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Be vigilant to keep poisons away from pets

Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
Dr. J. Gaines White with the Conyers Animal Hospital exams 2 1/2 year old Penelope, a French bull dog,  in one of his office's.

Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith Dr. J. Gaines White with the Conyers Animal Hospital exams 2 1/2 year old Penelope, a French bull dog, in one of his office's.

COVINGTON -- People lose beloved family pets every day because they relaxed their vigilance for a moment or simply didn't know that some of the familiar things around their home can spell death for a dog or cat. As Poison Prevention Week (March 18-24) approaches, the folks at Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) are urging pet owners to become more aware of the dangers that lurk around their homes not only for small children, but pets as well.

"Pets are curious and often can't resist smelling, tasting and sometimes swallowing foods, plants and other items in our homes that interest," said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, veterinarian and assistant director for the Pet Poison Helpline. "Poison-proofing your home is important. Taking simple steps such as making sure your houseplants are non-toxic and storing medications in secure areas will significantly reduce the chances that your dog or cat will come in contact with a toxic substance."

Local veterinarian Dr. Shannon Miller, who is the director for East Metro Animal Emergency Clinic on Turner Lake Road, said accidental poisoning of dogs and cats is a problem she and her staff are constantly facing.

"One of the most common poisonings we see during the winter is antifreeze ingestion," she said. "There is a pet-safe antifreeze on the market, but it costs a little more and most people don't buy it."

Because the deadly antifreeze is sweet to the taste, it's often a magnet for our four-footed friends who may find that it's leaked out from under a car or perhaps leaked from a stored container.

"For cats, all they have to have is a coating on their tongue and they have exceeded what they can tolerate," Miller said. "With dogs it's also a very small amount -- one or two licks and they have ingested enough to do kidney damage."

Miller said being very aggressive and prompt with large amounts of IV fluids is the best hope of saving animals that may have been exposed to antifreeze.

"That's the closest thing to dialysis we can do in the vet world," she said.

One of the other common poisonings the clinic handles is the ingestion of human medication by pets. That blood pressure pill or anti-depressant you dropped on the floor and couldn't locate is often easily found by your pet. They often cause severe drops in blood pressure, heart irregularities, seizures and worse for a dog or cat. Over-the-counter medications are just as bad. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) are extremely poisonous for pets.

Miller said poisonings from household plants also are often seen -- poinsettias, Easter lilies, peace lilies and even ferns can have deadly consequences for pets.

Foods that are safe for humans can cause extreme distress and even death for pets and include chocolate, Macadamia nuts, avocados, grapes or raisins, and alcoholic beverage or food product, yeast dough, onions, garlic, chives and undercooked meat or eggs.

And, she warned, there is a poison culprit currently lurking where most people would least expect it. She recently lost a patient to Xylitol, an artificial sweetener frequently used in sugar-free chewing gun. A Lab was brought to the Emergency Clinic after he ate a pack of chewing gum that he foraged from a pocket book.

"His liver couldn't recover. We even sent him to UGA, but he just couldn't be saved," she said. "The Xylitol will cause a rapid decrease in blood sugar levels and the pet can faint and have seizures and then it can cause liver failure. We don't have enough data to determine whether a pet will live or die after ingesting it. They're adding Xylitol to a lot of things we eat and I can't help but wonder if it doesn't affect glucose levels in humans, as well."

And while hot wings are not a poison, Miller said the clinic kept busy just after the Super Bowl treating pets, many of which required surgery, after they got into hot wings that were left unguarded.

"Chicken bones can slice open a stomach in a heartbeat," she warned.

For more information about additional poison risks to pets, go to www.petpoisonhelpline.com or to www.aspca.org which has a animal poison control tab on their website.

The East Metro Animal Emergency Clinic is a consortium of veterinarians in Rockdale, Newton, Walton and Morgan counties. They are open nights and weekends and all holidays. They can be reached at 678-212-0300.