by Ann Penfield
It had been a busy day and I was late getting home from my volunteer stint at the local library. As I came in the door, four dogs were dancing around me and telling me they were starving. Hastily, I emptied the pockets of my coat, hung it up, and got busy dishing up the turkey necks that were on that evening’s menu. I forgot all about the bottle of ibuprofen I had put down on the counter, behind my purse.
Later, as I worked at the computer in my study I heard the all-too-familiar sound of plastic being crunched. I ran to the kitchen and saw Merlin, the fawn streak, high-tail it into the family room. When I caught up to him he was standing there with a small plastic bottle in his mouth, the cap gone. His eyes were dancing with delight — he thought he’d discovered a new kind of game. In my deepest voice I told him to drop it and found when I had retrieved his prize that the bottle was well punctured and empty of the ibuprofen tablets it had contained — all 30 or 40 of them. I hunted briefly for tablets on the floor, hoping he hadn’t consumed the entire contents. No such luck.
I paged my vet, but he was deep inside a cat’s abdomen, I later learned, and unable to respond. After the hydrogen peroxide I gave Merlin brought up nothing but foam, I put him in the car and drove to the nearest 24-hour vet emergency service, in West Hartford, a 40-minute ride from my home. It was about 7 p.m. and traffic was light, so it only felt like it took forever to get to the hospital.
The staff responded quickly when they learned what Merlin had ingested. I helped get a large quantity of activated charcoal down him and then they inserted an iv so that they could flush his system. There is no antidote for ibuprofen poisoning, and Merlin had eaten a lethal amount. The expert staff at Connecticut Veterinary Hospital kept testing him and providing the support his body required, including a second dose of charcoal and a constant supply of fluids. He vomited repeatedly the following day, but his kidney values did not escalate as we had expected, thanks to the fluids and the care. The next day he had bloody diarrhea, which took several days to resolve. While in the hospital he was also treated with a drug to coat his stomach and several antibiotics. He came home with sucralfate (stomach coater), amoxicillin and metronidazole (Flagyl), the latter two to prevent the irritated places (ibuprofen is extremely acidic) in his stomach and intestine from infecting. He had gone into the hospital on a Tuesday evening, and I was able to bring him home Saturday evening. Needless to say, it was very happy reunion, even though we both cried.
Merlin had lost quite a bit of weight from his ordeal, but otherwise seemed bright and energetic when I retrieved him from the hospital. His left front leg had been shaved where the iv was inserted, and he had worn off some of the leather on his nose on the bars of the crate, but he certainly looked good to me. I put him on a bland, high-calorie diet and his body seemed to respond well. He slept a lot the first few days he was home, but was soon back to his old ways, looking for trouble, stealing slippers, and annoying the other dogs.
I realize that both Merlin and I are very lucky that he is still with me. Although I forgot to put the ibuprofen bottle away after I emptied my pockets that Tuesday evening, I had learned to be very careful with medicines because Merlin had dined on dangerous stuff before. About a year and a half ago he ate a whole vial of thyroid pills. My vet had to get really creative in order to save him that time.
What have I learned from these events? (Merlin, you can be sure, has learned nothing.) Dogs that like to chew plastic can ferret it out no matter how carefully you think you have hidden it. It’s best to store medications in medicine chests or wall cabinets. (My greys can open some drawers with their claws and noses.) Dogs that are closely bonded to you will be interested in anything you touch. Dogs with a sense of humor think it’s a game to make off with Mom’s or Dad’s stuff (underwear is a particular favorite, as are video remotes, which are a nice resilient plastic and smell of our hands and all those evening snacks). Human medications can be deadly for dogs. Time is of the essence in treating poison cases, so if your dog should ingest a dangerous substance get him to a vet quickly.
I got Merlin as a puppy and he quickly came to be called Devil Dog because he was always getting into mischief. I just wish he wouldn’t keep earning his nickname.