Editor’s note: Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.
Dr. Emma Basham, of Chelsea Animal Hospital, participated in an interview about pets and drugs and why some substances can be especially toxic to our furry friends.
What common products can harm pets?
Tylenol and Ibuprofen are the most widely used and dangerous over-the-counterproducts. Just a tiny bit of Tylenol can kill a cat. Ibuprofen is sweet so pets could eat a lot, even a whole bottle, resulting in liver and kidney failure. Some owners wonder if they can give their pets Tylenol or Ibuprofen for pain. These can be toxic and may interfere with veterinary prescription pain relievers, meaning that it may be more difficult for your vet to help treat your pet when you do bring them in. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in foods like peanut butter, gum, candy, toothpaste and over-the-counter drugs and vitamins, confuses the cells that regulate blood sugar in the body. Low blood sugar can cause neurological problems, seizures, disorientation, liver failure and death. Raisins, chocolate, grapes, onions (especially for cats), and garden plants like lilies are also toxic.
Can marijuana be harmful for pets?
We see mostly dogs ingesting marijuana, especially edibles, which look like tasty treats and have a high concentration of THC. People are told to eat only a small amount, but dogs have less control so it’s easier to consume a toxic dose. Many edibles are chocolate or contain artificial sweeteners (Xylitol), so not only are they eating marijuana, but they can also have chocolate toxicity. Cats are more likely to eat the plant itself, nibbling on leaves and buds. Although it is rare for pets to die from marijuana, it has been reported. Symptoms to look for include neurologic symptoms like stumbling, looking dazed, non-responsive, red eyes, stomach upset and uncontrollable urination — these symptoms should prompt a visit to the vet.
What about CBD and pets?
The American Veterinary Medical Association follows FDA recommendations, however, the legality is confusing around marijuana (CBD) vs hemp products. Products made from hemp oil are legal, but those that are called CBD are not legal. There are claims that CBD products are a cure-all, and while there is some research about dosing and potential uses, the research is limited. Many owners are interested in using CBD or hemp products for their pets and most veterinarians will not shame owners about it, so we encourage open dialogue around this topic.
How do nicotine and second hand smoke affect pets?
Second hand smoke and third hand smoke really affect cats because they have sensitive respiratory systems and smoke is a huge trigger for asthma. Dogs can get asthma-like respiratory disease too, with inflammation in their lungs from inhaling particulate matter. Eating cigarette butts can cause nicotine toxicity depending on the size of the pet and how much nicotine is ingested. At a high dose your pet can be paralyzed and possibly die. Nicotine gum can also contain artificial sweeteners like Xylitol, adding another level of toxicity. Nicotine is a stimulant. Symptoms to look for include vomiting, stomach upset, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and neurological signs (tremors, twitching and disorientation).
What about opioids?
Symptoms of opioid consumption include sedation, stomach upset, vomiting, low blood pressure and heart rate. Veterinary medicine doesn’t use opioids much for pain except for very short term like during surgery or immediately afterwards. She says, “We strive to find other ways to manage pain including holistic modalities such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs, and chiropractic treatment. We’ve had a few cases of pets consuming their owner’s prescription opioids, but overdoses are most commonly seen in working dogs that sniff out drugs. Inhaling heroin laced with fentanyl can be fatal.”
How can we keep our pets safe? What should we do if we think a pet has consumed any type of substance?
Dogs and cats are so interested in new things and want to investigate, smell and even eat them! Be aware of where you store prescriptions, what’s left on your countertops, and — just like you would with little children — put away things that pets shouldn’t get into!
If you see your pet eat something or suspect that they have eaten something, you should not wait around to see what happens. The timing of onset of symptoms is variable. Opioid symptoms could be within minutes while marijuana can be from within minutes to several hours or a day or two. Call your local vet or veterinary emergency room and go straight to the office and tell the veterinarian what you think they ate. Bring the bottle, especially if it’s a prescription. Veterinarians are not human pharmacists and will need more information about specific drugs and dosages, and will likely contact the Animal Poison Control Center for information, especially about prescription drugs. The testing for illegal substances in pets is not extensive. Urine testing in pets is less reliable than in humans, but is still used in some offices and ERs. Often veterinarians don’t know what the pets have consumed because people are afraid to share, but veterinarians do not have legal or ethical responsibilities to report if clients have illegal substances, especially marijuana. Open and honest conversation is encouraged to help provide the best medical attention possible.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is a great resource that owners and veterinarians can use www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control or (888) 426-4435
Safe disposal options for getting old or unused medications out of the home are available at kiosks in area police stations, Sheriff’s Department, Kinney Drugs, and at the Central Vermont Medical Center main lobby or by using a free prescription drug mail-back envelope found at the libraries, senior centers, at CVMC, and 802-223-4949.
For more information about Chelsea Animal Hospital, visit www.chelseaanimalhospital.com/Home.html