Poisoning of dogs and cats with pesticides – by Dr. Carli Pretorius

Few things in life are as traumatic as finding a beloved pet that has been poisoned.  While most owners will be lucky enough to never experience it, it is still very important to know what to look for. In the newsletter of March 2016, Basic First Aid for Pet Owners Part 2, different types of common poisons and their effect on your animal were briefly discussed. This newsletter will take an in-depth look at Carbamate, Organophosphate, Organochlorines and Pyrethroid and Pyrethrin poisoning – common insecticides and acaricides (mite and tick poisons) that can result in severe toxicity.

Where do these toxins come from?

A large number of products are available on the marked e.g. flea collars, spot-on preparations, liquid dips, powders and aerosols for household use, plant and crop sprays, and granules for agricultural use.  Commonly seen poisonings include:

  • Malicious poisoning where pets are targeted for house breakings and theft.
  • Inappropriate use of topical tick and flea control products (e.g. wrong dip strength; putting a dog flea collar on a cat; using more than one product simultaneously)
  • Skin contact in the environment (e.g. animals that had access to a lawn where ant poison was sprayed)
  • Accidental ingestion (e.g. a puppy that found and ate slug and snail bait)

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Poisoned sausages with black granules used as bait.




What are the signs of pesticide poisoning?

Signs are divided into three groups:

  1. Increased bodily fluid secretions and excretions. Remember the SLUDGE signs! Salivation (drooling), Lacrimation (tearing), Urination, Defecation, GIT disturbances and Emesis (vomiting). Also included in this group is difficulty in breathing due to increased bronchial secretions and bronchial constriction.
  2. Muscle tremors and twitching that could progress to severe muscle weakness and paralysis.
  3. Seizures, behavioural changes.

Organophosphates and Carbamates initially cause a slow heart rate (the heart can eventually stop) and very small pupils. When the body tries to combat this, a fast heart rate and wide open pupils might also be seen.

Different animals present differently due to the specific type and dose of poison exposed to and individual variation.

What should be done after an animal is poisoned?

If possible, the source must be removed without delay, to reduce a continued uptake of the poison.

Animals that had skin contact with the poison must be washed with dishwashing liquid. The poisons are fat soluble and dishwashing liquid is ideal to remove the fatty layer wherein the poison will be trapped. Pets should be washed thoroughly, but not too vigorously, as not to disrupt the skin barrier and increase absorption!

If the substance was swallowed try to induce vomiting, but only if less than an hour has passed and the animal is still alert and conscious. This should not be done with corrosive substances. See the newsletter of March 2016, Basic First Aid for Pet Owners Part 2, on how to induce vomiting.

Seek veterinary attention immediately as poisoning can result in rapid death! Early treatment and an aggressive treatment regimen could improve the animal’s chance of survival! 

Keep other pets and children away from the area until it has been decontaminated. In case of malicious poisoning, be sure to search the area for bait. Put any bait, vomiting, contaminated clothes etc. in double plastic bags, mark clearly as toxic and ask your veterinarian how to dispose of it. The ideal is incineration. The area of contamination must be washed with dishwashing liquid, and never pool acid or bleach. Remember to inform the police and local security companies of the incident.

What do I do with a deceased animal’s body?

The safest way is to send the body for cremation as the temperatures reached will destroy the toxin.

Important: Remember not to use any Carbamate or Organophosphate based products (topical tick and flea products) on an affected animal for at least 6 weeks after recovery, as they will be very sensitive to the repeat exposure to organic toxins.

Next month’s focus will be Poisoning of dogs and cats with rat poisoning

Posted in Newsletters.