Brand new pet parents can go a little crazy trying to protect pets from, well, everything! With the first pet child, having the mindset that there’s danger lurking around every corner is quite normal and may or may not subside when a second, then a third pet kid comes into the picture. By this point, you have a better grasp at being a good pet parent! Fears shrink and you’re not as nervous, but don’t drop your protective guard completely.

Every year, thousands of domestic animals come in contact with all kinds of poisons. Companion pets, especially dogs and cats, are curious creatures having to investigate everything regardless if it’s safe to eat or not. In 2013, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) took nearly 180,000 calls about possible pet poisonings with 24,673 cases involving exposure to human prescription medications — the number one ranked toxin for 2013. Start by getting those meds out of reach of pets!

From insecticides used on lawns to household products and toxic plants, pets can fall ill or even die depending on what and how much is ingested. Poisoning, accidental or otherwise, is not always apparent as many cases can be minor or symptoms do not present clearly. What are the signs of a poisoned pet? How do you spot the important signs without brushing it off as “just a tummy ache?” Here are some signs to watch for:

Loss of Appetite

Sometimes, a pet just doesn’t want or need to eat a meal. However, sudden appetite loss that lasts more than a day is unusual, especially if the pet is also vomiting and having diarrhea. Even though he is not eating, try to get him to drink water, as fluids are being lost from vomiting or diarrhea.

Irregular Bodily Functions

Watch for signs of intestinal distress. This includes persistent vomiting and diarrhea which may be bloody. Abnormal stool that is watery or loose in consistency, yellow, green, or dark black in color.

Respiratory Distress

If you suspect something is wrong, listen to your pet’s breathing. Listen for shallow breathing, uncontrollable heavy panting, or coughing that seems to be causing pain.

Inability to Balance or Move Properly

In the case of a poisoning, a pet may show neurological symptoms like depression, lethargy, shakiness, and excessive drooling. He may appear disoriented and dizzy, bumping into things, or may have extreme difficulty standing that causes staggering when he tries to walk.

Organ Failure

This is diagnosed by a veterinarian. Signs of the body going into organ failure:

  • Kidney — halitosis (offensive breath), vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, excessive urination, a lack of or no urination
  • Liver — yellow discoloration to the gums, weakness, acting “out of it,” diarrhea, vomiting, black-tarry stool (melena)

Look for Stings and Bites

Curious pets often investigate a variety of insects, reptiles, and animals. Do you think a pet may have encountered a poisonous critter like a rattlesnake, black widow spider, brown recluse spider, scorpion, or other poisonous creature? Check for signs of a bite or sting by looking for swollen and tender areas on the body. Common locations on the body for spider or snake bites are the face, legs, and feet.

Look for Signs Around Your Home and Garden

It’s very possible that a pet, especially dogs, has ingested a household product they shouldn’t have. Look around your entire house and around the yard for disrupted plants, poisonous rodent bait, cleaning products that have been messed with, prescription medication missing or scattered on the ground, or missing people food. A lawn sprayed in pesticides full of chemicals is hazardous to pets. Dogs and cats walk on the sprayed lawns then lick their contaminated paws and fur, or they eat the grass covered in toxins.

It’s important to remember that signs and symptoms of poisoning in dogs, cats, or other animals can vary largely based on the kind of poison. Therefore, taking action sooner rather than later can mean the difference between life and death. If you think your pet has been poisoned, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control hotline immediately.

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