Daily Dose

Protect your pet from accidental poisoning

February 14, 2011

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A few months ago, Merissa Hamilton returned to Boston from a work trip and found her year-old Yorkshire terrier frantically running back and forth across the apartment, unable to be consoled even with treats. Turns out Toulla had ingested Adderall, a stimulant drug used to treat Hamilton’s roommate’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Most likely one of the tiny pills had fallen on the floor, only to be later discovered by the 3.5-pound dog. Fortunately, quick treatment at the animal hospital using IV fluids along with activated charcoal to absorb the drug enabled Toulla to make a speedy recovery.

Some of the 167,000 pet owners who last year called the 24-hour poison control hotline run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals weren’t so lucky.

“Pets that ingest human medications can become blind, develop heart problems, and experience acute kidney damage,’’ says Dr. Jules Benson, a veterinarian for Petplan, a pet insurance company. “These effects can be reversible but treatment needs to be implemented in the first few hours.’’

Human medications were, in fact, the number one reason for pet poisonings, according to the ASPCA. Tylenol is far more toxic to animals than ibuprofen and aspirin, says Benson, though you need to keep all medications out of your pet’s reach, including those stray pills that fall on the floor. And, yes, dogs can chew through those plastic bottles of children’s Tylenol.

Insecticides were the number two poison — it appears some owners spray their cats with products not designed for animal use. A definite no-no.

And mice and rat bait can poison your pets; not only do the grain-based toxins attract rodents, but cats and dogs as well.

“People’’ food like chocolate, onions, grapes and raisins can also be poison to dogs and cats, which have different digestive enzymes than humans. “Make sure not to feed your pet scraps from the table,’’ says Benson.

That includes those juicy bits of steak meat. The fat content in the beef can give a small dog like Toulla a painful case of pancreatitis.

Of course, pet medications can also be poisonous if your animal overdoses on them. “A lot of the time these drugs are formulated to taste like treats so pets will seek them out,’’ says Benson. “And pets, like kids, really don’t know what’s good or bad for them.’’

It really comes down to using common sense, he adds. Keep medications, chemicals, and food locked away or high up out of your pet’s reach. And secure your garbage cans if your pet gets into them.

If your animal develops any signs of poisoning like vomiting or diarrhea, call the ASPCA’s poison control hotline at 888-426-4435.


The top 10 things that could poison your pet

1. Human medications
2. Insecticides
3. Rodenticides in baits and traps
4. People food such as grapes, onions, garlic
5. Veterinary medication overdoses
6. Chocolate
7. Household toxins such as bleach, detergents
8. Plants
9. Herbicides
10. Outdoor toxins such as antifreeze, fertilizer, ice melt

Toddler obesity tied to early solid foods

Researchers keep adding more pieces to the puzzle to explain the rise in childhood obesity. Earlier this month, they blamed working moms; last month, erratic sleep patterns. Last week, a study from Children’s Hospital Boston suggested that formula-fed babies who get solid food before 4 months have six times the risk of being overweight by age 3, compared with breast-fed children. I’m wondering if these findings fit together.

Moms who work often find it too hard to continue nursing, so they switch their babies to formula. They also may have their babies on a shorter or more unpredictable sleep schedule to suit their work schedule. Less sleep may make babies hungrier and more prone to fuss after their formula — leading to an earlier introduction of solid foods.

It could be that the mothers in the latest study who chose to formula feed had a host of different parenting practices than those who chose to breast-feed. D.K.

Breast pumps now tax-deductible expense

I think it’s smart that the Internal Revenue Service decided last week to allow breast pumps to be considered tax deductible medical expenses after initially deciding that they weren’t. This means that nursing mothers with flexible health spending accounts can use pre-tax dollars to buy nursing pumps and other breast-feeding supplies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the decision with the explanation that breast-feeding has many medical benefits for both mother and baby. But what about health care expenses that didn’t make the cut? These include dental floss, toothbrushes, and feminine care products.

I’m not sure why the government doesn’t consider cavity and gum disease prevention to be a form of preventive health care. Nor can I fathom why birth control pills and pregnancy tests can be deducted but not tampons. Gym memberships aren’t deductible either even though the government keeps encouraging us to exercise. Nor are weight loss programs for “general health.’’ D.K.

Getting too many heart screening tests?

I have to admit that, as a health writer, I feel pretty guilty not having the screening tests that my primary care physician urges me to get whenever I go see him for a sick visit. I don’t see my primary care physician for regular physicals — ever.

And I haven’t had my cholesterol level tested since I was 25. I’m now 40. I’ve also never had my glucose measured, or my level of C-reactive protein. I do, however, get my blood pressure checked during my yearly gynecologist visit.

I’m feeling, though, a bit vindicated after trying out a new interactive tool posted online last week by Consumer Reports ( that ranks the value — the benefits vs. the risks — of nine common heart disease screening tests. As it turns out, the only test I really need — as a woman who’s at low-risk for heart disease — is regular blood pressure screenings. D.K.