Toxic Gas in Dogs' Vomit a Threat to Vets: CDC04/26/12
THURSDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs who accidentally eat
a commercial poison to combat gophers and moles can emit a toxic
gas that can sicken veterinary staff, a new report indicates.
Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
say such canine gas attacks felled workers at four veterinary
clinics between 2006 and 2011, and such incidents "might be
underreported." All of the workers (and dogs) involved in the four
cases recovered, the report added.
The cases involved zinc phosphide, a "readily available
rodenticide that, on contact with stomach acid and water, produces
phosphine, a highly toxic gas," explained a team led by Rebecca
Tsai, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC. People
who use the rodenticide are typically aiming to rid properties of
burrowing rodents such as gophers or moles, and the products'
instructions say that the pellets should be inserted within the
animals' tunnels or burrows.
However, sometimes users may have simply spread the pellets on
the ground, where dogs could eat them, or "even with correct
application, dogs might be exposed while digging in treated areas
with their paws or by consuming poisoned prey," the CDC team
Once the zinc phosphide is ingested, the dog quickly becomes
sick and owners typically rush them to a vet for care. But the
chemical reacts with stomach acid and water to produce the toxic
In one such case in Washington state last year, owners rushed a
"limp," semi-comatose dachshund to a veterinary hospital, where she
vomited into paper towels. A 34-year-old veterinary technician
nearby who breathed in fumes from the vomit "immediately developed
pain and nausea," the report said, but she recovered after 20
Other cases have been more serious. In 2008, a 62-pound dog was
taken to a vet clinic in Michigan after eating three zinc phosphide
pellets. The veterinarian induced vomiting in the dog "in a poorly
ventilated room" and quickly experienced symptoms such as
"respiratory pain, headache, dizziness, chest pain, sore throat and
nausea." Still sick 15 hours later, she went to a local emergency
room and was kept under hospital care overnight. Three other
workers at the same clinic were also sickened; all eventually
Similar events were also reported at vet clinics in Michigan in
2006 and in Iowa in 2007.
The CDC says many other cases might go undetected. "Because
symptoms might only last a few hours and can resolve without
medical treatment, victims might never associate symptoms with
poisoning," the researchers said.
For now, the agency recommends that pet owners use products
containing zinc phosphide as directed or, better yet, try alternate
means of eliminating burrowing rodents such as snap traps. And in
cases where pets are suspected of becoming sick by ingesting the
pellets, veterinarians should always induce vomiting outdoors to
disperse any toxic fumes.
Veterinary staff treating horses with phosphine poisoning have
also become sick, according to the American Veterinary Medical
Association, which issued guidelines this year for vets regarding
phosphine products. Besides rodent bait, these include aluminum
phosphide, an insecticide used to fumigate grains and animal
The findings on dogs were published in the April 27 issue of the
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
ASPCA has more on what to do if you think your pet
has been poisoned.
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