Top 6: What NOT to do!

By Sharon Billings, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

If you’re a regular Pet Poison Helpline® reader, you’ve no doubt seen our previous blogs and articles about pet health care, first aid, and emergency care with lots of information about what to do.  But it might be just as important to know what NOT to do.

Way back when I was in vet tech school learning about medications, I was taught about the “five rights” to help avoid errors:  the right patient, the right medication, the right dose, the right route, and the right time.  Applying the “five rights”, we want to make sure that whatever we do, we can answer “yes” to two simple questions:  Is it safe?  Is it effective?  There are many examples where the answer to one or both questions is NO!  So, here is our top 6 list of what NOT to do!

#6: A Word of Advice:  Where do you turn for advice about your pet?  If you are considering various pet food options for your diabetic cat do you ask the pet store employee who’s stocking shelves?  If you have questions about dietary supplements for your itchy-skin dog do check with an on-line retailer?  If your pet needs first aid or has eaten something harmful do you hop on your web browser and check with “Dr. Google”?  As well-intended as any of these sources might be, you don’t know if they are qualified, and they don’t know your pet.  Of course, these might all be excellent sources of information but they are NOT a substitute for your pet’s veterinarian so the advice they give may steer you in the wrong direction.

#5:  Pesticides:  The biggest no-no in this category is:  don’t use a pesticide, for example a flea and tick control product, that is not labeled for your pet’s species, age, weight, and health status.  Using the wrong ingredient(s) and/or dose on your pet could cause a lot of trouble for you both!  Some pesticides used in higher concentrations in dog products can result in life-threatening neurological signs including seizures in cats.  And it doesn’t take much, so even if you squeeze just a bit from a tube onto your cat – or even if your cat grooms some of the product off your dog – it could result in an urgent trip to the emergency clinic!  Similarly, rabbits are very sensitive to pesticide ingredients that are common in both dog and cat products.  Other home remedies that can result in problems are essential oils and borax (boric acid powder).

#4:  Scrapes and Cuts:  While many minor boo-boos can be treated quite safely and successfully at home, there are some potential pitfalls!  Never attempt to treat an eye injury at home; this situation always warrants a trip to the veterinarian.  For topical treatment of minor cuts and scrapes be sure to avoid using tea tree oil as it can be toxic to pets.  If a cut or scrape looks to be anything more than just “minor” don’t decide to just keep an eye on it at home; delaying veterinary treatment can complicate the situation.  Also, avoid the temptation to start up the remains of a left-over antibiotic prescription even if it was prescribed to the pet you’re treating.

#3:  Bumps, Bruises, Sprains and Strains:  When a pet sustains an injury after exertion, it’s perfectly normal to think the injury may be painful and to try to ease that pain.  If this should happen to your pet, do NOT reach into your own medicine cabinet for a pain reliever!  Aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin ©), naproxen (Aleve ©), and acetaminophen (Tylenol ©) are all very commonly used human pain medications and all are potentially toxic to your pet!  Even a small portion of a single Tylenol tablet contains a potentially deadly dose of acetaminophen for a cat.  Veterinarians do sometimes recommend aspirin or acetaminophen in dogs, but overdoses can result in GI ulcers, kidney failure, or liver failure.  The good news is there are many safer and effective pain medications specifically meant for dogs and cats, so don’t forget the “five rights”!

#2:  Upset Tummies:  I don’t imagine there’s a pet out there who hasn’t “gotten into something” from time to time.  When pets ingest something they shouldn’t, our two perfectly normal reactions are:  1) Get it back out of their stomach — see #1 below —  and 2) Give them something by mouth to soothe the tummy.  Many people favor giving milk in such situations.  But the fact is dogs and cats are fairly intolerant of the lactose in cow’s milk.  So, while it may be just fine to give a small amount of dairy product occasionally as a treat, giving a larger amount of milk may actually cause diarrhea – making that upset tummy worse rather than better.  Another temptation is to reach into our medicine cabinet and pull out human medications such as Pepto Bismol.  And veterinarians may even recommend Pepto in certain situations but be aware that Pepto and similar products contain an ingredient similar to aspirin.  Depending on the dose, aspirin can be toxic to pets.  Do NOT give any of these medications to your pet unless advised to do so by your pet’s veterinarian!  Remember the “five rights”.

#1:  Decontamination:  I saved the “best” for last.  When our pets ingest something that may be harmful, our best line of defense is early decontamination.  And one commonly-used method of decontamination is inducing vomiting.  With dogs, it’s something that can often be done at home with over-the-counter supplies.

But inducing vomiting is never entirely without risk.  And there are some situations where inducing vomiting is unsafe and/or unnecessary.  So it’s important to weigh the potential risks and benefits before inducing vomiting.  I recommend you NOT induce vomiting with your pet unless under the direction of your veterinarian (or Pet Poison Helpline®).

I also recommend that you NOT find yourself without the required supplies for inducing vomiting at home with your dog:  measuring spoons, a dosing syringe (small dogs) or a turkey baster (larger dogs), and a bottle of fresh, unexpired, bubbly 3% hydrogen peroxide.  If your hydrogen peroxide is expired and/or flat (doesn’t bubble) it’s not likely to work.   I routinely replace my bottle of hydrogen peroxide so that I know it’s always fresh, bubbly, and ready to go.  Also, do NOT exceed the hydrogen peroxide dose provided to you since an overdose can cause problems.

We’ve heard of many alternative methods of inducing vomiting at home.  None of these are considered to be both safe and effective.  Some are significant toxicity and/or injury risks.  Here is a list – no doubt incomplete – of methods that we’ve heard that I highly recommend you NOT use to induce vomiting in your pet:  bacon grease, baking soda, barbecue briquettes, burned toast, chewing tobacco, cooking oil, digital (sticking fingers down throat), motor oil, mustard, raw eggs, salt, whiskey.

One final note on decontamination.  In certain cases, veterinarians use activated charcoal as a means of decontamination; the charcoal binds with certain toxins and lessens their effects.  The activated charcoal is used in calculated doses and administered at specific intervals.  Activated charcoal capsules that you may have at home in a first aid kit are NOT considered a substitute for this means of decontamination.  And there are cases where activated charcoal may be unsafe and/or ineffective.

I hope this list of “NOTs” has provided some useful tips to add to your pet health care library!