Many people in the UK suffer from asthma and inhalers are commonly prescribed to help manage the symptoms. Inhalers vary but will mostly contain either a steroid or a drug that helps open the airways although there are a variety available and some contain both.
The steroid inhalers which are taken regularly to help prevent attacks occurring are usually brown in colour. The inhalers intended to help reduce the symptoms of an attack usually contain a drug called salbutamol and are coloured blue. One of the most common brand names is Ventolin.
Dogs may find the tough containers fun to chew on and can sometimes puncture them. Because they are pressurised containers, when punctured the drug will rush out and the inhaler may even shoot across the room! Because of this explosive release the dose of drug squirted out and eaten or inhaled can often be large – the whole inhaler’s worth.
What will happen if my dog bites an asthma inhaler?
There are various signs you could see.
1) Puncturing the pressurised container can cause burns:
One problem with these inhalers is that the release of gas from the puncturing of a pressurised container can sometimes lead to a ‘frost-bite’ burn in the mouth that may be painful for the dog. So watch out over the next 24 hours for signs such as soreness/redness in the mouth or face, not wanting to eat, drooling, being unsettled or having difficulty breathing.
2) Puncturing salbutamol inhalers (coloured blue) can cause poisoning:
The first signs you are likely to notice are vomiting, lethargy, panting. Also, your dog’s heart will start to race although this is not easily seen by the owner. These effects can be severe requiring close monitoring, and dogs will also need blood tests to check for changes to their potassium levels. They may be very restless or agitated, wobbly on their feet, thirsty or weak. Shaking or twitching can happen too, as well as an increased body temperature and irregular heartbeat. In serious cases or where effects have been prolonged long term heart damage can occur.
What should I do if my dog has punctured an asthma inhaler?
If the inhaler only contains a steroid, the risk of poisoning is low, but you need to watch out for the development of a burn in the mouth over the next 24 hours.
If the inhaler contains salbutamol or a similar drug, treatment at the vets may be required.
If in doubt, call Animal PoisonLine and we can advise you whether you need to make a trip to the vet or not.
Animal PoisonLine’s 4 Top Tips about Asthma Inhalers
- Keep asthma inhalers away from pets
- Seek advice if you know your pet has punctured an inhaler and have the contents (drug names) to hand if possible
- Be careful if your inhaler is in your handbag – this is a common place for a dog to find one so keep your bag closed and off the ground
- Beware of inhalers discarded outside (e.g. in parks) and try to stop your dog picking them up in its mouth