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Alaskan puppy poisoned by this popular cold-weather accessory
Chemicals in common hand warmer packets can be deadly when ingested, especially for veterinary patients.
As winter rolls around and the temperatures fall, many people use chemical hand warmers when working or playing outside. Many people, including pet lovers, don’t realize that many hand warmers contain iron and can be highly toxic to pets. Before we head into the colder months, it’s important for veterinary professionals to advise pet owners of the dangers these hand warmers pose to animals. The story of the Smith family and their puppy Buoy serves as a cautionary tale for all pet owners.
In November 2020, Jaime Smith’s 2 children and their neighborhood friends went outside to play with their new puppy in the backyard but returned quickly due to the cold. It was nearing the end of the month in Anchorage, Alaska, where winter arrives earlier, hits harder, and sticks around longer than most of the US. According to Smith, the kids came back inside to ask for help opening their hand warmer packages. Afterwards, the returned to playing outside with Buoy.
“Shortly after they were finished playing, Buoy began to vomit,” said Smith. “It looked like black tar, but we could see remnants of the hand warmer package paper. Our kids showed us their hand warmers in the trash can, so we suspected one of the neighbors had left theirs.”
When Smith spoke to the parents of one of the neighborhood kids they discovered that she had left her 2 used hand warmers on the playhouse outside. After some investigation, it seemed that Buoy had shredded them and ingested some of the contents. The Smiths immediately called Pet Poison Helpline.
“Buoy was very fortunate that the Smiths not only realized he had ingested the hand warmer contents but that they knew enough to call our toxicology experts for advice,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline.
“Hand warmers contain iron and ingestion may result in vomiting, GI ulceration, shock, cardiovascular compromise, and liver injury. As soon as we identified the chemicals in the hand warmers they had used, we recommended they immediately take Buoy to the nearest emergency hospital,” continued Brutlag.
Upon arriving at PET Emergency Treatment in Anchorage, Buoy’s radiograph showed a large amount of iron product throughout his GI tract, including the stomach and the small and large intestines. He was placed on IV fluids, was administered Milk of Magnesia to minimize absorption of iron from the GI tract, received multiple warm-water enemas, and was given gastroprotectants (omeprazole and sucralfate) for a week. Buoy stayed in the hospital overnight, but because the Smiths caught the problem early and immediately took action, he recuperated quickly.
“It was really touch and go for a while,” said Smith. “Given that they had no history with the dog because he was a puppy, they did an amazing job.”