Summertime poses specific threats to animals, and while some risks are well-known to pet owners, other dangers that can lurk in the garden are frequently unknown or misunderstood. Help pet owners keep their pets safe this summer with advice about avoiding everyday outdoor poisons, and what to do should their pet come into contact with one.
Rat and mouse bait
Rabbits are at risk of eating (and having skin exposure to) household/garden chemicals or plants and fungi. Some of the most commonly reported exposures have been to rodenticides (commonly bromadiolone and difenacoum). These over-the-counter poisons for mice and rats are a serious risk to rabbits, with exposure to large quantities causing bleeding, and small amounts over a period of time presenting even more risk.
It is crucial that rabbits cannot access rodenticides, but if a client brings in a rabbit that has, ensure they are clear on what the product is, and when and how much was or could have been ingested.
Foxglove (Digitalis species)
Foxglove is a toxic plant found both in gardens and growing in the wild. If ingested it can cause abdominal discomfort, weakness, dehydration and changes in the heart rhythm. Rabbits must avoid Foxglove, so advise pet owners of this, and that if accidental ingestion occurs, to bring them straight into practice.
Dogs and cats
Slug and snail killers
Products for the control of snails and slugs commonly contain metaldehyde (although other compounds are found in some products). In the garden, you are unlikely to encounter a more dangerous chemical – even a relatively small quantity of metaldehyde can cause severe or life-threatening effects. Animals are likely to become agitated and convulse, and this can happen less than an hour after ingestion.
It is essential that products are used according to the manufacturer’s instructions and pets are not permitted access to treated areas. Advise pet owners to consider using alternative products or accept that garden plants are going to be eaten by slugs. Crucially, pet owners must seek veterinary advice immediately if they suspect their pet has eaten metaldehyde-containing slug bait.
Glyphosate (Weed killer)
This common weed killer is available in many products and can cause significant harm to pets, although at the ‘ready-to-use’ concentrations, this is only likely if an animal drank a significant volume. There have been reports of dogs being unwell after having their coats soaked in material after running through treated grass.
Effects include salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea, which may be bloody, and swelling of the lips. In serious cases there maybe excitement followed by drowsiness and convulsions. Cats can develop significant lung problems after licking treated weeds, grooming their fur which has become wet from weed killer or after lapping up a spill of glyphosate.
Advise pet owners to keep pets away from areas of the garden where glyphosate has been used and to store garden chemicals safety, with the bottle top secured and out of sight and reach. Make them aware that they must contact you for advice if exposure to glyphosate is suspected.
Bee and wasp stings
Pet owners don’t always realise that a sting from a bee or a wasp can cause the same effects to their animal as it does in humans, varying from mild local skin reactions to severe allergic reactions. In the case of multiple stings there is the risk of severe and life-threatening effects. Make pet owners aware they must contact you for advice, particularly if their pet has been stung in the mouth or has received multiple stings.
Dogs and cats can be exposed to poison from toads if they lick them or carry them in the mouth. This typically occurs in the summer months when toads are involved in spawning; they’re most active after rain and around dawn and dusk.
Eating or mouthing a toad can cause salivation with foaming or frothing at the mouth, vomiting and distress, and some animals may paw at the mouth. Severe poisoning can occur from toads, but this is not likely with those found in the UK. Inform pet owners that if their pet has been in contact with a toad to seek advice from you.
True lilies (botanically Lilium) and day lilies (Hemerocallis) are dangerous for cats. Even small exposures to any part of the plant, including the pollen, can cause kidney failure. The reason for this damage is not understood and doesn’t seem to affect other animals.
Initial signs of lily poisoning in cats usually start within one to six hours of ingestion and includes vomiting, drooling and lethargy. After this, kidney failure begin to develop and there may be increased and then reduced urine output, more vomiting and thirst.
Advise pet owners with cats not to have lilies in the house and that prompt treatment is essential in cases of lily poisoning. If this is suspected, they should wash any pollen off the cat immediately and contact you for further advice.
Most cases of pet poisoning occur because owners simply were not aware of or didn’t fully appreciate the risks to their animals from common dangers around them.