Dogs Being Dogs

September 2, 2020

My assistant had just gone home at the end of a busy day when I got an urgent call about Ricky, an almost-2-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Ricky is a service dog who had been out for a walk with his owners when they stopped to talk with friends. A moment later, his mom glanced down, and there was Ricky, happily gnawing on a block of something that looked suspiciously like rat poison. You know, those big waxy blocks that come in various colors, shapes, and sizes. His owner immediately pulled it away, scooped up all the bait on the ground, then phoned the veterinarian on emergency call that evening. Me.

Here was our dilemma. Ricky’s family had not put out any kind of rodenticide. No one knew where it had come from. Perhaps it had fallen off a garbage truck that had been there earlier that day? One family member suggested the blocks looked like rat poison he had seen before that contained bromethalin, but the reality is that we can’t definitively identify the active ingredient in a rodenticide block simply based on appearance.

So we were faced with a small dog who had consumed an unknown quantity of an unknown rodenticide. “Bring him right down so I can induce vomiting,” I advised, texting my assistant to come back. “He looks fine,” his mom said. “These poisons can take a while to cause symptoms,” I replied. “By the time a dog is visibly sick, it’s usually too late.”

When Ricky arrived, I administered medication to make him vomit. He obliged quickly. Three big piles including the bread I had instructed them to feed prior to heading over. Doing due diligence, I sifted through the yuck, but found no evidence of material matching the bait the owners had brought along. Had he just not swallowed any to begin with? Or was it just not coming back up and out? What if he still had rat poison in his tummy?

There are three major types of rodenticide we had to consider. Anticoagulants, bromethalin, and cholecalciferol. In the old days, most rodenticides sold in the U.S. were anticoagulants. These interfere with normal blood clotting, leading to fatal hemorrhage. Treatment is simple, four weeks of oral Vitamin K. But a few years back, regulations changed, and the sale of anticoagulant rodenticides was limited to commercial exterminators. Nowadays, the stuff routinely available in hardware stores to homeowners contains bromethalin — a nasty neurotoxin for which there is no antidote. If Ricky had eaten bromethalin, all we could do, after making him barf, was to dose him with oral activated charcoal to minimize any further absorption of the toxin, and wait and see if he developed clinical symptoms. Signs vary depending on the dose. With high doses, dogs exhibit hyperexcitability, followed by seizures and death. With low doses, signs include depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, tremors, followed by paralysis and death. Treatment consists of supportive care but is often unsuccessful.

The third possibility was cholecalciferol rodenticide, basically an overdose of Vitamin D leading to toxic levels of calcium in the blood. Signs can include vomiting, depression, lethargy, bloody diarrhea, seizures, kidney failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and death. When this type of rodenticide was first marketed in the 1980s, it was touted to be relatively safe to use around dogs. We soon learned otherwise. As little as half an ounce can be life-threatening to a fifty-pound dog … and Ricky only weighed 17 pounds.

Toxicologists have a saying: “The dose makes the poison.” Ricky only had the bait for a moment. It was unlikely he could have ingested a large quantity, no matter what the active ingredient. But cholecalciferol is the one with which the smallest amount poses the greatest danger, and there is no antidote. Consultation with ASPCA Poison Control confirmed that we should monitor Ricky’s calcium levels and kidney function for four days. If abnormalities developed, he should be hospitalized and treated symptomatically by specialists. We made arrangements for Ricky to have the necessary tests throughout the weekend, and my assistant got ready to head home . . . except for another urgent call about Johnny Darter, a 5-month-old mini-Bernedoodle. He, too, had been out walking with his owner two hours ago. Now he suddenly had begun shaking, his head wobbling. He was lethargic and reluctant to move. His owners were adamant he had no exposure to anything unusual. No rodenticides. No drugs, prescription or recreational. No poisons of any kind. They were very worried, and brought Johnny in to see me on emergency. The pup was alert but anxious, and having episodes of muscle twitching. He seemed slightly disoriented and uncoordinated. I had seen this before. We are rarely able to definitively confirm the cause, but I have seen it occur after ingestion of rotten food or compost … or mushrooms. I’m not a mycologist, but I do know there are ’shrooms on the Vineyard that are “tremorgenic.” In other words, when ingested they can cause the symptoms Johnny Darter was exhibiting.

We ran basic laboratory tests. Kidney and liver function, blood sugar and electrolytes, were all normal. After much conversation, Johnny’s owners confirmed there were lots of mushrooms growing around the area where they had gone walking just hours previously. It was certainly possible Johnny had eaten some. Did I mention I’m not a mycologist? But that’s OK. Toxicologists have another saying: “Treat the patient, not the mushroom.” I treated the patient, sending him home with muscle relaxants to try to control the tremors, and instructions to keep a close eye and call back if things got worse.

It took two more days before Johnny was completely back to normal. Ricky never showed any clinical signs or laboratory abnormalities consistent with rodenticide toxicity. What a relief. But the week continued with more dogs being dogs. The border collie who swallowed six used feminine hygiene products. The Labrador who ate a sock, then vomited the sock, then ate it again before the owner could retrieve it. Dogs. Being. Dogs.

  • Most Recent News

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    January 8, 2021

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    January 8, 2021

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    January 8, 2021

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Puppy Cams

    January 7, 2021

    A nonprofit is providing an unusual form of therapy for those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic – puppy cams! “You spend five minutes with a puppy and try not to smile,” said registered nurse Robin Lingg Lagrone. Lingg Lagrone says watching little furballs wag their tails and prance on their paws helps […]

    Read more

    Pet Committee

    January 7, 2021

    When Moore County’s school doors were abruptly closed earlier in 2020, two- and four-legged volunteers from the Moore County Citizens’ Pet Responsibility Committee (PRC) were in their 12th year of presenting a six-session Pet Responsibility Education Program for fourth-graders. The PRC quickly shifted gears and placed its program materials online as part of a home […]

    Read more

    The Right Rescue Dog

    January 7, 2021

    If your New Year’s resolution is to add a canine family member, good for you. Somewhere out there is the perfect puppy or adult dog for your family. You have a lot of things to think about when you begin to look for that new family member, puppy or dog? Large or small? Purebred or […]

    Read more

    Police Dog Attack

    January 7, 2021

    A resolution headed to the Duluth City Council on Monday could put to rest a lawsuit filed by Teri Lynn Ehlers, an employee of the Patch Motel, who was bitten by a Duluth police dog named Oakley. Former Duluth Police Officer Marc Johnson was a registered guest of the Warroad establishment May 28, 2018, when […]

    Read more

    PAWS With A Cause

    January 7, 2021

    Pebble Hill Plantation and the Thomas County Public Library are pleased to announce the upcoming Enlightening Bites program, “PAWS With a Cause,” on Friday, January 8, 2021 at noon in the Flipper Room of the Library. The program is being presented by Jeri Anderson, field representative. Anderson is recently retired from the City of Monticello, […]

    Read more

    Police Canine Team

    January 7, 2021

    Kingston Police revealed in a news release late Wednesday afternoon that they’ve been keeping a four-legged secret for roughly three months. The force announced it added a second canine unit, with the arrival of police service dog Dak this past October. He is working with Const. Jeff Dickson, while police service dog Bask is working […]

    Read more

    K9s For Warriors

    January 7, 2021

    K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides military veterans suffering from severe PTSD, traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma with service animals, recently changed the name of its main campus to honor its leader and founder Shari Duval. Duval began K9s For Warriors in 2011 after her son returned from two tours in […]

    Read more

    More Recent News