Commonly Found Dangers in Your Backyard

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.

Jasmine lying on her favorite bed.

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.


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69 thoughts on “Commonly Found Dangers in Your Backyard

  1. Larry Matreci

    Great that your fast action and a caring vet saved your sweet little girl. Ialso have a great vet who once made a trip to ahuman hospital for a new med. not yet available to animals, drove back to my home to administer the shot, and kept in close touch to check on her condition. We are all fortunate to have such dedicated Docs. Hope you are all well now.WHERE would we be without our VICTORIA ??? Love Larry M.

  2. Cathy Collinson

    So glad your "baby" is okay. We had a similar experience with our new German Shepherd puppy. Emme was only 7 wks old when we got her, but she had already been through a tremendous ordeal. The barn where her and her siblings were kept flooded and she was the only one to survive. So we got her, but she didn't seem "right". She was throwing up, had diarrhea, and wasn't inquisitive or playful as a puppy should be. Finally it got to the point I didn't feel she would survive the next 24 hrs without help. We took her to our vet who did a fecal exam and found out she had a very aggressive parasite very dangerous to tiny puppies. They admitted her to the hospital to keep an IV in her, but she still come around like she should. Finally the vet did exploratory surgery and found out the parasite had caused her intestines to periscope, and the part tucked inside itself was dead due to blood flow being cut off. The vet had to remove the dead section, stitch the live ends together, and pray for them to hold. Today she is a happy, healthy, playful 11 weeks old, gaining weight and growing by leaps and bounds. And all thanks to God and a vet who has, within the past year, graduated from veterinarian school and started practicing! We are so blessed.

  3. Barb Roberts

    Thank God, your vet, and your intuition that Jasmine is alive. No poisons in my garden although my cats are indoors only. Do not wand neighbors' cats or the birds to ingest anything. As a matter of fact, I will poison no animal. Nothing deserves to die such a horrible death. I am hypervigilent about poisons whenever I travel or go to friends' homes. I have asked directly and have received assurances that they have nothing out only to find out, when I do my inspection, that there is rat or roach poison somewhere, perhaps between cabinets or someplace they, not being pet owners, think that a cat can possibly reach. Non-pet owners just really don't understand and even the most conscientious, loving pet owners can underestimate the lethality of these poisons. Don't mean to lecture, but it scares me so that someone will lose a beloved pet.

  4. Carla

    Glad that Jasmine was ok. Another warning for all dog owners are disposable barbecues. A friend of mine had a beautiful 4 yr old golden retriever that died from eating a block from a disposable BBQ that had been left on the beach. Within 4 hrs of eating it he was dead and the vet could do nothing to help. The vet said that the coal of these BBQs are coated in lighter fluid so they will light quickly and it is deadly poisonous. The dog had smelt all the lovely meat juices that had dripped onto the coals and eaten it.

  5. Barbara

    So glad things turned out well for you. For me, it was different. My little part chihuahua part ??? went everywhere with me--even to Bolivia. She came to us as a stray puppy and decided to stay. When she was twelve years old I was travelling with friends and stopped for a visit in Montana. Brandy got loose--she loved to run!. After a short time she came back and we went on our way. Pretty soon she was lying on the floor of our motorhome with a look in her eye I'll never forget. We were miles from the nearest town. She had gotten into some poison, and the owner of the property didn't tell us it was there. I had to watch her die. So please watch your dogs very carefully.

  6. Rachel

    My heart goes out to you, I am so glad that she is safe. I have had to rush my own 9 month old Malamute puppy to the vet because hard plastic container blew over our fence he ate some of it. I was so scared that it would either lodge in his intestines or rip a hole in his stomach. Puppy hood can be a great joy, but a great concern as well.

  7. Francesca DeStefano

    I cried as I read this. I'm so glad the story had a happy ending. Thank you for the warning.

  8. holly strickland

    glad your baby is fine.this past month we had a major scare for us also. our 5 month old puppy was rushed to the vet cause she was vomiting, very lathargic, and wouldnt eat. found out that she was sickend bu our sago palms. did not know they were extremly toxic for dogs..a simple and common lawn plant that is found nearly every where is soo deadly for them. the vet said it was good we acted so fast cause if we waited a day longer she would be dead. she didnt even show signs till 12 hours before we took her to the vet. so everyone put sagos on your list of non-pet friendly plants im throwing away my 5 sagos that are worth almost 400 each...hmmm little girl or $2500 plants.. ill take my baby girl anytime

  9. Angie

    We had a similar experience with our rescue Staffie, Harley. Only a couple of weeks after getting him, he wandered into a neighbour's garage and consumed a mouthful of rat poison. Luckily our neighbour saw this and we were able to rush him into the vets straightaway. They managed to remove what they believed to be all the pellets through induced vomiting, but he was kept on a drip for 24 hours, plus charcoal and Vit K tablets for about 10 days afterwards as a precaution. I shudder to think what would have happened to him had our neighbour not seen him at that exact moment........

    Glad all is well with little Jasmine.

  10. Mary D'Amato

    Thank you for sharing. Years ago I lost my jack russell puppy right after a puppy kindergarten class and an outside walk around the factory building. The vet had no idea what caused it. The symptoms were very much the same. Now knowing this, the cause could be the same but sealing the fate of my beloved Harry. Thank you Victoria, for all you do the raise dog owners conciousness. Positively is the best!!

  11. Robin Rosner

    I SO wish that these cheimicals would be banned altogether. I am going crazy living with my 94 year old father who continues to believe that a well-known lawn chemical manufacturer would never do anything wrong, and that all the steps they suggest are essential to the suburban green lawn. I lost a dog to illness that included a bladder mass, but we could never prove chemical exposure was a cause, so the companies don't have to worry.
    Your story is horrifying, and it should be shared as much as possible.
    Having a few moles or whatever is far less a problem then losing a little one.

  12. Kristal Oz

    Thank you for posting this important advice as we know we keep our homes and yards safe, yet do not know when visiting others what may be there and must be aware.

    I would like to add I had a similar experience, but it was in my own yard and am sure many people are not aware of the fact that many mushrooms naturalize and grow in yards that are poison they assume they are safe. Intuitively suspect of them my husband and I carefully always removed them, but one day I saw my poodle in the "act" of chewing and sure enough he had discovered one we missed. I took it out of his mouth, also found it deep under a tree took that sample and my dog immediately to the vet. The mushroom was deemed poison and my dog had the same treatment as yours. I also see the mushrooms on the grasses in our walkway areas where people often unfortunately let their dogs off leash and try to tell everyone as dogs, especially pups will eat everything! Please post an article on these mushrooms if you choose. Thank you for your work I am a huge fan!

  13. Annette

    That is so gut-wrenching to read. I went though the same exact experience. My boyfried left a large bag of Hershey Kisses on our kitchen island before we left the house and our dog, Ciel, a 9 pound Miniature Pinscher, jumped up and got it. When we came back all teh chocolate was gone, with the wrappers. She eventually was vomiting and her heart was racing. We went through exactly the same procedure with charcoal and i.v. fluid and i.v. medication. She stayed over-night in the hospital. I was completely frantic the whole night. I will never forget that experience. Having an inquisitive little dog who knows how to jump on the kitchen island and open all the closets and cabinets is difficult, but now we are very, very careful. I know that awful feeling!

  14. Amy Johnston

    People don't realize that a little of "common" poisons can do so much harm. If a dog or cat or owl or hawk finds a dead or dying mole or mouse the poison can kill a second victim. Better a flawed lawn than any poisons.

  15. Kathryn

    I so happy that your baby is doing well now. I think that I am very careful about keeping harmful things away from my dogs (I also have small dogs that are "Able to leap tall buildings, counters, beds, sofas, etc., in a single bound." ), but there have still been times where the fear of poisoning has occurred. Many years ago I had a "bad" ADHD dog. I'm sorry, but she was horrid. She had her own overstuffed living room chair. We would walk her and she would come back in and pee in it. She would eat anything. ANYTHING! Aluminum pie plates, glass Christmas tree balls, etc. We also had a cat at that time. They worked together. We were giving Princess (definitely NOT a fitting name) pain pills which the vet had given us in a small cardboard box. We had carefully put this box up on a high shelf before we left the house. When we came back Princess was lethargic. Being a dog who never rested, this gave me pause. Husband was happy that she had finally calmed down. I told him something was wrong. Finally I noticed little pieced of what looked like cardstock lying on the living room floor. It had cyan colored lines on it and it looked familiar. All of a sudden it hit me that it was the box the vet had given us. Our wonderful cat had batted it down for her. We called the vet who suggested we take her outside and put salt under her tongue so that she would throw up. This we did, and so did she. She lived and reverted to her old self. We had a tortoise who ate one of my knee-highs. This we didn't know until we saw the knee-hi dragging on the ground after Torry. This never seemed to cause any problems. When we examined the excreted stocking, it didn't seem to have any runs, holes, etc. Of course I never wore it again. Currently I think I have dropped one of my diabetes pills under my desk and due to my poor eyesight and inability to bend or stoop, I spend my day worrying about a dog getting it. I have a concrete floor in my office and it has some white drops of paint, so it is hard to determine where a pill might be. This breaks my heart because Janey is almost 10 pounds, and Oliver, my bichon is almost 20 lbs. I'm sure they would not do well with this pill. They usually lie in their beds in here with me all day, but now I need to keep them locked out of the room. I miss them so badly.
    Thank you for the info about the pellets. We have gophers but there are also some owls and a hawk in the area so the gopher population is diminishing. We also have some holes from the dogs attempting the capture. I'm afraid that when it rains, one of the dogs will drown in their own hole since they are so deep.
    Thanks again and hugs to all your babies.

  16. Ruby's mom

    Soooo glad your dog is doing well! MAYBE, this is a lesson to what we should NOT be doing to rats, mice, & moles! Reading your description of how this poison effects the system when injested sounds horrible. Is it so important to have a petty lawn, that we need to kill other creatures who are just trying to live and happen to live in "your" yard or house? If we're truly that selftish that we aren't concerned about the rats, mice, etc, then what about what it's doing to the soil & therefore also our water system? I think it's time we think a little further than our own noses!!

  17. Becca

    I'm a fellow Atlanta based Animal Behaviorist, and I just wanted to say AMEN...and also say that Dr. Duffy ROCKS! I used to work for a ton in Buckhead and everyone I knows see's him, so I started bringing my five little pups and even my kitty...and I have seen him do some amazing work! So glad Jasmine is okay!

  18. Kin

    thank goodness you saved the pup!!! I always try to keep any dog safe and always get my pets from the animal shelter, in fact, a family friend of mine runs an amazing shelter and I am trying to turn all my extra time to volentering at the shelter because I LOVE ANIMALS!!!!
    Your dogs are adorable

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