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Posted on 06-24-2015

Salt Water Toxicity

Love to take your dog for a day at the beach? Fantastic! Remember, most dogs aren’t aware salt water is dangerous.If your dog loves to play on the beach, monitor very closely and make sure she’s drinking only fresh water you have thoughtfully provided.  Excessive intake of ocean water can result in severe hypernatremia or salt poisoning. Some breeds of dogs can ingest quite a bit of water by biting at the spray while others will be trying to drink the water because they need to rehydrate from all their exercise. With the high sodium concentration in salt water causing hypernatremia (elevated salt levels in the body), the animal can experience an increased osmolality of the blood. Later, when your dog has access to fresh water, he may drink excessively to counter this, resulting in potential brain swelling due to rapid shifts in fluid.

What are the signs of salt poisoning? Initially, the most common signs are vomiting, diarrhea, inappetance and lethargy. Untreated, your animal companion may experience abnormal fluid accumulation in the body, excessive thirst and urination, uncoordination, tremors, seizures, coma and even death.

Treatment for salt poisoning includes careful administration of IV fluids, electrolyte monitoring, treatment for dehydration and brain swelling, and supportive care. Blood and urine testing will often be needed to monitor the success of treatment.

Help avoid the problem by carrying a fresh bottle of tap water and offering it to your dog frequently while he’s frolicking on the beach.

Note: Other potential sources of excess salt include paintballs (who knew?), homemade play dough and enemas.

Pool Chemicals

If you have a pool or pond, please be sure you keep the pool chemicals up & out of reach!  Chlorine shock, algaecides and other chemicals are pretty safe once they’re diluted properly in the water but undiluted, these chemicals can cause serious issues. Many are corrosive (chlorine-think bleach). If ingested undiluted or in tablet form, they can cause severe ulcers in the mouth, esophagus and stomach and lead to life threatening ulcerations of the gastrointestinal tract. Best to store those chemicals in a locked or otherwise secured area and don’t leave the containers open around the pool.  Keep the animals inside until everything is put away!


Sunscreen contains some potentially dangerous chemicals such as PABA, salicylic acid (aspirin), and zinc oxide. Ingestion of large amounts of PABA can lead to bone marrow changes, gastroenteritis and liver damage. Large amounts of salicylic acid ingestion can result in gastric ulceration and kidney failure. Zinc oxide usually causes mild gastroenteritis with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sunscreen can also have a laxative effect, resulting in diarrhea. While rare to have a dog ingest large quantities of sunscreen, it does happen! (Think those excitable labs & wild boxers or mixes!) If your pet needs sunscreen (light skin, area without much fur or pink noses and ears for example), we recommend you use a product specific for animals or safe for children in case of ingestion. Remember these products have to be reapplied frequently!

Flea and Tick Medications

At WHPC, we definitely recommend you protect your pet against fleas and tick–particularly during the summer which is peak parasite season. We don’t want our companions uncomfortable and certainly don’t want them exposed to diseases which are easily preventable.  However, there are many products out there to choose from and unfortunately, not enough information to help you make the best decision for your pet’s health. “Once a month” flea control products are NOT all equal and in fact, some can be quite toxic!  Keep in mind that some dogs have sensitivities to certain types and others can cause severe reactions if not properly applied. Some over-the-counter products are potentially toxic to humans as well as the animals! Most importantly, if you’re owned by a cat or two, read the labels very carefully.  Some of these preventatives contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids (derivatives of Chrysanthemum flower) which are extremely toxic to cats when misused. Even the accidental application of a dog flea product to a cat can result in severe symptoms like tremors, seizures, and life-threatening reactions.

Stings and Insect Bites

Cat owners don’t have to be overly concerned about mosquitoes. Be safe & don’t use any topical products. Mosquitoes can’t usually get through thick kitty coat. Lyme disease is rare in cats-probably because cats are such fastidious groomers that ticks get caught up on the tongue, swallowed and passed harmlessly in the feces. Cats are so sensitive to many chemicals or drugs it’s best to check with us before using ANY chemicals.  If you get a tick on your pet, take a pair of tweezers and firmly grasp at the head where the tick is attached to the skin. Pull it off in one pull. Don’t grab the body and don’t pop the tick. No matches, alcohol, vaseline, etc!  If you aren’t sure if you got the head of the tick or if there is redness and inflammation at the attachment site, bring your pet in so we can check the area.

Bee stings can be toxic for sensitive pets and are painful in general. If you can see the stinger, take tweezers to remove the stinger. If you’re not sure where it is or can’t see it, don’t panic. Bring your pet in and we will help!

If you’re removed the stinger and your pet seems tender at the site of the sting but is acting fine otherwise and breathing normally, monitor closely for the next few hours. If your pet has significant swelling, pain, has facial swelling or trouble breathing, has vomiting, diarrhea, hives or collapses, this is an emergency and you need to bring your pet in or to local pet emergency facility IMMEDIATELY. Hives on dogs or cats will look as if there are bumpy areas under the coat. Sometimes the fur will stand up, but you can certainly feel them as you run your hands along the animal’s body. In general, small dogs tend to have more serious reactions, but any pet can have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction.

The other concern in our area is rattlesnake bites. We will talk about this issue in another post, but remember this–do not attempt any first aid for your pet yourself. Don’t use a tourniquet, don’t ice the bite or lance it and don’t attempt to suck out the venom. None of these things are beneficial and might make your pet worse.  Seek immediate veterinary attention!

Bottom Line

The best thing for any pet parent to do is be educated on summertime toxins out there so you can pet-proof your house appropriately. Make sure you have fresh water available for your pet at all times; keep all chemicals and household products in tightly sealed and labeled containers and out of your pet’s reach. Read all products and all flea and tick preventative labels carefully. Most importantly, contact us whenever starting any new medications or products. We are happy to advise you about interactions and safety considerations!  If you’re concerned about a possible contact the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at 888-426-4435.  (Remember if your pet has a Home Again microchip, tell the NAPCC and the $65 consultation fee is waived.)

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