Pet Poisons in Your Handbags and Purses!

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control based out of Minneapolis, MN, just released their list of the "top 5 pet poisons" found in your house. The source? Your purse!

That’s right; your handbag is a reservoir for lots of things toxic to dogs and cats. Apparently, the five most common purse items that are toxic to pets are sugarless chewing gum, medications, asthma inhalers, cigarettes, and hand sanitizers.

Sugarless Chewing Gum and Breath Mints (xylitol)

Have sugarless gum or mints in your purse? Most sugarless gums, including some Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breaker brands, contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Some sugarless mints, flavored multivitamins, toothpastes, and mouthwashes may also be made with xylitol.

When ingested, even small amounts of xylitol can result in a life-threatening and rapid drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and if large amounts are ingested, dogs can suffer from severe acute hepatic necrosis (i.e., liver failure). Typically, it takes > 0.1 g/kg of xylitol to cause hypoglycemia in dogs; doses of > 0.5 g/kg of xylitol can cause severe liver failure. As each product has various amounts of xylitol in it, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline if you suspect that your dog ingested anything containing xylitol.

Signs of xylitol poisoning include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, collapse, tremors and seizures.

Human Medications

Admit it — most all females keep a small bottle of ibuprofen in our purses. These pill vials are irresistible to some dogs — they are easy to chew through, rattle when chewed, and resemble a chew toy to our dogs! Each year, over 50 percent of the phone calls to Pet Poison Helpline concern ingestions of human medications.

Common drugs include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs like Advil, Aleve, and Motrin), acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), and antidepressants (e.g., Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac). All of these can cause serious harm to dogs and cats when ingested. NSAIDs cause stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure, especially in cats. A single Tylenol tablet (containing acetaminophen) can be fatal to a cat, and in dogs, a larger ingestion can lead to severe liver failure and dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca).

Of all medications, antidepressants account for the highest number of calls to Pet Poison Helpline, and can cause neurological problems like sedation, incoordination, agitation, tremors, and seizures.

Asthma Inhalers (albuterol)

Asthma inhalers are commonly stored in purses for emergency use. When accidentally chewed and punctured by dogs, asthma inhalers can cause severe, life-threatening, acute poisoning. Asthma inhalers often contain concentrated doses of beta-agonist drugs (e.g., albuterol); each inhaler often contains 200 doses in one vial. When dogs chew into them, they are exposed to massive amounts of the drugs all at once. This can lead to severe poisoning, resulting in life-threatening heart arrhythmias, agitation, vomiting, collapse, and death.

As an emergency veterinarian, I’ve actually seen a few dogs die from this.

Cigarettes (nicotine)

Not only are these bad for you, but they are equally bad for your pets! As few as three cigarettes can be fatal to a small dog, depending on the "strength" or "lightness" of the cigarettes. Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and even smoking cessation gums contain nicotine, which is toxic to dogs and cats.

Nicotine poisoning causes clinical signs rapidly — in as short as 15 minutes — and can be fatal if not treated. Signs of elevated heart and respiratory rates, neurological over stimulation, uncontrolled urination/defecation, tremors, seizures, paralysis, and death can be seen with accidental ingestion.

Hand Sanitizer (alcohol)

In our germaphobic society, most of us now carry hand sanitizer in our purses. Many hand sanitizers contain high concentrations of alcohol (ethanol) — nearly 100 percent alcohol! When a dog chews and ingests a small bottle of hand sanitizer, it can have the same effect as a shot of hard liquor.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include a severe drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), incoordination, a drop in body temperature, neurological depression, coma, and death.

Check out Pet Poison Helpline’s helpful video titled "Handbag Hazards to Pets." Be smart — spare your pet a poisoning and hang up your purse!

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: zwola fasola / via Shutterstock

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