More Time Outside Means More Toxic Threats to Pets

The Details

Summer and fall weather means more time outdoors for most Americans, and many pet owners love bringing their furry best friend with them. Whether working outside in the yard, or enjoying recreational activities such as swimming, hunting or fishing, pets are exposed to wide array of potential poisons they don’t face inside the home.

“When pets are in unfamiliar surroundings, they love to investigate,” said Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline®. “While having your pets with you can enhance the enjoyment of your activities, it also requires extra vigilance in watching their behavior closely. As pet lovers know, it only takes them a minute to get into trouble.”

“One consistent summertime threat is blue-green algae, a common organism which can grow in fresh or saltwater,” Brutlag added. “The ‘algae’ is actually a bacteria called cyanobacteria, so named for its bluish pigment. Overgrowth of these bacteria, referred to as a bloom, typically occur during late summer and fall when the water temperature rises and there is little rainfall. Nutrient rich waters, such as in areas of agricultural or municipal runoff, encourages cyanobacterial growth. Cyanotoxins are powerful poisons which can be deadly to pets (often dogs), humans and livestock. They mainly impact the nervous system or liver, with some causing death from respiratory paralysis within minutes.”

Toxic ‘algae’ blooms can occur throughout the United States and Canada, but the toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline® found that most potential blue-green algae cases reported to them were concentrated in five states – California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Washington.  Of those cases reported as potential blue-green algae exposure, 77 percent were referred to a veterinary clinic for care.

Take the case of the four-year-old Welsh Corgi in California who was out for a hike with his owner when he went swimming in a creek with a posted sign warning of toxic algae. His owner saw the sign, but “didn’t pay much attention to it.” After the dog jumped into the creek and drank from the water, his owner realized the danger and called the experts at Pet Poison Helpline®. They recommended the veterinary clinic staff bathe the dog to remove algae residue, induce vomiting, and give the dog activated charcoal to bind potential ingested toxins. Because of the quick action from his owner, the dog responded well to the treatment, and he went home healthy.

Pets can also find dangers in their own backyard – literally. The Pet Poison Helpline® team recently worked with Jeff Gochoco, whose nine-year-old Golden Retriever named Buddy decided his family’s home improvement materials looked like a tasty buffet.

“I had built two planters and was getting them ready for next season by putting together a mixture of materials,” said Gochoco, Buddy’s owner. “I had included some mushroom compost and bone meal. When Buddy came in from the backyard, he had some dirt on his snout and began to vomit later that night. I’m guessing the bone meal is like cocaine for dogs.”

“The mushroom compost caused us the biggest worry, because we didn’t know what types of mushrooms were in the material,” added Gochoco. “I called the emergency hospital, who referred me to the toxicology professionals at Pet Poison Helpline®. It took Buddy a few weeks to get back to normal, and now we watch him like a hawk.”

The dog ingested an unknown amount of mulch, straw, fertilizer, plant food and potting mix, resulting in multiple instances of vomiting and other gastrointestinal (GI) issues. In this case, the types of chemicals the dog ingested did not cause systemic poisoning, but many household fertilizers and insecticides can be deadly to pets.

“If your dog has off-leash access to a yard or you take her with you outside the home, be aware of what sort of plants, products and other potential hazards are in the surroundings,” said Brutlag. “Just as you would with a young child, you need to be aware of the potential dangers facing your furry family member.”

Pet Poison Helpline® created Toxin Tails to educate the veterinary community and pet lovers on the many types of poisoning dangers facing pets, both in and out of the home. All the pets highlighted in Toxin Tails have been successfully treated for the poisoning and fully recovered.


About Pet Poison Helpline®

Pet Poison Helpline®, an animal poison control center based in Minneapolis, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The veterinarians and board-certified toxicologists provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline®’s fee of $85 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline® is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at