Household Hazards and Pet Medications
In this module you will learn:
Household hazards that may prove dangerous to pets
Poisoning and home treatment
Home care for vomiting and diarrhoea
Nose bleeds and chest trauma
How to give medication to pets
Whatever age our furry companions are, they sometimes demonstrate the sense of a toddler, and owners need to pet-proof their home to prevent them harming themselves.
Usually closed cupboards can be tempting when they are left open, regardless of the contents. Young animals, and certain greedier breeds, are more at risk than others. Knowing how to deal with ingestion of a poisonous substance can mean the difference between life and death.
Every pet will experience diarrhoea and vomiting at some point in their life. In most cases it is not serious, and can be treated at home by following some simple steps.
Broken and fractured bones develop due to accidents. Pet owners should always check for broken bones and joints following an accident. Compound fractures are easily identifiable, but identifying other breaks requires more examination. Breaks and fractures need urgent medical attention followed by a home care programme to ensure that they heal properly.
Chest injuries are some of the most dangerous an animal can suffer, especially when they are caused when the pets are impaled by an object. Such injuries require immediate medical attention, and owners can help to reduce the risk by undertaking first aid before transporting the animal to the veterinary clinic.
Administering medication can be a tricky process, as most animals are not amenable to being given medicine. A little knowledge can make giving treatment easy and painless.
7.1 Household hazards
Consumption of some household substances can result in poisoning.
The following items should be kept safely out of the reach of pets:
- Bleach, detergent, disinfectants, and other household cleaners
- All medications, whether prescription or over the counter
- Insect repellents
- Lighter fluid
- Moth balls
- Rodent poison
Certain foods should never be fed to pets, and should be kept away from them. These include the following:
- Grapes, raisins, currants, or sultanas
- Macadamia nuts
- Mouldy food
- Tea leaves
- Yeast dough
Other items that should not be accessible include:
- Hair pins
- Cotton swabs
- Plastic wraps
Please note that this list is not comprehensive, and there are numerous other materials and items that should be stored where pets are unable to reach them.
For a more complete list, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk
Human negligence, error, or accident can lead to pets consuming poisonous substances. While it may seem sensible to induce vomiting, owners should contact their vet and seek advice first as, in some cases, vomiting can worsen the situation by burning the oesophagus. Many containers carry information on how to handle ingestion of its contents, and may clearly state not to induce vomiting.
Signs of poisoning include:
- Bleeding from different parts of the body
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy, weakness
- Swelling of the tongue and drooling
- Loss of balance (staggering), disorientation and dizziness
Some toxic substances result in immediate symptoms. Others may not (known as insidious), and signs may take weeks or months to appear.
If advised by your vet to induce vomiting (known as emesis), you should do so in a safe manner. Owners should be very careful if they have flat-nosed breeds such as Pekingese and bulldogs, as they are at a great risk of inhaling vomit into their lungs.
This is a method that your vet may recommend:
- Using a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, give the dog one tablespoon of the solution per 10lbs of body weight, or 0.5-1ml per pound. Honey can be added to the solution to make it more palatable.
- Administer the solution with an eye dropper or medicine syringe if possible. Dribble it to the back of the tongue or cheek until they swallow.
- The dog should vomit within around two minutes. Try to collect the vomit, which will contain the poisonous substance, in a container, and take it to the vet.
- Once they have finished vomiting, give them a teaspoon of Epsom salts, dissolved in a little water.
Do not try to induce vomiting by putting your fingers down their throat, or giving them salt or mustard.
When not to induce vomiting:
- If it has been over two hours, as the toxin has already left the stomach, and it could worsen the situation. It may even be fatal.
- If the toxin is acidic or alkaline, such as toilet cleaner, oven cleaners and batteries etc. Inducing the pet to vomit can cause harm to the oesophagus.
- When the pet has consumed hydrocarbons and petroleum distillates such as petrol, kerosene, etc. Petroleum distillates are likely to get into the lungs, which can cause aspiration pneumonia.
- If the pet has already vomited. Excess vomiting increases the risk of dehydration.
- If the pet is experiencing seizures or is unconscious.
If the dog has ingested something alkaline, such as a drain cleaner, you can try giving it diluted lemon juice or vinegar.
Activated charcoal (or, alternatively, burnt toast) is known to absorb poisons. Pet owners should administer activated charcoal after inducing vomiting. The recommended dosage is one 5g tablet for every 10 pounds of body weight.
In cases of mild poisoning, owners can try feeding the dog a quarter of cup of egg white mixed with an equal amount of milk. Mix the ingredients and feed it to your dog using a medicine syringe. This helps coat the stomach and is particularly effective when treating caustic poisons.
For inhaled poisons such as gases, fumes and aerosol spray, take the pet into fresh air at once and administer rescue breathing if required.
If the poison enters the pet’s eye, flush it out using water or a sterile saline solution.
Paws in winter
In winter, icy roads and pavements are often treated with salt or chemicals. These harmful substances can stick to paws so it is a good idea to soak pets’ paws to remove them.
An effective treatment is a mixture of warm water and iodine, which effectively neutralises chemicals like herbicides and pesticides.
Action as follows:
- Fill a container with warm water
- Add iodine until the water is the colour of tea without milk added
- Soak each paw in the solution for 30 seconds
- Pat the paws dry with a towel
7.3 Diarrhoea and Vomiting
Vomiting and diarrhoea are common symptoms of many conditions.
They are not a disease in themselves, but are indicators of gastrointestinal upsets (stomach upsets); parasites (bacteria, virus, or fungal); or more serious issues such as kidney and stomach cancer.
It is important to understand the difference between vomiting and regurgitation.
Vomiting is the emptying of the contents of the stomach and upper intestine. It will often involve heavy retching, and the pet will need water or a hydrating solution afterwards to replace lost fluid and electrolytes.
Regurgitation is the expelling of half-eaten food from the oesophagus. Dogs will often swallow regurgitated food, and it is usually caused by greed or eating too quickly.
Vomiting and diarrhoea are common conditions, and every dog will suffer from them at some point. They may occur individually or together. Where vomiting occurs on its own, it is often due to greed or gulping down food.
Between 80 and 85 percent of cases of vomiting and diarrhoea are due to non-serious issues, and can be treated at home. Prompt treatment can prevent a minor issue becoming a serious one. However, if the pet vomits repeatedly, or becomes weak or lethargic, they need urgent medical attention.
Treating vomiting and diarrhoea
If your dog has vomited but otherwise seems well, follow these steps:
- Isolate them from other pets. The cause of the vomiting and diarrhoea may be contagious.
- Remove all food and water.
- After two hours, allow the dog to have small amounts of water hourly. A couple of tablespoons is enough. Alternatively, you can give them ice cubes which will help the stomach wall to relax.
- Withhold food for another ten hours. However, if your dog starts to vomit yellowish fluid, this is caused by their stomach having been empty for too long. Start feeding them small meals in the morning and evening.
- If there are no further signs of vomiting, give the dog very small meals (1-3 tablespoons, dependent on size) every one to two hours. The food should be bland, easily digestible food. Chicken or white fish with rice or pasta, are ideal as they also contain binding agents.
- If there is still no more vomiting, increase the size and frequency of meals over a couple of days, and gradually start mixing in their normal food.
Pets lose both fluid and vital electrolytes when they experience vomiting and diarrhoea, which need replacing. They may also be dehydrated. You can test for dehydration as described in Module 3 by pulling up the scruff of the neck. If it does not spring back, your pet is dehydrated.
A simple hydration solution can be made using common household ingredients:
- Half a teaspoon of salt
- Two tablespoons of sugar
- 2 pints of water
Give the dog a teaspoon of the solution every two hours, and watch the dog over 24 hours. Alternatively, you can freeze the solution so that your pet can lick off small amounts; this is also gentler on the stomach.
In some cases, vomiting and diarrhoea can be serious.
If you see any of these signs, take your pet to the vet immediately:
- Blood in vomit or diarrhoea
- Vomit that smells like faecal matter
- Projectile vomiting not connected with ingestion of food
- Frequent and persistent vomiting that shows no sign of stopping
- Weight loss
- Laboured breathing
7.4 Breaks and fractures
If your dog falls or is involved in an accident, particularly a road one, they may suffer broken or fractured bones.
The bones most likely to be broken are the femur (thigh bones), pelvis, jaw, and spine.
Fractures and breaks are serious and require immediate medical attention. In some cases, known as compound fractures, it is obvious as the bone is visible through the skin.
In less obvious cases, owners may spot a break, fracture, or serious sprain through the following signs:
- Limping or a limb or joint that looks at an unusual angle
- Unwillingness to put weight on one leg
- Refusal to play, walk, or climb stairs
- Swelling and pain in a limb or joint
- Crying or howling
- Unusual aggression
Limping or unwillingness to place weight on a leg or paw, may be a sprain. Owners should observe their pet to see if it resolves within a few hours, which a mild sprain may do. In a more serious sprain, the pet will continue to limp. If there is a fracture, they will probably refuse to use the leg at all.
If an owner is unsure if there is a problem, they should speak to their vet. Serious sprains and bone breaks require immediate attention, and it is better to have the animal checked over. If ligaments are torn, your pet may require surgery.
Type of fractures
There are two types of fractures; open fractures and closed fractures.
Open fractures – where the bone pierces the skin. These are at high risk of infection as the open wound is vulnerable to bacteria, and require immediate attention.
Closed fractures – the bone does not pierce the skin.
Closed and open fractures are treated in different ways, but they often require general anaesthesia, X-rays, splints, and casts.
Owners can help their pet before they go to the veterinary clinic, by following these steps:
- Muzzle the pet, as the pain can cause them to become aggressive.
- Restrain the pet, as described in Module 5.
- Do NOT attempt to straighten a crooked leg.
- If there is an open wound, cover it with sterile gauze or a sanitary towel to help prevent infection.
- Dependent on the location of the break, the severity, and the age of the dog, you can splint the fracture. This will help until they can receive professional care.
How to splint a broken leg
Never attempt to splint a fracture if the movement appears to make the condition worse.
The most effective splints extend from above the joint above the fracture to under the joint below the fracture. This prevents the entire area from moving, and protects it.
For fractures below the elbow or knee, but above the wrist or ankle, follow this method:
- Fold a thick newspaper, magazine, or a piece of cardboard around the limb. Centre rolls from toilet rolls or kitchen roll are ideal. Make sure that it reaches from the toes to above the joint.
- Tie it in place with gauze, medical tape, or a necktie. Be careful not to make it too tight.
- Alternatively, put a towel under the injured limb. Splint it as above, then wrap the towel around it.
- Fractures above the knee or elbow are difficult to splint. In these cases, keep the pet restrained and as still as possible. Transport the pet on a firm, flat surface, as described in Module 5. Never use the legs to manoeuvre the animal, as this can cause further injury. Carry small dogs with the injured side away from your body, and cuddle it close to you.
Joint, jaw, and skull fractures require immediate medical attention and probably surgery. Surgery may require the insertion of screws, pins, or wire to enable healing.
Home care after treatment of a fracture
Aftercare is very important following a break or fracture. The correct home care can make a real difference to the speed of healing and recovery.
The following steps will help post-operative healing:
- Restrict movement for about six weeks. This may be achieved by using a crate. The pet should not be allowed to run, play, or jump. If they do, it can aggravate the injury and lead to further surgery.
- If your pet goes in the car, lift them in and out. They may be particularly likely to jump out from habit.
- Ensure that any wound dressings are clean and dry, and that the pins securing the bandage are firmly in place. Loose pins can prick the skin and cause pain.
- Use a cone to prevent your dog from licking and biting the wound. As well as making the wound sore and delaying its healing, the mouth is full of bacteria, which can cause infection.
- If your pet has suffered a spinal fracture, a sling under the abdomen will help support their weight as they move. For larger dogs, two people may be required.
- For breaks in the front legs, use a splint around the chest.
- Wherever the injury is, your pet may need help getting up and down. Be very careful if you have slippery flooring, such as laminate, as slipping can cause further injury.
- Use short leads to take them to the garden to toilet, as this will restrict unnecessary movement. Any walks should be short, and owners should allow their pet to set the pace. If the wound is on the paw use a cover, such as a boot or a plastic wrap to reduce the risk of dirt and bacteria entering it.
- Reduced activity requires reduced calories to stop weight gain. Weight gain places extra strain on the skeleton and can delay recovery. A reduction of 30-40 percent is usually recommended.
- As the break heals, the vet may recommend gentle movement of the affected area, through the extension and folding of the joint. Only undertake this on professional advice.
- As your pet will be lacking their usual activities, give them lots of attention and care. However, be careful not to pet it too much initially, as it could cause them pain.
- Ensure you follow the prescribed care plan. You will probably need to administer medication, and may need to change bandages. Compound fractures may require application of antibiotic cream.
- The vet may recommend that you apply insulated ice packs to the area of the break. These should be applied for no more than 10 minutes.
Be aware that, following fractures and orthopaedic surgery, it is usually at least 3 months before the pet can be allowed to move about freely. However, after around a week, they should be able to start using the limb to an extent, and should show a steady and gradual improvement.
As with humans, younger animals will heal more quickly. Their bones contain additional protein repair tissue which promotes faster healing and recovery. They are also less likely to be overweight.
Initially, walks should be no more than 10 minutes long, twice a day. Increase this to 15, then by 5 minutes each week. For at least the first six weeks, they should be kept on a lead.
Hydrotherapy is an excellent rehabilitation treatment. It allows the dog to exercise without placing strain on the body, as the buoyancy of the water supports their weight. While it is important to allow the break to heal, muscles will become weakened during enforced rest.
Hydrotherapy will help rebuild the muscles, plus improve circulation, and reduce inflammation. Consult your vet before beginning hydrotherapy to ensure that your pet is recovered enough to begin rehabilitation.
When to consult the vet
If your pet shows any of the following signs after being treated for a broken bone or fracture, you must contact your vet:
- Loss of appetite
- Holding the injured paw completely off the ground for more than a week after treatment
- Unusual aggression, howling, whining or crying
- Excessive chewing or gnawing at the bandage site
7.5 Home care and treatment for chest injuries
Chest injuries are most commonly caused by road traffic accidents, kicks, or falls. Injuries may be caused by blunt force trauma, or penetration by a sharp object.
Chest injuries can result in the bruising of the heart and lungs, and can rapidly escalate into a life-threatening condition.
A chest injury may be indicated by the following:
- Elbows pushed outward when standing
- Unexplained bleeding
- Shallow and laboured breathing
- Reluctance to stand
Treatment and first aid for chest wounds
Owners should be careful to check for puncture wounds following an incident that may have caused chest trauma. The inside area of the chest is a vacuum. When it is breached, it creates a new, dangerous, air pathway in the chest that sucks air into the cavity.
These are known as sucking wounds and, as they can crush the lungs, require immediate treatment.
The obvious signs of a sucking wound are:
- Bubbling blood
- Breathing difficulties
- The sound of air being sucked into the chest
If you identify a sucking wound, follow these steps:
- Immediately cover the wound with a plastic or bin bag to close off the air pathway to the chest. This can help to re-establish the vacuum and help your pet breathe more normally.
- Secure three of the edges of the plastic wrap with tape, so that air can escape if necessary.
- Carefully transport your pet to the vet immediately.
7.6 Managing injuries caused by stabbing or impalement
Impalement is when an object becomes lodged in the body of the animal. It may be caused by falls, trips, or accidents.
Where an object is still in the pet, owners should never attempt to pull it out. Removing it can cause further damage, and may cause heavier bleeding, as it can act as a ‘plug’.
Place sterile bandages or sanitary towels around the wound at the point of entry, using the techniques described in ModuleStabilise the impaled object with bandages to prevent movement, which can cause further damage.
If the injury is to the chest area, stop the bleeding, and listen for a whistling sound. Do not apply any ointments. Take the pet to the vet immediately, taking extreme care when lifting, moving, or transporting the animal.
7.7 Treating a nose bleed
Nosebleeds are usually not serious, and can be easily treated using an ice pack placed on the bridge of the nose.
However, they may be caused by infections, injury, foreign objects becoming lodged in the nasal passage, or more serious reasons, such as tumours. Repeated nosebleeds require investigation.
When a nosebleed occurs, owners should:
- Keep the pet calm.
- Check the colour of the gums. If they are pale, the pet requires urgent veterinary attention. Owners should also check for signs of bleeding gums.
- If the pet is sneezing, count the frequency. Excessive sneezing may make it difficult to stop the blood flow.
- Place an ice pack on top of the muzzle. The cold will constrict the small blood vessels, which will help to slow the bleeding.
- Try to keep the pet calm and prevent movement once the bleed has stopped. The blood will have clotted, and too much movement can cause the clot to rupture, leading to more bleeding.
- If the bleeding does not stop, take your pet to the vet.
Pets that experience a nose bleed may swallow a considerable amount of blood. This can lead to black, tar-like stools, or vomit containing blood clots. In this situation, owners should monitor their pet to ensure that it is not gastrointestinal, but should not be overly concerned.
7.8 Administering medications to pets
Some over the counter medications are suitable for pets, and owners may wish to keep some at home, ready for use.
Owners should always check with their vet if the medication is appropriate.
The only medications that owners should keep at home specifically for pets are:
- Benadryl for allergies and itching. The dosage is 1mg per pound of weight, administered every 8-12 hours.
- Pepto Bismol for diarrhoea, gas, and vomiting. Give one teaspoon per ten pounds of weight.
- 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, to induce vomiting. The method for administering this is covered earlier in this module.
The easiest way to administer medication is to mix it with food. Meat, cheese, or yoghurt are good options if the medication is in tablet form. However, some dogs will refuse if they can smell the medicine, or think that it is there.
When giving medication to pets, owners should:
- Have the medication ready. If it is liquid, shake the bottle, and measure out the right amount in a medicine syringe or dropper.
- Call the dog to you in the way that you normally would.
- Get your dog to sit or stand with a hard surface, such as a wall, behind them. This will help to prevent them running away. Some owners find that putting them on a raised surface can also help.
- Holding the dropper or syringe in one hand, tilt the pet’s head up slightly with the other and hold it by the muzzle. You may need help if you have a larger dog.
- Place the syringe between the dog’s cheek and back teeth. Squeeze small amounts into the mouth. Do not squeeze too much at a time as this can cause choking or vomiting.
- Gently but firmly close your dog’s mouth, and hold the muzzle closed with their head tilted slightly back. This encourages swallowing. You can also stroke under the throat in a downwards motion.
- If the dog spits out the medication, do not administer any more unless you are certain that they have spat out all of it.
- Praise the dog throughout the process. Afterwards, give them a small treat as a reward. This will make it easier the next time.