5 hazards hiding in your veterinary clients' handbags

5 hazards hiding in your veterinary clients' handbags

Do your veterinary clients know they carry items dangerous to pets wherever they go? Here are the most toxic items in your clients' purses and backpacks.
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Dec 15, 2011
By dvm360.com staff

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To cats and dogs, your veterinary client’s purse or backpack is like an amusement park. They can find all kinds of knick-knacks to nuzzle, sniff, and chew. The problem is; not all the contents in handbags and backpacks are safe for pets. According to the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline, backpacks and handbags are reservoirs for things toxic to dogs and cats.

“We often talk to panicked pet owners who are dealing with the aftermath of handbag invasions by unsuspecting pets,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, and assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “As we head into the cold months, when pets are more often indoors, it’s important for pet owners to be cognizant of some typical handbag contents and how the contents can poison their dog or cat.”

Here are the five most common purse items that are toxic to pets.

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1. Sugarless chewing gum and breath mints

Many of your veterinary clients carry chewing gum in their purses and don’t realize that, if ingested by a dog, it can be fatal. Most sugarless gums, including some Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breaker brands, contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Some sugarless mints and flavored multi-vitamins may also be made with xylitol.

When ingested, even small amounts of xylitol can result in a life-threatening and rapid drop in blood sugar, and if large amounts are ingested, dogs can suffer from severe liver failure. Signs of xylitol poisoning include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, collapse, tremors, and seizures.

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2. Cigarettes

As few as three cigarettes can be fatal to a small dog, depending on the “strength” or “lightness” of the cigarettes. Warn clients: After ingestion, clinical signs of distress can become apparent in as little as 15 minutes. Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and even gum (Nicorette) contain nicotine, which is toxic to dogs and cats. Exposure causes high heart and respiratory rates, neurological overstimulation, uncontrolled urination, defecation, tremors, seizures, paralysis, and death.

3. Asthma inhalers (albuterol)

While asthma inhalers are often used in veterinary medicine for cats and dogs, when accidentally chewed and punctured by dogs, they can cause severe, life-threatening, acute poisoning. Because inhalers often contain concentrated doses (often 200 doses in one small vial) of beta-agonist drugs (e.g., albuterol) or steroids (e.g., fluticasone), dogs that bite into them are exposed to massive amounts of the drugs all at once. This can lead to severe poisoning, resulting in life-threatening heart arrhythmias, agitation, vomiting, and collapse.

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4. Human medications

If your veterinary clients carry pill bottles and dispensers, warn them that those medications are irresistible to some dogs because they resemble toys that rattle. Each year nearly half of the calls to Pet Poison Helpline involve ingestion of potentially toxic human medications. Common drugs including NSAIDs (e.g., Advil, Aleve, and Motrin), acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), and antidepressants (e.g., Effexor, Cymbalta, and Prozac) can cause serious harm to dogs and cats when ingested. NSAIDs can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure, especially in cats.

A single Tylenol tablet containing acetaminophen can be fatal to cats, and in dogs, a larger ingestion can lead to severe liver failure. Of all the medications, antidepressants account for the highest number of calls to Pet Poison Helpline. They can cause neurological problems like sedation, incoordination, agitation, tremors, and seizures.

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5. Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer has become a common item in handbags. Many hand sanitizers claim to kill almost 100 percent of germs. This is possible because they contain high amounts of alcohol (ethanol)—sometimes up to 95 percent. Therefore, when a dog ingests a small bottle of hand sanitizer, it can have the same effect as a shot of hard liquor. This can cause a severe drop in blood sugar, incoordination, a drop in body temperature, neurological depression, coma, and death.

The bottom line? Tell your clients to store their handbags and backpacks out of reach: When in doubt, hang it up.

Click here to watch the video titled, "Handbag Hazards to Pets."

Pet Poison Helpline is a service available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary team members who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet and can provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals, and exotic species. Pet Poison Helpline's fee of $35 per incident includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poisoning case. It is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680.