Common causes of pet poisonings in the home
Every day, Pet Poison Helpline receives calls about pets getting into their owner’s medications. One medication that particularly concerns us is something that many of us have in our homes—albuterol inhalers.
Dogs will chew on the inhaler and, upon puncturing it, receive a very large dose of albuterol all at once. This massive dose causes toxicity by elevating the heart rate to life-threatening levels and causing very low potassium levels in the blood which, in turn, lead to extreme weakness, in-coordination, and, potentially, death. Other signs which are often seen in dogs who puncture albuterol inhalers include vomiting, dilated pupils, severe agitation/hyperactivity, elevated blood pressure and vomiting.
Case Report: Rooney the Boxer
Rooney, a 4 year old healthy male Boxer, was caught chewing on and puncturing his owner’s albuterol inhaler. Within 10 minutes he had vomited 2 times and seemed very nervous. He then began to have difficulty walking and seemed very weak. When his owners went to pick him up off the floor, they felt his heart racing. Realizing this was an emergency, they immediately rushed Rooney to his veterinarian.
Emergency vet visit
When Rooney arrived at the hospital, he was unable to walk, was panting severely, and had developed an irregular heart rhythm with a very rapid heart rate of over 240 beats per minute (normal is up to 130-150 beats per minute). The veterinarian performed blood tests and found that Rooney’s blood potassium level was below 2.0 (normal is 3.5-6.0 and any amount below 2.5 is considered life-threatening).
Albuterol toxicity management
Because of this low potassium level and high heart rate, Rooney was extremely weak and needed emergency intervention. His veterinarian immediately gave him intravenous potassium and drugs called "beta-blockers" to slow his heart rate. Within 30 minutes, Rooney had improved dramatically and was able to stand on his own. He was placed on a steady rate of intravenous potassium and given more beta-blockers over the course of the night.
Case follow up
By the next morning, Rooney was doing so well that he no loner needed extra potassium or heart medications and he was able to go home later that day.
Rooney’s case is very typical of the albuterol inhaler cases that Pet Poison Helpline is called about. Thankfully, when treated appropriately, many dogs survive albuterol poisoning. However, if left untreated, dogs may die as a result of cardiac arrhythmias and too low potassium levels.
If your pet ingests human medications
If your pet ingests a human medication always call your veterinarian immediately as other common medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can also be very toxic to pets. The sooner treatment is sought for your pet, the better the prognosis.
Thank you, Dr. Brutlag, for this very timely warning and interesting case report. Thankfully a happy ending for Rooney.
To learn more about Ahna Brutlag DVM and the Pet Poison Helpline, please visit her Guest Author bio page.
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Veterinary toxicology case reports and articles