Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour animal poison control center for pet owners and veterinarians dealing with a poisoned pet. Stay informed on recalls, tips and other news and safety information related to your pet .
Tonya Tenters, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
We are coming into the season of summer time fun and PESTS! There is a lot of talk about preventives and what to use, but there is not a lot of talk about the fleas themselves. Sometimes understanding the “enemy” can help you understand how to approach the potential problem.
Fleas are a small but one of the most frustrating pests that we can deal with in our homes and with our pets. What a lot of people do not realize is that most of the flea life cycle does not occur on our pets. When we see those adult fleas, there is already a problem present. A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day. This means that one flea can lead to a big problem. The larva stage of the flea life cycle like the cool dark areas in our houses, such as under furniture and near base boards. Then there is the pupa stage. This stage is why it is so difficult to get rid of fleas. This stage is completely impenetrable to any insecticide and can go dormant for long periods of time. Therefore, it can seem like all the fleas are gone and then SURPRISE, you have a whole new batch of fleas. So, now what do you do?
If you have a flea problem, here are some methods to use to help stop that life cycle from continuing. The first thing to do, is to make sure that all animals in the home have been treated. Try to determine the source of the problem. Are the fleas coming from inside the house or outside and being brought in. This means observing your pets. Check them in the morning and after they have gone outside. If they have no fleas in the morning inside, but come from outside and fleas are observed, then the source is likely in the outside environment. In that case, you may need to speak to a pest control officer. If the source is in the house, there are some key things that can be done. First, your vacuum is your best friend! The vacuum’s mechanical functions will destroy the pupa and kill larva, eggs, and fleas picked up. The vibrations can also help get dormant pupa to emerge. Make sure to vacuum regularly under furniture and along baseboards. This is important even on tile, hardwood floors, and laminate.
Your other household appliance that is your friend, is your dryer. Washing all bedding is great, but no one has the time to wash all the bedding more frequently. In that case, through the bedding in the dryer on high heat for 40 minutes. This will also kill the eggs, larva, pupa, and fleas on the bedding. It is less time and effort than washing and drying all of it numerous times.
Be consistent! Knowing the life cycle helps you understand that the whole life cycle needs to be addressed to fix the problem. We all wish there was a bubble that we could put around our animals to make a flea problem non-existent. Since we can’t do that, we will arm ourselves with knowledge and utilize these simple tools to deal with these pests.
Audra Stillabower, CVT Veterinary Information Specialist
National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week is April 8-14th 2018. This is a week designed to say thank you and to show appreciation to all the animal control officers who are hard working and dedicated to helping pets and people in the community every day.
There are times when people have viewed animal control officers in a negative light. The view of the “dog catcher” who sneaks around trying to catch dogs out of their yard or wanting to take people’s animals. These misperceptions are detrimental to the officers when they are trying to work with the community to help protect them from dangerous animals and to also protect their animals.
These brave officers work day and night to help the community and can put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. Here are some normal scenarios of a day in the life of an animal control officer:
There is a dog running around on the interstate and is putting motorists and itself in danger. The animal control officer needs to act quickly to get that animal and people out of harm’s way.
There is a large aggressive dog charging people in a residential neighborhood and trying to bite. The officer is tasked with capturing the animal to protect those citizens from getting bit and potentially getting a bite themselves.
A deer is stuck on an ornamental fence and is gravely injured. The officer needs to sedate the animal while having to get close to the wild animal.
A raccoon is acting abnormally, and people were exposed/bitten. The officer needs to capture this potentially dangerous animal for rabies testing.
These are some of the types of cases that animal control officers work every day. In addition, they help prosecute dog fighting and cock fighting rings and help with animal hoarder, abuse and puppy mill situations. They also help in disaster situations such as flooding, hurricanes and fires.
I was able to ask an animal control officer some questions about his profession recently to gain insight on what an animal control officer does and the frustrations that they face.
1. How long have you been an Animal Control Officer (ACO)?
I have been an ACO for 15 years and 4 months.
2. What made you want to be an officer?
Hmm, actually, I never wanted to be one, per se. I was laid off from a large electric company after a merger and went looking for something different. Animal control is what I found.
3. What are some of the normal duties of an Animal Control Officer?
We deal with almost anything animal related. We educate the public on spay/neuter, enforce animal related laws, and investigate bites for the local health department. We also assist the fire department, as the animals get displaced during fires. We also open emergency shelters during disasters, right next door to the regular shelter, so people can evacuate with their pets, instead of staying in a dangerous area.
4. What do you feel is the most rewarding part of your job?
Every once in a while, you get to do something really rewarding, like save an injured animal or help a family keep a treasured pet.
5. What do you find is the most frustrating or hardest part of your job?
The lack of support farther up in the justice system. Unless an animal crime becomes “newsworthy”, it is not considered a priority. I had part of a national dog fighting case dismissed, because the judge was ignorant and did not know it was illegal.
Don’t let your animal ride in a vehicle unsecured. The back of a pickup or a car with the windows down is dangerous and illegal. It the animal jumps out (and it happens a couple of times a year) the animal can get severely injured or die. And the owner gets charged with cruelty or conveying an animal in an unsafe manner.
6. What do you wish the public would know about Animal Control Officers?
We’re not magical. I can’t make your neighbor’s dog quit barking. Also, there aren’t that many of us, so response times can be extended. Sometimes I’m the only one working in the county.
7. What was one of your more interesting cases?
I had to remove an owner and his tiger from a strip club. He had brought the big cat in to pick up women. We had to educate him that it was not allowed.
8. How are some of the ways you handle a situation with a dangerous animal?
A control stick is standard equipment, but it is not always the best option. I have extensive experience with a tranquilizer gun and sometimes it’s the best and only way to capture a dangerous animal.
NOTE* A control stick is a metal pole with a loop at the end. The loop is placed around the dangerous animal’s neck. Once secured, the animal cannot whip around and bite anyone and can then be safely handled. Picture below.
9. What are some of the more frustrating public misconceptions about Animal Control Officers?
People labor under the impression that animals can be randomly seized if the owner is not “up to their standards”. Generally, they cannot be. If your neighbor doesn’t walk his dog, we aren’t going to seize it. It’s not something I would condone, as a dog owner, but it’s not illegal.
10. Do you feel that social media helps or hinders you in your work?
Social media is a 2-edged sword. I have responded to major floods where social media was used to let the public know the local shelter desperately needed supplies. They received enough stocks and funding to last a year.
On the downside, we recently had a cruelty complaint that was unfounded. The caller did not like the response, so she shared it on social media. It went viral and resulted in hundreds of hours dealing with the outrage and thousands of dollars of wasted money.
11. Is there anything else you would like people to know about Animal Control Officers?
We don’t have time to make up stories. If we say we just saw your dog loose, it was. I’ve had people swear their dog wasn’t loose, only to realize I had already impounded it.
Please don’t involve us in a neighbor dispute. If your neighbor doesn’t cut their grass, don’t make a fake complaint about their animal. That, and don’t surrender your pets to us. You took on the responsibility, see it through. Don’t leave your animal in the car. It begins to be a problem with the heat around 70 degrees F. In North Carolina, any John Q. Citizen can break your window and remove the animal with no penalty-if they think your animal is in trouble.
For National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week, I hope this article helps to highlight the great work that the officers do every day. They work hard to keep us and our pets safe. They often put themselves in harm’s way and they fight to end dog fighting and cruelty of our beloved companions. This week, think about sending your local animal control officers a tasty treat or gift to let them know that they are appreciated or donate to your animal control to help save more animals.
Why is it important to support our pet’s dental health? As in human healthcare, a healthy mouth has a strong link to overall wellness. Dogs, cats, and many other companion and farm animals can have dental issues arise if they are not provided with dental care from an early age. Dental issues can lead to pain, infection, lack of appetite and serious systemic disease.
How can we as pet owners help?
Forming a practice of preventative daily dental/oral care is a solid building block for a healthy mouth. Brushing your pet’s teeth daily, or even a few times a week can be a valuable wellness measure to help support dental health over a lifetime. There are numerous ways to “brush” your pet’s teeth including the simple action of using medical gauze to wipe off plaque. Veterinary clinics and pet retailers sell a plethora of tooth cleaning products such as finger brushes and dental toys. Accessory products such as pastes and gels are also abundant.
Puppies and Kittens will have their deciduous (baby teeth) by 6 to 8 weeks. These baby teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth by about 6 months of age. Even though the deciduous teeth are lost early in your pet’s life, developing an oral health practice when they are very young will prove to be invaluable later.
Providing oral health for your pet also allows you to become familiar with the particular topography of each pet’s mouth. This familiarity may help you to spot emerging problems in the mouth and especially regarding the teeth and gums. The earlier a developing problem is noticed, the easier it may be for the veterinarian to provide successful treatment.
Pets can begin to show signs of dental disease as early as 2-3 years of age. Halitosis (bad breath) can be an indication of a problem, but lack of this condition does not necessarily mean that the mouth is completely healthy.
Lack of appetite, drooling, and pawing at the mouth are other clinical signs that may indicate dental disease or other oral problems. It is also possible for there to be significant dental disease present without obvious associated clinical signs.
Plaque forms when a film of bacteria covers the teeth. The plaque quickly begins to harden, becoming the visible calculus. The bacteria in the plaque/calculus cause inflammation in the gingiva (gums). This all sets the stage for progressive dental disease. The more often the bacterial film can be removed by the mechanical act of brushing or by other at home oral care modalities, the longer it will take for dental disease to set in.
Dental Disease can lead to a variety of other serious health problems including Kidney Disease and Heart Disease that can become life threatening.
In addition to hands on cleaning there are a number of products such as water additives, healthy treats, toys, and chews that can help to keep your pets teeth clean by either preventing the build- up of calculus on the teeth or by mechanically removing some of the plaque and calculus via the action of chewing.
For dogs, even feeding a healthy snack daily can be helpful. My dogs get raw carrots as treats every day. They love them and the mechanical action of chewing them helps to remove new plaque.
While at home oral/dental care for your pet will help to slow down the dental disease process, it will still be important for your pet to have regular (annual) oral exams by your veterinarian. Professional cleanings are also an important part of pet dental care, as they are in human dentistry.
Some pets will require annual dental cleanings, while others may need them less often.
During a cleaning, a veterinarian, or more commonly a veterinary technician will:
Remove excess tartar/calculus
Ultrasonically scale the teeth and clean below the gingival (gum) line.
Probe periodontal pockets and chart the teeth on a dental record
Polish the teeth
Apply sealant to the teeth if requested by the owner or recommended by the DVM.
If any problems areas are noted the veterinarian may extract teeth, or perform endodontic or periodontal procedures.
Full dental cleanings and radiographs are performed under a general anesthetic to eliminate pain and stress for the patient and to ensure the safety of your pet, the veterinarian, and technician. General Anesthesia also allows the technician and DVM to do the most thorough job possible.
Many owners are concerned about general anesthesia. In most practices the veterinary professionals who perform anesthesia are highly trained and pets are monitored closely. If you have concerns talk with your veterinary practice. Ask them to explain the type of pre-anesthetic testing, anesthesia protocol , and monitoring they will use for your pet. More information can help you feel more comfortable. In most cases, it is much more risky for your pet if you allow dental disease to progress than to have your pet anesthetized for dental care.
Visit this link to see a comprehensive description (with pictures) of a feline dental cleaning process.
When selecting a veterinarian it is important to select an individual that has had significant training and experience in dental procedures.
Anesthesia Free Dental Cleaning:
Pet owners often ask about Anesthesia Free Dental Cleaning.
This practice is not recommended as the scope of therapy is limited and the risk of injury to the pet high.
The American Veterinary Dental College, whose membership is comprised of veterinary dental specialists, are against the practice of anesthesia free dentistry stating “removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.”
In summary, your proactive approach to dental/oral health home care and professional veterinary dental care can go a long way to support and improve the overall health of your companion. Just a few minutes a day can provide a significant leg up to dental health.
By Michelle Willis, RVT, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
Time: All poisons are instant. False! The majority of toxins need time to act. There are many toxins that will take hours to days before we see any symptoms. (For example, Long Acting Anticoagulant Rodenticides can take days for signs to show). This is something to keep in mind while we gather information about the exposure in your consult, we are very familiar with the timeframe of what your pet was exposed to.
Concentration: All poison is 100% concentrated, it only takes a drop. False! The dose determines the toxicity. For example, we can take a specific amount of a medication, and it can be effective. However, if we take too much of it, it will produce unwanted effects which results in a toxicity. This is important to keep in mind when using products that have ingredients in a low concentration (for example: household cleaners and ant baits) when they will not product unwanted effects, versus using those same ingredients at high concentrations.
Antidote: Every poison has one. In the dramatic movie scene, the hero saves the day by administering the red liquid that is the obvious antidote to the blue liquid that has been ingested. Suddenly all is well, and the characters can ride off into the sunset. False! While this may be surprising to some, most toxins DO NOT have an antidote. That does not mean that treatment and management of symptoms is not available.
Mushrooms: Only the brightly colored ones are toxic. False! There are thousands of types of mushrooms out there. To name a few, many in the Muscarine group and the Amanitin group are brown, …all brown. So are the non-toxic varieties that we often consume such as the Portabello and Button varieties. See where I’m going with this?
One thing is true: For the Best Outcome, seek professional assistance! Call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately. The sooner a dog poisoning or cat poisoning is diagnosed, the easier, less expensive, and safer it is to treat your pet.
Candi Amundson, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist
On September 26, 1961, the 87th United States Congress passed a joint resolution (Public Law 87-319) requesting that the President of the United States proclaim the third week of March National Poison Prevention Week. On February 7, 1962, President John F. Kennedy responded to this request and proclaimed the third week of March as National Poison Prevention Week. The first National Poison Prevention Week was therefore observed in March 1962. The National Poisoning Prevention Council is the official sponsor of National Poison Prevention Week March: 18-24, 2018. We have all heard the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Not all situations can be prevented, however making a conscious effort to minimize access and practice safe habits can go a long way! How does an animal poison control center celebrate poison prevention week?
Contact Pet Poison Helpline via www.petpoisonhelpline.com to view our video series “Paws on Safety,” request free static clings, downloads for household prevention or ‘No Lilies for Kitties!’ educational campaign, and signup for our electronic newsletters and handouts. Share your knowledge with others! Get the word out that you just learned of a new toxin and heard of a cool tip to prevent it from happening. Share the information with friends, co-workers, and even during social gatherings. Be prepared for poisoning emergencies by saving Pet Poison Helpline in your phone today, 1-800-213-6680! At Pet Poison Helpline we work 24/7 365 days a year to help assist with treatment and advocate for poison prevention, but we do especially like March because we recognize such an important topic! Check out our video series “Paws on Safety” here: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/pet-owners/basics/paws-on-safety-one-minute-pet-clinic-videos/
Get involved! The National Poisoning Prevention Council suggests joining the conversation online using the hashtags #NPPW18, #PreventPoison, or #PoisonHelp. Show your friends and neighbors how you take steps to prevent poisonings from happening. Share any local poison control center campaigns in your area. If you don’t know of any you can certainly share our ‘No Lilies for Kitties!’ campaign here: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/veterinarians/free-resources-clinic-clients/no-lilies-for-kitties/
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.