Salbutamol Toxicity in Dogs

Asthma UK estimates that 12 % of the population suffer with asthma – that’s 5.8 million people who regularly take preventers and reactors for the condition – this includes me. 

As a sufferer I had no idea how dangerous the blue inhaler that is often left lying around or in my handbag, within easy reach of my dogs, could be to them. They can be fatal if chewed and ingested by a dog.

I use the blue one, Ventolin, a commonly used inhaler that contains a drug called Salbutamol which will calm my air ways when I’m suffering but could be fatal to a dog that might chew through the thin metal case.

George and Winnie are not prone to chewing things for the sake of it, but we do look after our friends Iggy sometimes and he is a total thief who would enjoy a rummage in my handbag.

Enzo

If you have an inquisitive dog who likes to chew and play with everything they find, an asthma inhaler will be a lot of fun to them. BUT being pressurised if punctured will release at great force the liquid drug contained within giving your dog a huge dose that can quickly lead to vomiting, lethargy, racing heart and panting.

This recently happened to Elissa’s whippet Enzo so I have asked her for her first hand experience of what happened next.

1 – How did you know something was wrong with Enzo ?

He appeared restless and unable to lay in the same position for more than a couple of minutes, then his heart began working with so much force that we could hear the thumping sound of every beat as well as being able to visibly see his chest rapidly inflating in and out.

2 – Did you know he had chewed the inhaler before you called the vet?

Yes, we know the dangers so keep all inhalers in a lock box out of reach, but Enzo had found an old almost empty inhaler that had fallen down the back of the sofa. Within moments he’d bitten into the canister and received a tiny but toxic dose of salbutamol.

3 – What state was he in when you got to the vets?

In all honesty besides his rapidly beating heart he appeared alert & comfortable and was more interested in ‘talking’ to all the other dogs in the waiting room than getting checked in! I was actually embarrassed when he trotted in independently and truly felt like an over reactive pawrent! We’d already been sent home once that evening with reassurance he was absolutely fine but I knew something wasn’t right and all dogs have different absorption rates and symptom management. For Enzo subtle symptoms didn’t start to occur until around 4 hours after his toxic dose.

4 – What happened next?

Nothing we ever could have predicted. He was taken for examination and blood work and the vet returned – alone, without our boy - to break the news he’d been admitted to ICU with Salbutamol Toxicity. We weren’t allowed to see him, not even to say goodbye. We left the vets with his collar, lead and blankie, and a copy of the admittance consent form for 1-2-1 supportive care outlining the risks of cardiac arrest, heart arrhythmia, blindness, kidney failure, and death. He was in the ICU for 3 days before we were finally able to see him and bring him home safely.

5 – How long has it taken him to return to his previous good health?

He’s only just had the official sign off to return to his Agility training this month, so I’d say 5 weeks, although mentally he’s nowhere near fully recovered. He’s taken a huge step backwards with his Separation Anxiety and he's hyper alert and on edge when out and about, which is a new behaviour and indicates sensory processing difficulties; most likely triggered by a state similar to Post Traumatic Stress.

6 – What tips would you give asthma suffering owners to prevent this happening? 

Keep all inhalers in a lock box out of reach, and check under beds, behind sofas, in coat pockets - basically all obscure places, for old, forgotten inhalers. Ask house guests if you can pop their inhaler in the safety of the lock box too! If your dog does get hold of an inhaler and puncture the canister, seek veterinary treatment immediately and take the inhaler with you! If you’re sent home then monitor your dog closely for longer than the recommended 3 hours and return for advice with the slightest concern. If we’d have delayed getting Enzo back to the vets by even minutes he most likely would have had a fatal cardiac arrest, so don’t try to wait it out to see if their symptoms settle – they won’t without medical intervention. But – Prevention is Key! So get all those inhalers in a safe space asap!

I followed Enzo’s story on Instagram at the time and even though I have had whippets for nearly 20 years and suffered with asthma for the last 9 years I had no idea how dangerous that little blue canister can be.

So, if the sharing of Enzo’s story helps just one dog this post has been worth writing.

If you want to follow the adventures of this sweet blue boy you can find him on Instagram the.art.of.being.enzo.

Until next time...

Debbie

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