Feb 26 2014

Your Handbag Could Be Harmful !

Have you ever been in the Express Checkout line at the grocery store, debit card in hand, only to be delayed by that person who cannot locate their wallet or their preferred method of payment.  Typically they have a massive handbag that is a bottomless cavern that refuses to give up its treasure to her.  I was in the lineup the other day, debit card at the ready, stuck behind such a  “perp”.  She proceeded to dispense the contents of this treasure trove onto the checkout counter.  You should have seen what came out of that contraption!


“Everything but the kitchen sink”

As I surveyed her bag’s contents (casually, of course), it occurred to me that she was transporting several non-pet-friendly products. Even away from the hospital, I am still in veterinary mode, and so I thought you might be interested in how your handbag’s contents may affect your pet.

Sadly, we recently attended to a 9 year old dog who succumbed to the affects of kidney failure precipitated by a handbag misadventure.  This curious pooch searched the handbag of a family friend that was visiting and decided to eat an entire bottle of Ibuprofen (Advil).  Though she vomited up most of the pills, enough remained in her system to destroy her kidneys.  Very, very sad and preventable.

Common Handbag Contents That Can Be Poison for Dogs or Cats

  1. Sugarless gum or breath mints: Goodness knows we don’t want to have bad breath, so many of us carry gum or breath mints in our purses. Unfortunately, sugarless treats often contain a sweetener called xylitol that is toxic to dogs. Even in small amounts, xylitol can cause a drop in blood glucose (sugar) that can be life-threatening. In larger quantities, xylitol can result in liver failure. This sweetener can be found in products such as Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breaker brands to name a few. To be safe, read the label contents on your chewing gum or breath mints. You may also want to check the label of your multi-vitamins since some brands also contain xylitol.  Signs of xylitol toxicity include weakness, vomiting, muscle tremors, in-coordinated movements, and seizures. Be aware, too, that ingestion of gum, even the regular sugary variety, can cause GI upsets as the “wad” passes through the digestive tract. Plus, the wrappers around the gum or mints can be even more upsetting as they sometimes cause intestinal blockages. Tin foil is not readily digestible and neither is a plastic mint container.
  2. Lip Balm: most lip balms smell delicious (and don’t taste half-bad either).  Many are sweetened with xylitol.  Make sure you check the ingredients list to be sure.
  3. Toothpaste:  for those of you who carry this with you….kudos.  You ought to be congratulated.  I suspect you also have floss in there.  While your teeth and gums may thank you, your dog will not if they choose to eat that.  The fluoride is toxic and a full tube is potentially lethal for a small dog, not to mention the xylitol (there it is again) that sweetens most tooth pastes.
  4. Asthma inhalers: Inhalers are life savers for many asthmatic people and the medications in these respiratory devices are often used in veterinary medicine as well. However, if an inhaler is chewed and punctured by a dog or cat, they may receive a large dose of medication such as albuterol… and acute poisoning can occur. Signs of albuterol toxicity include elevated heart rate and blood pressure, in-coordination, agitation or vomiting. The pet’s pupils may be abnormally dilated giving him a “wide-eyed” appearance.
  5. Cigarettes: We all realize that cigarettes are harmful to our health in the long run, but ingestion of nicotine can be toxic to dogs and cats, even in small quantities. Eating as little as three cigarettes can make a small dog deathly ill. Not surprisingly, the stronger the cigarette, the greater the toxicity. A pet that consumes cigarettes may experience rapid heart rate, panting, muscle tremors, excessive excitement, and uncontrolled bodily functions (urination and defecation). In some instances, ingestions of nicotine can result in seizures, paralysis, and even death. Other sources of nicotine such as chewing tobacco and nicotine gum can cause the same signs. Luckily the lady in front of me in the check-out line did not have chewing tobacco in her purse!
  6. Hand sanitizer: Almost all mothers of young children carry around a ready supply of hand sanitizer to clean grimy little hands. Hand sanitizers kill germs because most of them contain large percentages of alcohol (ethanol). If a small dog or cat drinks hand sanitizer, it’s like having a cocktail of hard liquor. Ingestion of alcohol can cause in-coordination, drops in both blood glucose and body temperature, neurological depression and death.
  7. Human medications: We humans often transport a mini-pharmacy in our handbags. It’s important to have vital medications at your fingertips, but if your dog or cat finds a pill bottle, that rattles like a fun toy, tragedy may result. Even non-prescription drugs are dog and cat health hazards. Anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can cause intestinal problems and kidney disease, especially in cats. Common NSAIDS include Advil, Aleve, Motrin, and any generic Ibuprofen product. Acetominophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can also be toxic as it may result in liver failure. Anti-depressants are another common handbag medication that can make pets ill as they cause unpredictable reactions such as sedation or agitation. Anti-depressants may also cause muscle tremors and seizures.
  8. Hand gun: I’m Canadian so this just does not resinate with me.  In the USA this is legal and in some parts of the country pretty common.  Fortunately our pets lack opposable thumbs and so can’t use one…..still a risky proposition in my opinion particularly if you

    “sometimes I get bored and I always like to begin my treasure hunt in your handbag”

    are in a hurry and stuck in an Express Checkout behind a person discharging their handbag onto the Checkout counter.  But perhaps that is an issue to be debated elsewhere.

Handbags have many purposes. They are a file cabinet, a medicine chest, a bank vault, a cosmetics case, communications center and snack bar…all while serving as a fashion statement. This unique piece of female attire is a necessity of daily life for many, but we need to keep purses away from our pets.

Curious pets can grab an innocent handbag and acquire the “deadliest catch.” So, as responsible pet owners, let’s keep our purses stored safely. And as considerate shoppers, let’s keep our credit cards and debit cards within easy reach to prevent Express Lane hysteria!

Posted by: Dr. Mark Steinebach



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