Five Pet Poisoning First Aid Misconceptions

By Charlotte Flint, DVM
Staff Veterinarian at Pet Poison Helpline®

  1. Milk is an antidote that neutralizes all poisons.

First Aid KitWe hear this one everyday at Pet Poison Helpline®.  “My pet ate poison, so I gave milk.  Is there anything else I need to do?”  Unfortunately there is nothing magical in milk that neutralizes medicines or other toxins.  Think about it this way – if you take some medicine like ibuprofen for a headache and then drink a glass of milk or eat some cheese or ice cream, does your headache return because the milk neutralized or inactivated the medicine you took?  No.  Milk is unlikely to be helpful in the vast majority of poisoning situations and can sometimes make things worse.  Most pets are lactose intolerant and giving milk can cause or worsen stomach upset symptoms.

  1. I should always induce vomiting.

Many people have heard of inducing vomiting when something harmful is ingested by dogs.  This is commonly performed and can be very helpful; however it is not an appropriate action for all situations and sometimes can be harmful.

Inducing vomiting is usually only going to be helpful if performed very soon after something is ingested.  Most medications are designed to be absorbed quickly by the stomach, so inducing vomiting hours later is unlikely to be helpful.  Think again about the example where a person takes ibuprofen for a headache – you want the pill to be absorbed right away to help your pain instead of having it sit in your stomach for several hours before being absorbed.  Liquids and chewable medications tend to be absorbed even faster than swallowed tablets and capsules.  Some substances like chocolate, raisins, plants, and nuts will sometimes remain in the stomach hours after ingestion.

In some situations inducing vomiting can be harmful.  If something is ingested that could cause burns, like an acid or leaking battery, inducing vomiting could cause damage to the esophagus and throat and worsen the situation.   Inducing vomiting with oily substances can increase the risk of aspiration or inhaling the vomit into the lungs and can cause pneumonia.  Some breeds, especially the “smush face” breeds like bulldogs, are also at higher risk of aspiration.  Always contact your veterinarian before inducing vomiting at home to make sure it is safe and appropriate.

  1. I can give my cat hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting.

There is no safe way to induce vomiting at home with cats.  Hydrogen peroxide is often used to induce vomiting in dogs, but is never safe to give to cats.  Cats are sensitive to hydrogen peroxide and can develop irritation and bleeding of their stomach, which has been fatal to some cats.

  1. I can use salt to induce vomiting.

Salt is a dangerous choice and should not be used to induce vomiting in pets.  Too much salt can cause dangerous electrolyte abnormalities which can result in swelling of the brain and symptoms like tremors and seizures.  The risk is too high, especially considering that there are other safer options for inducing vomiting.

  1. I should give my pet mineral oil, butter, oil, or grease to help it pass through.

Feeding your pet mineral oil, butter, oil, or grease can make a bad situation worse.  These substances often cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration, plus there is increased risk of aspiration pneumonia if these substances are vomited.   Ingestion of oils, grease, and butter can also trigger pancreatitis, an inflammatory disease of the pancreas that can be very serious and sometimes life-threatening in pets.  The risks of giving oils, butter, or grease are much higher than any potential benefit.

The veterinarians and staff at Pet Poison Helpline® are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help provide safe advice in pet poisoning situations.  Please call Pet Poison Helpline® or speak with your veterinarian before giving your pet any medicine or other home treatments.