What is Arsenic Poisoning?
This mineral is used in pesticides, ant baits, wood preservatives, and some medications, however, is becoming less commonly used over time, making clinical cases of arsenic poisoning less common. Following ingestion, the mineral binds to red blood cells and is distributed throughout the body, with the highest amounts depositing in the major organs.
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning in dogs may include vomiting and diarrhea containing bright red blood. In some cases of severe poisoning, the pet may be found dead before symptoms are seen. The prognosis following exposure is drastically improved if treatment is sought before the pet begins suffering from symptoms, so it is vital that if you suspect your pet may have been exposed you contact your veterinarian immediately.
Arsenic poisoning in dogs is one of the most common causes of heavy metal poisoning, occurring most commonly in young puppies. This occurs following exposure to the toxin arsenic which may be due to accidental ingestion or in some cases dermal exposure.
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Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs
Dogs who ingest the toxin typically develop symptoms within a few hours of ingestion. Arsenic has severe effects on the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. These effects include:
- Vomiting and large amounts diarrhea which may be tinged with blood
- Cold extremities
- Loss of consciousness
- Weak pulse
- Blisters and edema leading to dry, peeling skin in cases of cutaneous exposure
In some cases, animals may have long-term low dose exposure which may cause anorexia and weight loss
Causes of Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs
Arsenic poisoning is caused following the accidental ingestion of a compound containing the toxin. This is a heavy metal mineral that is found in products such as parasitic drugs, herbicides, insecticides, and preservatives. Following ingestion, the arsenic binds to red blood cells and spreads throughout the body tissues, with high levels accumulating in the liver and kidneys, lungs and heart. In some cases of long-term exposure, the arsenic may accumulate in the skins and nails, causing chronic illness, anorexia, and depression.
Diagnosis of Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs
If you suspect your pet has had access to arsenic or is displaying symptoms it is vital they see their veterinarian straight away. Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination on your pet and discuss their clinical history with you, including access that they may have had to compounds containing arsenic or ability to exit your property and access it elsewhere. The veterinary team may choose to perform parvovirus antibody testing to rule out this disease which also presents with severe, blood tinged diarrhea. Your veterinarian will perform a complete blood count, chemical blood profile, and urinalysis: arsenic present in the blood will confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs
The treatment your dog requires will vary depending on time from exposure and symptoms.
If you witnessed your dog ingesting arsenic and they are not experiencing symptoms yet, the main treatment goal is to limit absorption. Your veterinarian may induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal and medications to empty the gut. An hour following this your veterinarian may give a further medication, such as kaolin-pectin to protect and help heal the gut. Your pet may also be given fluid therapy to prevent dehydration occurring from treatment.
If your pet has begun showing symptoms they will likely require hospitalisation. They will be given dimercaprol, the antidote to arsenic. This will be given via intramuscular injection, however, care must be taken as this drug has a narrow therapeutic range and can cause toxicity.
Your pet may also require intravenous fluid therapy to correct hydration and a blood transfusion. If a blood transfusion is indicated, mild sedation may be needed. Your veterinarian will carefully monitor liver and kidney function during treatment by performing chemical blood profiles, this may indicate the need for kidney dialysis.
Recovery of Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs
The prognosis is good if your pet has ingested a small amount and received prompt veterinary attention, however, for pets that have consumed large volumes or shown severe symptoms prior to treatment the prognosis may be guarded. The symptoms may continue from hours to several weeks following the exposure.
If your pet is recovering and discharged from hospital you can expect full resolution of symptoms. Provide your pet with supportive care, including encouraging water intake and nutrition. Due to the gastrointestinal effects of arsenic, a sensitive diet may be recommended by your veterinarian. This can be warmed or mixed with hot water to increase aroma and encourage your dog to eat.
Care should be taken to ensure any compounds containing arsenic are kept secure and away from your pet’s reach and the property is secure to prevent your dog from wandering.