Summer 2010: Volume 7, Issue 2 – Quarterly

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Summertime Poisoning Dangers

By Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC

Summer means more time for outdoor fun with our pets. But along with the warmer weather comes an increased risk of exposure to certain toxins.

Salt water toxicity

Water bottles

If your dog loves to play on the ocean beach, take caution. Dogs don’t realize that salt water is dangerous, and excessive intake can result in severe hypernatremia, or salt poisoning.

While initial signs of hypernatremia include vomiting and diarrhea, salt poisoning can progress quickly to neurologic signs like incoordination, progressive depression, seizures, and ultimately, severe brain swelling.

Hypernatremia needs to be treated very carefully with IV fluids by your veterinarian. Help avoid the problem by carrying a fresh bottle of tap water and offering it to your dog frequently while he’s frolicking on the beach.

Flea and tick medications

Make sure your pets are protected with an adequate, safe, flea and tick preventive medication. There are multiple options, from oral pills to topical spot-on treatments (both prescription and over-the-counter). Ask your veterinarian about the best type of medication for your pet, particularly if your pet is geriatric, nursing or has underlying health concerns. Most important, if you’re a cat owner, read the label carefully. Some of these preventives contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids, a chemical derived from the chrysanthemum flower, which are severely toxic to cats when misapplied. Accidental application of a dog flea product to a cat can result in severe symptoms like seizures, tremors and life-threatening reactions.

Avoid accidental overdoses by using the product as labeled and knowing the exact weight of your pet. Never split a product (using one tube on two pets) or apply a topical flea and tick medication to your pet without weighing him first.

Pool Tablets

Pool chemicals

Always store pool chemicals in a locked, secure area, and never leave containers open. Algaecides and chlorine shock treatment products are generally safe once diluted appropriately. However, if ingested in undiluted form, many pool chemicals can result in severe ulcers in the mouth, esophagus and stomach, resulting in life-threatening punctures of the gastrointestinal tract.


Sunscreen toxicity

Sunscreen can be toxic to your pet if ingested in large amounts. Sunscreens can contain potentially dangerous chemicals: PABA, zinc oxide, acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and laxatives.

Massive PABA ingestion can result in severe gastroenteritis (an inflammation of the stomach and intestines), bone marrow changes and even liver damage. Zinc oxide generally causes mild gastroenteritis, resulting in vomiting, nausea or diarrhea. Large amounts of acetylsalicylic acid can result in gastric ulcers and, in high doses, even kidney failure. Sunscreen ingested in large amounts may also have an inadvertent laxative effect, resulting in diarrhea.

Application of sunscreen is generally recommended only if you have a white dog with a pink nose, live in a high elevation in constant sunshine, house your dog outdoors most of the time or if your dog has an underlying medical problem. If you need to use sunscreen on your dog, purchase a child-safe formulation and consult your veterinarian.

Stings and bites

If you live in a mosquito-infested area, consider using a flea and tick preventive for your dog that also repels mosquitoes. Only K9 Advantix® (Bayer Animal Health) works for mosquitoes, because of the pyrethrin—which again, should never be used on cats! You can also consider using low-concentration DEET (like OFF® or Skintastic®) in severe situations.

Mosquitoes can’t usually bite through thick kitty fur, and it’s rare for cats to get Lyme disease from ticks. Since cats are sensitive to certain kinds of chemicals, it’s best to check with a veterinarian before using any product on your cat.

More severe bites include snake bites and scorpion bites. Keep your dog on a leash and supervise closely so you can avoid the bite to begin with. If your dog does get bitten by a snake, don’t attempt any first aid yourself—no tourniquets, no ice, no lancing of the wound or sucking out the venom. These treatments can actually make the situation worse! Seek veterinary attention immediately or call Pet Poison Helpline (1-800-213-6680) for advice on how best to treat these bad bites.

Be ready and aware

The best thing pet owners can do is to be educated on summertime toxins and pet proof their homes. If you suspect that your pet has ingested something harmful, don’t hesitate to call Pet Poison Helpline* (1-800-213-6680).


Justine LeeJustine Lee, DVM, DACVECC is a veterinary emergency critical care specialist and the Associate Director of Veterinary Services at Pet Poison Helpline. She is the author of It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet and It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It.

Pet Poison Helpline *There is a one-time per-incident fee of $35. The $35 fee is billed by Pet Poison Helpline. PPH is not affiliated with VPI.