Pills as a Deadly Danger to Dogs
by Sue Matthews, © 2003
This is an article about the potentially deadly danger to dogs from human or pet medications left within their reach. The main article is written by Sue Matthews and is used with her permission. I will add below it some material from an Emergency Vet and will add a few comments from others as to how they handles problems.
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As many of us age and develop health issues that require medication, it's vital that we remember to keep our medications out of the reach of our curious Bouviers, just as we would from curious small children. Medications that we take for granted as humans can have devasting results when swallowed by our pets.
It's as important, if not more so, to make sure that any visitors or house guests are equally conscientious about keeping track of their medications, and if necessary, take steps to assist them in safeguarding medication in order to protect our dogs and other pets.
I'm reminding everyone about the dangers of medication because one of my very favorite Bouviers in the world, a much loved, incredibly sweet 6 year old boy who should have had many more happy years ahead of him died very suddenly and completely unexpectedly a few days ago. It was only the day after the death that his family learned that the elderly relative who had been visiting them had a history of dropping medications on the floor and being oblivious to it, and when a search of the bedroom he had been sleeping in uncovered a variety of pills on the floor. While we don't have a complete list of the medications this person had, we're in the process of getting the list. From the few medications we are aware of, the signs that the dog developed so suddenly now finally make some sense if ingestion was indeed what occurred.
The National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) provides a 24-hour emergency hotline that every dog owner should keep in plain sight. The hotline numbers are (800) 548-2423 and (900) 680-0000. The 800 number requires a credit card number and charges a flat $30; the 900 number s $2.95 per minute for a maximum of $30.
The NAPCC is a non-profit service of the University of Illinois and is the first animal-oriented poison center in the United States. Since 1978, it has provided advice to animal owners and conferred with veterinarians about poisoning exposures. The NAPCC's phones are answered by licensed veterinarians and board-certified veterinary toxicologists. They have specialized information that lets the experienced NAPCC staff make specific recommendations for your animals; plus over 250,000 records are in their database.
When you call, be ready to provide:
Household products and plants are the most common culprits in poisoning cases. In the case of poisoning from household products, many companies cover the costs the pet owners incur when it has been determined that their product is responsible for the reaction.
This includes their own prescribed pet medications. Working in emergency medicine, we see inadvertant overdoses all the time. I had a 20 pound Boston come in that had ingested 25 chewable 100 mg Rimadyl, was just finishing up the mess when the owners came home (we counted the number of partially digested whole pills in the vomitus).........the other three household dog buddies (two labs and another Boston) got none. The bottle was on the counter........if those owners had been out for a couple more hours, the Boston would have absorbed a very large portion of the medication (the dose was 20 times the LETHAL dose of medication, and even a small amount absorbed would have caused grave effects). She spent 3 days on IVs.............
Keep in mind that many of the cardiac drugs so commonly prescribed to elderly people are lethal when ingested by dogs and cats, even in very small doses.
I would also recommend keeping hydrogen peroxide on hand, and make sure it is fairly fresh.........purchase new stuff a couple times a year. Two tablespoons of this will induce vomiting.
These situations put many pet owners between the proverbial rock and hard place. How can we balance our humane treatment of impaired relatives with proper precautions for our critter companions? We sure can't "crate" the old folks and/or banish the critters to the yard or kennel. Most of us cannot afford trustworthy full-time caretakers for either and they, as well as ourselves can have brief distractions that offer enough time for a serious accident.
My wife & I had to deal with our mothers, fortunately not at the same time. Her mother became weak and unsteady to the extent that she cut herself badly by falling against the glass panes of a china cabinet. We also had to yell at her when she dropped, threw and even spit out pills. My mother was an even bigger problem because she had Alzheimer's and did the same thing with her meds plus fooled around with kitchen and laundry appliances. Even though they were impaired they both knew that putting the dogs at risk was verboten and would get them into BIG TIME trouble around here.
We solved the medication dosing problem by parceling them out into labeled daily sets of small bottles or pill boxes with dose compartments. My wife would sit at the table with them to assure that they took all of the dosing session's pills then inspect the area floor closely for "stray" pills. This took care of that worry. My wife's mother died here of heart failure and my mother had to spend her last year in a nursing home.
We still wonder if we were too "mean" to our mothers in the interest of our Bouvs' safety. Both of them sacrificed much to assure that we would grow up with little deprivation yet had sense enough not to make indulged brats of either one of us. Both of them loved the dogs we had as kids plus the ones we had as adults.
As for the elderly relative, who caused this tragedy but who surely never intended to do any harm to anyone and who is probably feeling very badly about this, it is important to let his doctor know that some of his meds are probably not getting taken in accordance with directions, ie some of it is going into the carpet rather than into his system. Seems to me that this man should be using one of those weekly pill organizers, possibly one of the four times a day ones that lets you pop each day's unit out of the organizer. With that kind of organizer, the pill bottles could go into a safe place (only being taken out once a week to refill the weekly organizer) and only the today's unit would be in the man's pocket or (if absolutely necessary) on his bedside. If some of the meds are the emergency type, like nitro for angina, there are special containers for these that can be hung around the person's neck like a necklace. Using pill organizers prevents the dangerous mistake of failing to take a med when scheduled (or at least you can see that the dose is still in the organizer so you know you failed to take it) or of taking two doses instead of only the one that should be taken --- both kinds of mistakes can be deadly to the person for whom the drug is prescribed. I use these organizers all the time for my own meds and for meds for any dog who is on meds.
I would also suggest that it can be a good idea to have a stretch gate across the doorway into a guest bedroom to exclude your dogs. ( My own guest room is also my office, so I exclude dogs because I don't want them tangling with my computer cords. ) You never know what a guest might leave behind accidentally. I once had a phone call from a previous guest asking if by any chance she had left her handgun behind (if it had fallen out of her backpack) ? ---- something I was not told she was bringing into the house and probably would not have been happy to have brought into the house.
As to the danger of a pet ingesting several doses of a pet med prescribed for him or for another pet, this danger has been made even worse by the tendency for some of these drugs to be made in a really tasty palatable "chewable" form, which make it easier for the owner to get the dog to take the pill it is supposed to take, but greatly increases the danger of the dog helping itself to multiple pills if left within reach. Basically the same issue as with children's vitamins and so on that are made in an attractive and palatable form. Of the drugs that I've seen in this palatable Rimadyl is especially potentially dangerous, as Dr D so vividly describes; also Interceptor, which I suspect would not be very safe for a dog to eat a whole six pack instead of a single dose; ditto HeartGuard.
And to the caretaker of elderly parents , regarding feeling of guilt ("were we too mean" etc) :
You did what was best for both your and your wife's mothers and for your dogs. You ensured that the Moms got the meds they needed and got them when they were needed, thus safeguarding their health, and you also prevented any of the pills from harming your dogs. You used common sense to make a solution that worked. About the only added suggestion I might have made would be to hide the pills in something that Mom liked so she would not spit them out : peanut butter often works well in this regard as it is tasty and hard to spit out. (I mostly use chunky peanut butter for my dogs' pills)
It's not "mean" to deprive someone of getting themselves hurt with a danger they are no longer able to understand. When you were a kid , I am certain that on occasion your Mom used various tactics, some of them coercive, to prevent you from killing yourself or hurting yourself. It's not "mean" to force (or trick) someone to take a medicine they need to stay alive and healthy but that they are no longer capable of understanding that they need. I'm sure when you were a kid , your Mom did that at times to you and moreover forced you to submit to various vaccinations. I remember well that the original Salk polio vaccinations were rather painful, so my parents had to virtually march me in at gunpoint and in chains for the second and third installments. And it's not "mean" to impose some controls and to intervene so that one beloved family member does not accidentally hurt or kill another. When you were a kid, your parents no doubt had to intervene verbally and physically to keep you from injuring a sibling or playmate or the family dog.
Nothing in our education really prepares us to become parents to our parents. (Hey there is little enough that prepares us to become parents to our children.) It's dreadfully hard to have to recognize that those on whom we used to depend for our safety , those whom we still unconsciously belive are our own final fall back safety net who can bail us out of trouble, are now in one way or another unable to take care of themselves. Hardest of all if they have become of diminished mental capacity. It's probably the toughest job in the world, and anyone who does it willingly and compassionately should feel very proud of themself.
|site author Pam Green||copyright 2003|
|created 8/17/03||revised 8/20/03|
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