Whew - that was close. After a fraught couple of days, it became clear just how close we came to losing our precious little newest addition – our rescued Chihuahua mix Jasmine. What happened to us could happen to anyone, so I wanted to be sure to pass along our experience in the hopes that it may spare you the worry and panic that we suffered through a few days ago.
On Memorial Day we were preparing to head out of town to the beautiful north Georgia mountains for a short getaway. Before we left, we visited some friends with a beautiful back yard. Since we knew we’d probably be gone for several hours, longer than Jasmine could hold herself (housetraining continues on, even for dog trainers!), we decided to take the dogs with us (after getting our friends’ blessing) for a little field trip. Sadie and Jasmine had a wonderful time exploring their home and backyard, though how Sadie puts up with Jasmine’s incessant heel and elbow-nipping I’ll never understand – that dog has more patience than Job!
As we were packing up to leave our friends, we noticed something in Jasmine’s mouth. No big deal. She’s a 9 month old puppy, very inquisitive, so she’s still in the process of discovering this strange world using her mouth as the primary tool. But when I got her to drop this little goodie, something didn’t feel right. It was a tiny cylindrical black pellet, seemingly made out of tar or some very chewy substance. We all casually wondered aloud what it might have been until our host slowly and nervously joined in the conversation. Turns out he had put down some mole-killing poison in a section of his backyard where the moles had begun to wreak havoc, and our Jasmine had sniffed it out and had one of the pellets in her mouth.
Concerned, we went and looked at the poison container to investigate its ingredients and decided to call the poison control hotline just to be safe. We were sure that something you could buy at your local garden center wouldn’t be a problem for domestic pets and that even if it weren’t great for her, Jasmine couldn’t have eaten enough of it to cause real trouble. But being a conscientious dog owner, I wanted to be sure. Of course the poison control hotline wasn’t open on the holiday weekend, so I gave our lovely vet, Dr. Jones, a call to get his advice. When I told him that the primary active ingredient in the poison pellets was something called zinc phosphide, things got much more serious very quickly.
Zinc phosphide is a highly toxic chemical that is used as a pesticide to kill mice, rats and other rodents. Once ingested, it is converted to phosphine gas by the moisture and acidity of the stomach. The gas builds up in the stomach and is a direct irritant to the lining of the stomach causing damage to the small blood vessels located there. The gas is then absorbed into the blood stream and is carried to the lungs, liver, and kidneys. It causes leaking of fluid into the lungs and into the chest cavity surrounding the lungs resulting in tremendous difficulty breathing. The animal can also asphyxiate on the gas that it burps up. The brain becomes deprived of oxygen, a situation which can lead to seizures and eventually death. The lethal dose for most animals is 20- 50 mg/kg. Jasmine had an approximately one-ounce pellet based on the stuff in her mouth.
Signs of zinc phosphide toxicity are vomiting, depression, tremors and weakness which usually occur within thirty minutes to four hours after ingestion. This may progress to an inability to get up, hypersensitivity to stimuli, seizures, respiratory distress, excess salivation, and death.
Treatment involves removal of as much of the product from the stomach and intestinal tract as possible. This means inducing vomiting, and following up with activated charcoal. The charcoal will not absorb the gas but may prevent some of the gas from being released by absorbing the pellets. Gastric lavage with sodium bicarbonate to lower acidity and decrease release of phosphine gas is sometimes needed.
Not knowing if she’d actually swallowed any of the pellets, we immediately raced Jasmine to Dr. Jones’ office, where he met us from his Memorial Day celebrations, opened up the surgery and did the necessary procedures needed to give Jasmine the best chance of survival, including giving her charcoal to bind any pellets that had been ingested. Duffy is not the sort of veterinarian that over dramatizes a situation and is always positive and encouraging, but when I saw the worried look on his face, I knew that this was a very serious situation and if the treatment didn’t work we might lose our precious girl. He wished us luck and told us if we made it through the next 24 hours, Jasmine should be in the clear.
We had all the windows in our car open as we drove her home, hoping beyond hope that it would be a pleasant, uneventful few days with no more trips to the vet. We left the windows open so that if Jasmine did happen to belch up any of the gas it wouldn’t cause any further harm to her or us. Amazingly, people and other pets have been known to die because they breathed in the cyanide gas from an animal that had ingested zinc phosphide.
Luckily, Jasmine is still with us, though we’ll never know exactly how close we came to losing her since we’re not sure whether or not she ingested any pellets that were counteracted by the charcoal. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I just want to be sure that others learn from our ordeal and refrain from using products like these in places where their pets may be able to access them. This stuff was buried about 6 inches below the surface and covered with bark, leaves and rocks, and yet Jasmine with her super sense of smell was able to find and dig them out.
Please be careful with the chemical products that you use in your home or your yard– there’s no worse feeling than watching your beloved dog or cat closely for signs that they may be entering the struggle of their lives or worse, that they are about to lose their life altogether. Thanks to the quick action of Dr. Duffy Jones, we still have our beloved dog, and for that we are eternally grateful.