hand lotion, shampoo, toothpaste and dish soap. Slime can also contain objects such as tinsel, sequins, and glitter that pose GI injury risks.
Not all of these ingredients are toxic to pets but some ingredients do hold toxic potential.
Table Salt: This is often the most concerning ingredient in many slime recipes. Pets can develop salt toxicity or hypernatremia. Depending on the amount of salt ingested symptoms can range from GI upset to Central Nervous System signs such as lethargy, tremors, seizures, coma, and death. Signs of toxicity can be seen at 2 g/kg , or 0.13 tablespoons/kg of body weight. To put this into perspective, a 10lb dog (4.54 kg) could began to show signs of toxicity after ingesting just over 0.5 tablespoons of table salt. For that same 10 lb dog a fatal dose is possible at 1.5 tablespoons of salt ingested. Some slime recipes do not contain a particular amount of salt but just instructions to continue adding salt until the desired consistency/texture is achieved. This can make it difficult to gauge the amount of salt in the finished product. Some homemade slimes contain epsom salt instead of table salt. It would generally take more epsom salt than table salt to cause toxicity but this is still an ingredient that should not be ingested in large amounts as significant GI sxs can result.
School glue is a common ingredient that does not usually hold significant potential for toxicity. When ingested GI irritation (vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia) is possible.
Shaving cream, hand soap, dish soap, shampoo and most hand lotions would also generally be expected to cause not much more than GI irritation but variations in ingredients are possible that may increase the risk for toxicity. For example there are shampoos and lotions that contain cocoa bean (Theobroma Cacao) extract which is an ingredient of concern for chocolate toxicity.
Boric Acid: Generally in acute (one time) doses this is a GI irritant that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or anorexia.
Saline Contact Lens Solution: While some contact lens solutions are just saline, in addition to the salt concern, many (usually the ones used to make slime) contain Boric Acid or Borate which is a GI irritant.
Laundry detergent: Laundry detergent when ingested can be a GI irritant or for some products even cause corrosive injury to the oral cavity and GI tract. Mixed in to a product like slime it would be diluted and less likely to cause corrosive injury but if not well mixed and an if area of concentrated laundry detergent came into contact with the GI tract there would still be potential for injury.
Toothpaste: Many toothpastes contain Xylitol which can pose significant toxicity risk for dogs. Depending on the dose ingested, Xylitol can cause profound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and in higher doses liver failure. Both of these levels of toxicity can be life threatening for your dog.
Liquid Starch: Most liquid starches contain ingredients that would be expected to cause GI irritation at most when ingested in a slime mixture.
There are other concerns in addition to toxicity when our pets ingest slime. Large amounts of slime could pose a risk for a foreign body obstruction or blockage in the GI tract.
When slime contains decorative additives such as sequins, tinsel, or glitter, injury to the GI tract is also possible. Tinsel is of particular concern as if long enough strands (more than a couple of inches long) are ingested, linear foreign body (a condition where string type materials can cause injury to the GI tract by bunching it up and causing blockage or necrotic damage)is possible.
Another concern is that slime is by nature slimy, and viscous. If your pet vomits this material back up there is a risk for aspiration of the product into the lungs which can quickly become a life threatening situation.
How do we prevent our pets from ingesting homemade slime?
When the slime is not in use keep it somewhere that is not accessible to your pet.
Keep your pets out of areas where slime is in use.
Teach your children not to walk away from their slime project without putting it somewhere that is inaccessible to pets.
Store the slime making ingredients out of reach of your pets at all times.
Slime ingestion is also harmful for wildlife. Please dispose of your used slime responsibly.
What should you do if your pet ingests slime?
Do not attempt to induce vomiting at home or treat your pet in any other way without advice from your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. Some at home treatments can do more harm than good.
Call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline.
Making slime and other homemade craft projects with your kids is time well spent. Just be careful to think about how to protect your pets before embarking on these wonderful domestic adventures. May you and your family have many happy slime making adventures to come.
Tonya Tenters, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
With the New Year, often there are New Year’s Resolutions. January is frequently the starting point for a new exercise plan or activity; however, have you ever considered including your pets in your resolution? Animals thrive on enriching activities! This does not have to be some elaborate exercise plan that adds hours to the day, but simple minutes added to your day and your pet’s.
It has been scientifically proven that animals have a better quality of life when exercised and played with regularly. Therefore, in veterinary clinics and shelters, that scheduled enrichment time is a priority. This adds to the quality of life an animal has, even when they must be in a small space (i.e. a kennel). This concept can also be applied to the family pet, whether they are a dog, cat, bird, exotic, etc.
Some great ideas for enrichment are walking, running, using toys to get them to play, and even food. For our smaller pets, sometimes hiding food and having them hunt for it utilizes their natural instincts and engages their minds. With our larger pets, walking them, even if only for a few minutes, gets their bodies up and moving and engages their minds. If you have multiple pets, it may mean different days for different activities.
The best part of this New Year’s Resolution is that it benefits both the pet and YOU! Using a few minutes, a day to disconnect from the wired world and interact with your pet has its own health benefits. Pets help us de-stress, which helps us unwind and relax. If you are playing with your pet or walking them, it will involve some activity for you. If you spend all day in the office, in a chair, this is a way to get moving. If your job is high intensity, high stress, then playing with your pet allows your brain to take a break. So, take a moment, think of some simple, small activities that you can do with your pet and make that a resolution or just a life style change!
Audra Stillabower, CVT, VIS
Veterinary Information Specialist
As the holiday season is upon us, the excitement of giving and receiving presents is felt by many. What would be cuter than a puppy or kitten with a bright red bow under the Christmas tree and the happiness on children’s faces? While it is a thoughtful gift, there can be a downside to gifting pets. I worked in a shelter environment for 8 years, and there is a spike in owner surrendered pets before and after holidays. While disturbing, many people will surrender their old pets before the holiday to make way for new pets and afterwards, many well meant “gifts” are returned.
While returning a gift to a store is relatively easy, returning a living animal to a shelter could very well mean that the pet may be euthanized due to space issues. To help prevent these returns to the shelter, here are some tips to think about before you gift that pet.
Do you know for a fact that the person wants a pet? Have they talked at length about wanting a dog or a cat or is it something that you think would enrich their life? Pets do bring joy but not everyone has time for a pet. They may lead busy lives and not be home to take care of them. They may have allergies, or they may not have the finances to take care of them. The main point to remember is that pets need to be a good fit to the person. An elderly person taking care of a rambunctious, large breed puppy or young children with a fragile pet may not be the best fit. While everyone wants the surprise of giving the gift, it would be best to bring the person with you to pick out their pet together. This way, they can pick the pet they want and ensure that they are getting the right animal for them.
Are you giving the pet to your children? Is the pet so they can learn to care for their own animal? While at the shelter, there were a lot of pets surrendered with the excuse, “my children won’t care for the pet”. Children can learn to care for their pet, but kids are kids. They forget sometimes to clean and feed. Giving a pet and expecting the child to care for the pet exclusively and when they forget to do that, giving the pet up to the shelter is traumatic for the child and the pet alike. Give the pet as a gift to the whole family. Expect that you will care for the pet too and teach your children proper care as well.
A pet can cost a lot of money. Crates, toys, food bowls, leashes, beds, cages, litterboxes, medical care. The list goes on. Does the person you are giving the pet to have the money to care for their new pet? Do they have any supplies for the pet? These are some questions to ask yourself before buying. Giving a pet without any of the supplies means that the person will have to buy everything themselves and it could cost hundreds of dollars. Has the pet been to the vet for a wellness exam or vaccinations? It is best when buying the pet to also buy the supplies and give a gift certificate or offer to pay for the first vet visit to help offset costs. Here’s an informative link on how much it costs to own a pet over their lifetime. The amounts are eye opening and are usually greatly underestimated.
The holidays can be a busy time, such as holiday parties, family members coming to visit, baking and cooking holiday goodies and trying to get all the gifts bought and wrapped. Bringing a pet into that hectic environment can be stressful to them. They are in new surroundings and trying to acclimate. The children are excited and want to pet and love on their new pet. Keep an area in the home for your pet that they can escape to and relax for periods of time. Putting them in a quiet room with no interruptions can help calm them. Instructing the kids to leave the puppy alone while they are in their crate so the puppy learns that they have a safe, quiet place to rest can help. Keeping your kitten and their litterbox in a single room in the house while they get used to their surroundings can help as well.
Where should you get your pet? There are a lot of options out there for purchasing a pet. Shelters like Animal Control, ASPCA or the Humane Society and local animal rescues are good choices. When adopting a pet from a shelter, you are rescuing them and potentially saving a life. If a shelter runs out of room and they are a shelter that euthanizes, pets are at risk. By adopting, you are saving that pet and emptying a cage or kennel so that a new animal can be saved as well. Pet rescues will often get their pets from the shelters. By adopting a pet from a rescue, they are able to take another pet from the shelter and potentially save a life. When you are looking for a specific breed of animal, check the rescues first. If you cannot find your pet there, you can check with reputable breeders in your area. It is recommended that you do some research on the breeder. What should you avoid? Pet stores and puppy mills. Some pet stores will purchase from puppy mills. Often these operations have poor conditions for the animals that are neither socialized nor kept in good health. Check out the link below from the HSUS on puppy mills.
As Sia sings in her new Christmas song, puppies are forever. Your pet becomes a part of your family and that means as they grow from that cute puppy or kitten into an older pet, they may have more health needs. It is important that they are still cared for and loved for life. It is hard to see old pets surrendered to the shelter when they have lived their whole life in a home. They are scared and confused and in a loud and stressful environment. Keep in mind that cats can live up to 20 years and depending on the dog breed, they can live on average up to 10-13 years. Having a wonderful new family member and keeping pets out of the shelters should be the main goal for us all this Christmas season and all year long.