What to do when your dog is poisoned by criminals
This guide dedicated to the memory of Misha, who died at the hands of criminals who poisoned him on the 8th of August, 2011, at the age of 14 months.
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The research I was doing for this document was tested when the same criminals returned a month later to complete a job interrupted. Thankfully, we were able to save Ludwig, the Blood Hound, without any complications.
I sincerely hope that this guide will help others save their dogs when the unthinkable happens.
If you have comments or suggestions to improve on this work, or if you would like to share your story, I would love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to do when your dog is poisoned by criminals
This is not a pleasant topic, but it is something you should take seriously. My intention in sharing this with you is to prepare you for the possibility and to give you the best possible chance to save your dog, should the need ever arise.
The poisoning of dogs, as a precursor to further crimes such as burglary, robbery, rape, etc., is extremely common in South Africa. Yet there is very little organised information available to dog owners. Like most dog owners in this situation, I only learnt a bit about dealing with poisoning after my dogs and I became victims. Unfortunately, for us that was too little, too late!
I am focusing on criminal poisoning only. There are numerous common substances in and around the house that can be dangerous to your dog. These include chocolate, raisins, onion, all household medicines, and of course household detergents and insecticides. Prevention is always better than cure! Be informed, careful, and prepared. You should note that first aid procedures for other poisonous substances may be quite different from those proposed herein. Ask your vet before you act.
These first aid measures may not be appropriate for other animals.
The most common poisons used are organophosphates and carbamate (Aldicarb, Temik, also known as Two-Step). Rat poison is another commonly used option.
Both organophosphates and carbamate are insecticides used predominantly in agricultural applications, but household applications also exist. Temik is the most commonly used poison, but it may be combined with other poisons. It is extremely toxic and as such it is a restricted substance; its distribution and use highly regulated. Unfortunately these measures are clearly ineffective. Organophosphates are relatively common insecticides, appearing in household insect sprays, rose and fruit tree sprays, etc. Interestingly, organophosphates were originally developed as biological weapons, and American soldiers are routinely issued with atropine and 2-PAM injection kits when going into areas where chemical weapons are deemed to be a risk! The rat poison that is used will probably contain anticoagulants (blood thinners), but may also contain a wide variety of other poisons. The anticoagulants often don’t work as quickly as any of the other poisons, building up in the animal’s body over a period of a few days. This does however not mean that your dog needs to consume more of it.
Most poisons, with the exception of the rat poisons, are formulated so that they have a bad taste as a means of discouraging ingestion. Unfortunately, when these formulations are considered, the manufacturers have humans in mind. Anyone who has spent some time observing animals will know that a sufficiently motivated animal will ignore a bad taste.
Identification and presentation
Temik is easily identified. It is in the form of tiny black or bluish/grey granules, similar to gunpowder. Most rat poisons appear in pelleted or caked form. Other poisons are more difficult to identify as there is a greater variety. All poisons are presented to the dogs with food. Common presentations include polony, meat, fish, maize meal, or bread: all rolled in, or stuffed with the poison. I have also come across bones covered in a fatty substance.
Signs and symptoms
These poisons are extremely fast acting (excepting some of the anticoagulants) and deadly, even if your dog only ingested a small amount. Even if you catch your dog in the act of ingesting the poison, there is no time to waste. Don’t wait for your dog to display symptoms. Take action immediately.
The following symptoms may appear, listed in no particular order:
Profuse twitching of the skin
Bruising in the case of anticoagulants
Vomiting, which may include blood in case of anticoagulant poisoning
Excessive bronchial secretion, i.e. coughing up slime
Excessively runny nose
Dyspnoea, i.e. difficulty breathing
Posture abnormalities, i.e. body contorted into abnormal positions
Diarrhoea: may be mucous; may be black or “tarry” in the case of anticoagulant poisoning
Abnormal pupils – either pinpoint or dilated
Tremors and muscle twitching
Temporary or partial paralysis, partial loss of movement
Bleeding, from nose, gums, wounds in the case of anticoagulants
Acute blindness in the case of anticoagulants
Blood in the urine in the case of anticoagulants
The faster you act, the better your dog’s chances. Nonetheless, you should know that there are no guarantees.
Make sure you have your vet’s number saved on your cell and in a prominent place in your home. Since most poisonings happen at night, make sure your vet is available 24/7/365. If not, find an alternative vet who is available at any time for emergencies and establish a relationship with the practice. In any event it is a good idea to have a back-up vet on your list of contacts.
The section below describes the emergency procedure to follow when your dog is poisoned. You will require the following for each dog:
Large syringes (60ml)
At least one of the following: high foam washing powder, Hydrogen Peroxide 3% solution (available from your pharmacy), Apomorphine Hydrochloride (either powder or injection plus syringe and needle for administration (the latter two are schedule 4 medicines, don’t worry if you can’t get them—use one of the other methods)
Activated Charcoal in granular, powder, or tablet form (available from your pharmacy or health shop), or a veterinary preparation.
Castor Oil to help move the activated charcoal through the intestines.
Atropine plus syringe and needle for administration (This is a schedule 4 medicine, don’t worry if you can’t get it, you vet will administer it. I personally believe it should be available for emergency first aid kits.)
The above will need to be administered in specific dosages. Work out the dosage for each based on your dog’s average weight and write it down clearly. Put the paper in a clear plastic bag to prevent details from being smudged in an emergency. Put this booklet in there too for reference.
If you wish, you can measure and pre-package the dry items for each dog.
Put everything together in an emergency kit bag and place it in an easily accessible, yet protected place.
Review the contents of the bag regularly to ensure that medicines with expiry dates are replaced when necessary and your calculated dosages keep up with your dog’s changes in bodyweight.
Steps 1 to 4 are vital initial procedures you should undertake immediately. Proceed with step 5 and further based on the time it will take you to get your dog to a vet and the severity of the symptoms. The longer it will take and/or the more severe the symptoms, the more important the follow-on steps become. If you are uncomfortable with any of the procedures, rather leave them to the vet or perform them under guidance of your vet over the phone.
As soon as you suspect that your dog has been poisoned, have someone phone the vet to let them know that you are on your way. If you are alone, phone the vet between the following actions. Remain calm and focus on what you need to do.
Remember that poisonings seldom happen for their own sake: they are a preparatory step for a further crime. Alert your security company and the police immediately.
Immediately remove your dog and any other animals and children from the source of the poison. If it means confining your dog in the house, do so. If you can, use a room or courtyard that has little furniture or objects on which your dog could injure itself. If you have to go indoors choose a place with a tiled floor if you can.
f your dog is conscious, not having seizures and is not having difficulty breathing, you should induce vomiting. If at any point during the process your dog develops any of these symptoms, stop and rush your dog to the vet immediately. If you have tried inducing vomiting without success for at the most ten minutes without success, stop and rush your dog to the vet. Make sure that the dog does not re-ingest the vomit. If you can, inspect the vomit visually for signs of the poison – it may be helpful if you can describe it firstly to your vet, and later to the police. The following methods are most effective:
Force a ball of high foam washing powder down its throat. Prepare the ball with washing powder and a little water. The amount should be in relation to the size of the dog.
Prepare a 50/50 mixture of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide and water. Measure 5ml per 5kg body mass and force this down the dog’s throat. A large syringe is useful for this. Walk your dog to ensure the mixture mixes with the stomach content. Repeat the process no more than twice if the dog doesn’t vomit within a few minutes.
If you have access to it, an injection of Apomorphine Hydrochloride 0,05mg per kg bodyweight, or pull down the lower eyelid of one eye and apply Apomorphine Powder.
Once you are sure that the dog’s stomach is empty, get your dog to swallow Activated Charcoal. The dosage is 0.5g/kg body weight (a 10kg dog would require 5g). Add between 5 and 25ml Castor Oil to the mix—about 5ml per 10kg or part thereof. The best way to get this done is using a granular or powdered charcoal product mixed into a slurry with a little water, fill into a large syringe, add Castor Oil and then squirt the mixture into the back of the dog’s mouth.
Only if your dog has vomited, and if you have access to it, administer 1ml Atropine per 10kg body mass subcutaneously or intramuscularly. Atropine inhibits vomiting and may thus cause more harm than good if administered prematurely. In the case of rat poison, do not administer Atropine, proceed directly to the vet.
Get your dog into the car and rush to the vet. If your dog is having convulsions, or is lethargic, somnolent, or unconscious, use a blanket or something similar as a stretcher. Be careful carrying a dog with convulsions as you might get bitten accidentally.
Tell the vet what you have done from discovering the poisoning up to the point of entering the practice. Also try to remember when the poisoning was discovered, what symptoms presented and when, as well as your subjective judgement of how much of the poison your dog ingested, based on what you saw of the stomach content.
What to expect:-
If your dog survives the initial crisis and your vet got it through the first 12 hours, you may see:
A quick recovery, if you are lucky. Your dog will continue to cough for a few days, be teary-eyed, and may be a bit weak, and will need to eat bland food (i.e. rice and boiled, unseasoned chicken) for a few days to give the liver a chance to recover fully. You may observe some long term impact which may, or may not, improve with time, depending on which systems were damaged by the poison. Your dog may thus require ongoing supportive treatment.
Persistence of some of the symptoms, specifically hypersalivation, slow heart rate, diarrhoea: often mucous due to glandular over-secretion, vomiting, contraction of the pupils, central nervous system stimulation with hyperactivity, mania, anxiety or depression, seizures, difficulty breathing, Increased bronchial secretions. These are referred to as the Muscarinic effect of the poison. While treatment for this effect is available, the effectiveness thereof depends on the severity of the poisoning.
Your dog may also experience muscle twitching under the skin, but this may progress to muscle weakness and partial inability to move and respiratory paralysis. These symptoms may initially be masked by anxiety and stress associated with the Muscarinic effect. They often only manifest clearly after 36 to 72 hours and are referred to as the Nicotinic effect of the poison. This is one of the most dangerous parts of the poison process’s progression and many dogs die of paralysis of respiratory system.
Throughout the dog’s treatment, even though you may observe apparent improvement, there is the risk of organ damage or failure, which may lead to the dog’s death.
Prepare yourself for the worst. If your dog recovers, you can count yourself and your dog lucky. Even if your response time was excellent, there is no guarantee that your dog will survive.
You need to report the poisoning to the police. All police stations in South Africa have been instructed on poisonings, but you may still meet resistance when attempting to open a case. Here are specific charges you may lay:
Contravention of Section 2(1)(n), alternatively Section 2(1)(d) of the Animal Protection Act, Act 71 of 1962, as amended: Administer poisonous substance to animal
AND In the case of Carbamate (Aldicarb – Temik/Sanacarb/two-step)
Contravention of the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Agriculture Remedies and Stock Remedies Act, Act 36 of 1947, as amended: Possession of an illegal substance, AND
Hazardous Substances Act, Act 15 of 1973, as amended: Possession of an illegal substance
In order to make these charges stick, you need to make sure the police get a sample of the poison. Carefully collect any leftover poison from the garden or, if there is nothing there, collect a sample from the vomit (preferably with visible samples of the poisoned substance) and keep it in the fridge until you can hand it over. You can also give a copy of the vet’s bill, which will be quite substantial, to the police. It will help to substantiate the damage caused in monetary terms. This is of course wholly inadequate as a measure of the real damage, but it’s something concrete one can use in court.
You need to clean up. This will be one of the most difficult tasks you’ll ever have to undertake. Not only is it a messy job, it is an emotional one! Here is what you need to do:
Protect yourself from the poison: It is just as poisonous to you as it is to your dog. Wear rubber gloves, wear protective clothing, wear decent shoes. Remember: the poison can be ingested, inhaled, and absorbed trough the skin. Do not smoke, eat or drink, rub your eyes, or handle any uncontaminated household articles before changing clothes and thoroughly washing your hands, face and other exposed skin.
Restrict access to all contaminated areas, regardless whether it is vomit, saliva, or any other fluid or substance. This means no children, no visitors, and no other pets; only the person who is going to clean up should be allowed in.
Collect all remaining poison from the place where the dog was poisoned. Seal it in decent plastic containers. Sprinkle Slaked Lime over the area and water down the entire area extremely well. Also water down any run-off very well. You want to remove all remnants of the poison from the surface.
Collect all the solid waste as well as severely soiled articles and seal all in plastic containers.
Wash everything that was in contact with the poison, including any excretions from your dog. A 10% solution of Sodium Carbonate is recommended. Brush the solution well into the entire area and leave for at least 8 hours. Wash off and absorb the water into an absorbent material. Wood-based cat litter pellets work really well — a little absorbs a lot of water and it’s easy to collect afterwards. Do not dispose of in the drain; dispose of as described below. Wash again with a strong household detergent and dry with an absorbent material. Do not dispose of washing water in the drain or garden! Remember to wash window sills, walls, doors and door frames, legs of furniture, etc.
All washable rugs, table cloths, cushions, etc. should be washed thoroughly by machine – remember to remove and collect all solid waste before washing. Use a strong oxidising detergent such as “Vanish”.
Dispose of the waste:
If you are in a municipal area, your municipality should be able to handle toxic waste. Contact them in connection with the collected waste. Alternatively contact a reputable toxic waste disposal company for assistance.
If you are in a rural area:
Do Not dispose of anything into the septic tank since you’ll poison everything downstream of the French drain.
Aldicarb/Temik: burry the contaminated material at least 45cm deep (make sure no animal will be able to dig the stuff up again), in excess of 50m away from wells, French drains, trenches and water runs. Mix an equal mass of Soda Ash (Sodium Carbonate) or Slaked Lime (Calcium Hydroxide) into the material. Soak well with water. Backfill.
Organophosphates: Burn all collected materials and absorbent material used in washing in a place where no ground or water contamination by smoke or ash can take place. Collect the ash, mix with equal mass Soda Ash, and bury as above. Only burn if you are sure that no Aldicarb/Temic was used, otherwise burry everything as above.
Rat Poison: it is difficult to recommend a disposal method without knowing what is in it.
If in any doubt, contact your nearest Poison Information Centre.
If at any time during the cleanup process, you or a family member feels ill, don’t hesitate: go see a medical professional. There is a real possibility that you may have been exposed to too much of the poison and may be experiencing symptoms of poisoning yourself.
It is really difficult to find decent, and specifically complete, information on poisoning for the layperson. Here are a few sources I found useful. If you know of a source that provides decent information, please let me know.
Huskyrescue.co.za First Aid: http://www.huskyrescue.co.za/need_to_know/first_aid.php
INCHEM Chemical Safety Information from Intergovernmental Organizations: http://www.inchem.org
INCHEM Organophosphates: http://www.inchem.org/documents/pims/chemical/pimg001.htm#PartTitle:12.%20ADDITIONAL%20INFORMATION
Organophosphate and carbamate toxicities: http://www.edoc.co.za/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=964
Workingdogs.com has an excellent article on poisonings. A vast variety of poisons, including household items, and treatments is discussed. Go to http://www.workingdogs.com/doc0175.htm. If you don’t get to the page directly, search for it using the search term “Poisoned!” under the “Articles” heading; it’s worth the effort.
I am not a veterinarian, medical professional, or an expert on poisons. The information presented herein was gathered from product information documentation, information on the internet I deem trustworthy (most of the references are reflected above), and interviews with a few knowledgeable individuals whom have been trough the ordeal themselves. I have taken every care to ensure the accuracy of the information presented herein.
The intent is to help give the reader a better chance at successfully saving their dog in the event of a poisoning with the poisons specified herein. I do not give any guarantees, even though I wish I could.
I cannot accept any responsibility whatsoever for the effect of the application of the first aid measures suggested herein since the application thereof will be beyond my control and subject to the judgement of the person applying the said measures.
The first aid measures suggested herein are not appropriate for all kinds of poisoning and they only apply to dogs. I cannot accept any responsibility whatsoever for the inappropriate application of the measures suggested.
©2011 J Günther. The content hereof may be freely reproduced and distributed, provided that it is done in its entirety, without alteration, and the author is acknowledged. Exceptions by the author’s express written permission.
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