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Canine Paintball Poisoning Triage and Treatment

Yesterday, I gave you the lowdown on how exactly Lilly found the opportunity to eat about 130 paintballs and end up quite poisoned. Today, I’ll try to explain how we and the local veterinary emergency team had triage, treatment, and luck on our side … to save Lilly’s life.

Inducing Vomiting in a Dog

While Tom used his computer to look up information on paintball toxicity, I ran to mine to look up information on how to induce vomiting in a dog. I knew that it required hydrogen peroxide, but I wasn’t sure how much to use or how to do it.

Friends/followers on Facebook asked me to find a reliable source for that information, and I promise I am working on doing that, but for now, let me just tell you what I found, what I did.

First of all, you really shouldn’t induce vomiting without your veterinarian or an ER veterinarian giving you to green light and instructions. It can make things much, much worse with certain foreign bodies and certain toxins.

BUT, based on both 15 years writing about veterinary medicine and this inducing vomiting in a dog checklist I found online, I felt pretty confident I was doing the right thing.

Our family veterinarian later confirmed this fact and that it likely saved Lilly’s life (along with many other things we’ll outline today and in future posts).

The Timeline

3:30-3:45 pm Lilly vomited on her own the first time. (Or at least that’s when we realized she had.)

3:50 pm I gave her the first dose of peroxide (about 5ccs straight down her throat using a syringe w/o a needle) and waited with her outside in the cold and wind. She didn’t vomit.

4:00 pm I gave her the second dose of peroxide and waited. Just before the 10 minute mark, which is how long the instructions I found online said to wait, she vomited a second time. Again, a rather large quantity. We were so glad.

4:10 pm While I threw on some jeans, got her crate in the car, and called both our regular veterinarian and the ER one, Tom sat outside with Lilly to see if a third dose of peroxide produced any results. (It didn’t.)

Veterinary Hospital, Ho!

When I called our regular veterinary hospital, they said they were not familiar with this kind of poisoning and that we she run Lilly to the 24/7 ER hospital. I called them next to alert them to our arrival. I got to talk to a triage nurse and gave her all of Lilly’s stats and figures, including that:

  • Our family veterinarian referred us.
  • Lilly vomited once on her own.
  • We induced vomiting 3 times with only 1 result.
  • How much she weighs.
  • How many we thought she’d eaten (at first we thought just 50-75)
  • Her breathing seemed OK
  • She didn’t seem to be in too much distress, etc.

4:25 pm, Tom, Lilly, and I hopped in my car and headed down the canyon.

It’s a good 45-minute drive to the ER hospital on a good day, but we ended up behind a big dump truck pulling a trailer, and it was RUSH hour.

Lilly seemed calm and comfortable most of the drive, but she began panting a lot right before we pulled into the parking lot. (That scared me.)

5:20 pm We arrived at the ER hospital, and they took us back right away.

By 5:50 pm they had examined Lilly, asked us a bunch of questions, and prepared to give her shots of Apomorphine, which I now call the “magic vomiting shot.”

We felt fairly confident with our 50-75 (maybe 100) paintball estimate and the amount we had gotten Lilly to vomit on our own that she was nearly empty, but we had no problem with them trying to get her to bring more up.

And, boy … did she.

They took pictures because the volume of popped, partially digested paintballs that came up was astounding. With their help, Lilly vomited two more times.

The Bad News

Our ER vet explained the VERY scary news of what might happen:

  • Severe sorbitol toxicity (I’ll write more about that soon.)
  • Leading to excessive amounts of water being pulled from Lilly’s body and extreme dehydration
  • Leading to electrolyte imbalances (most notably extremely elevated sodium)
  • Which could lead to neurological problems, including seizures and even death

They told us we’d know in 12-24 hours if Lilly was going to come through this OK.

She is one of the same veterinarians who helped us the first time Lilly suffered a rattlesnake bite in 2008.

Treatment Plan

The ER team also drew blood for both electrolytes and general chem panel (to check organ status, etc.). All of that looked pretty good, despite her size (35 pounds) and the higher quantity ingested.

Her sodium was at 157. The high end of normal is 160.

Her hemoglobin was a bit high, indicating dehydration.

So, the treatment plan included:

  • Constant IV fluids
  • Warm water enemas (They call it “lavage.” We jokingly called in “canine colonics.”)
  • Regular rechecks of her electrolytes

All that was to give the sorbitol response some water to draw from so that her body could keep the water it needs in organs, including the brain.

The Last Thing I Said to Lilly

As they whisked Lilly away for shots and blood draws at about 6:00 pm, I tried not to cry and simply said, “Throw up good, Lilly. Mommy loves you.”

We didn’t get to see her again before we left, after seeing the initial blood test results. They were already hooking her up to an IV and getting ready to blast her wazoo with water.

It’s probably for the best. She would have thought she was coming home, and that would have made me sad and perhaps caused her to be an unruly patient.

As hard as it is, I think it’s better for her to know that treatment is starting and that these strangers are in charge now.

I warned them about her fears, her flee instincts, etc. I asked them to please praise her a lot … since she is used to that.

And, Now We Wait

We went through a drive-thru and got dinner on our way home and hoped for the best. It was a long night, but her blood work at midnight showed sodium levels dropping from 157 to 154. She never did have any seizures. She never did vomit again, and some way, some how, Lilly tolerated all the treatment and outcomes they brought with them. Seriously, ick!

I called to check on her at 10 pm, 3:30 am, 7:30 am.

I talked to our regular veterinarian around 10:30 am, and I talked to the one who took over Lilly’s case at the ER hospital around 11 am.

We got the OK to bring Lilly home around 3:30 pm because her latest blood work at noon still looked good.

Why / How Lilly Survived Paintball Poisoning

This could have been bad. Really bad.

BUT, after talking amongst ourselves and Lilly’s doctors, here is how luck played a part in Lilly’s survival:

  • Tom believes the fact that the paintballs were so old (years and years) may mean that most of the sorbitol had evaporated.
  • I’m just glad I heard Lilly whimper and went to see what was wrong.
  • Our veterinarian thinks the fact that I got Lilly to throw up so much so soon, likely saved her.
  • Our ER veterinarian emailed me yesterday and said (in part): “I think we were extremely fortunate that she did vomit on her own which allowed you guys to discover the ingestion quite quickly and continue with decontamination before any serious fluid shifts and electrolyte imbalances occurred.”

To say that we are relieved and that this is the best “gift” a girl like me can get is an understatement. The other alternatives would have been unbearable.

Just so that you can see she is doing OK (not great, but better), here is a photo from Thursday. She is subdued, but she is eating well. Mostly resting, etc.

Lilly, recovering from paintball poisoning

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Jana Rade - December 30, 2010

So glad Lilly is ok! (((hugs)))

Tamara - December 20, 2010

Oh, I’m in tears reading the step-by-step! Thank goodness you found out about the ingestion so quickly and were able to get her to vomit some of it up. I’m so glad she’s going to be okay and that she has such awesome pet parents 🙂

Pamela - December 20, 2010

Thanks for publishing the play-by-play. Being able to think about how to manage a crisis in a quiet moment might be really useful to one of us some day.

Hope Lilly feels better every day!

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. - December 19, 2010

I’m so glad Lilly pulled through; she’s been through so much lately!

Thanks for sharing this story and turning it into a learning experience for the rest of us. I didn’t know hydrogen peroxide could induce vomiting. Hope I’ll never have to use that knowledge, but it’s good to have on hand.

D.K. Wall & The Thundering Herd - December 19, 2010

What a horrible, scary experience, but so glad that Lilly is recovering. It is always frightening to discover how many things in our homes are both tempting – and dangerous – to our furry friends.

KB - December 19, 2010

It sounds like you did all the right things. One thing that the vets told me is that if you give hydrogen peroxide, and you dog doesn’t vomit, you need to take them to the vet just to deal with the hydrogen peroxide sitting in their stomach.

Apomorphine saved K’s life when she ate poisonous mushrooms. Our vet had a very funny story of someone breaking into the clinic and stealing apomorphine, thinking it would get them high. The cops found the guy vomiting uncontrollably in an alley. The cool thing about the drug is that there’s an antidote that stops vomiting really fast. So the thief was in luck.

Ruth - December 19, 2010

Poor, poor Lilly! Get well soon!

MelF - December 18, 2010

Oh wow Roxanne. I saw a picture you had posted of Lilly on FB this morning with a comment about paintballs, but I hadn’t had a chance to read your blog until this evening. How absolutely awful. I am so sorry that this happened to you guys! Based on the other updates, it sounds like Lilly is going to be okay, but wow, how frightening.

Hoping Lilly makes a full recovery soon!

P.S. I see I’m going to have to have a talk with God about you guys. Enough with all the scary stuff you all have had to deal with this past year! I think you guys deserve a big break and a spectacular 2011. I hope the big guy is listening upstairs.

sarah henry - December 18, 2010

Paintball poisoning sounds as horrible as it is. So glad to hear that Lilly is out of the woods and recuperating quietly at home.

Like Ruth, I wish you a peaceful, crisis-free new year, Roxanne. You deserve a break.

Susan - December 18, 2010

This sounds horrible, but I’m glad she pulled through. It sounds like you and your husband handled the situation very well, especially considering how stressful and emotional it must have been.

Merr - December 18, 2010

What an account, Roxanne. Thank heavens she is okay. I read this and tears came to my eyes. I know that feeling of leaving a beloved pup at the ER. You and your husband handled this so incredibly.

MyKidsEatSquid - December 18, 2010

How awful for you! It really sounds like you were blessed in so many ways–if Lily hadn’t thrown up that first time it’s true you might not have known. I hope that Lily continues to improve.

Jennifer Margulis - December 17, 2010

I’m so sad this happened to Lily, and so glad the paintballs didn’t kill her. You are amazing parents, able to react swiftly in a terrible situation. I’ll be praying for Lily.

Ruth Pennebaker - December 17, 2010

I just can’t believe what a tough year you’ve had, Roxanne. This just tops everything off. Here’s to 2011 and better times.

Elayne - December 17, 2010

Sadly I’m well acquainted with Mr. Hydrogen Peroxide. Though I think Lilly wins for weirdest thing ever ingested. Not that it’s a contest you were hoping to enter.

SO glad to hear she’s doing better and didn’t suffer any serious effects. Give her a get well skritch for me.

Val/Toby - December 17, 2010

-hugs- I’m so glad to hear she’s doing better. You guys reacted amazingly fast to figure everything out and help her survive. Poor baby, but thankfully she has good parents like you guys.

Kristine - December 17, 2010

What a nightmare. My throat clogged just reading this – I cannot imagine living through it all. You were so brave and amazing to keep such a cool head through it all. That more than anything else I think helped to save her life.

I think I need to find a copy of that book mentioned above as well.

My dog picks up gum off the streets all the time. I never let her keep it, of course, but it worries me greatly.

Ruth Huggler - December 17, 2010

Whew! Thanks for laying all the details out so clearly. A good reminder to keep baby/doggy/kitty-proofing the house in mind, whatever the age of the pet.

Also note that sorbitol is in some chewing gum. I have a cat who will go through the garbage to find — and eat — gum. We have an in-house rule that new chewing gum is kept in an inaccessible drawer, and used gum must be disposed of in a waste can that’s in a locked cabinet. Regardless of the sorbitol, chewing gum is not a good item for eating, whatever the species.

    Roxanne Hawn - December 17, 2010

    Agreed, Ruth. Gum often has xylitol in it too, and that’s super toxic to dogs. There was a girl once at dog training class who let her dog pick up and chew gum found in a park. The dog apparently didn’t swallow gum, but still. I was horrified. Dangerous habit to encourage.

Maggie - December 17, 2010

Oh my goodness. I’m so relieved and happy for you all. What a stressful series of events, but it sounds like you did every single thing right. Lilly is one lucky girl to have you! Try to relax this weekend!

NoPotCoooking - December 17, 2010

This is horrible, but I am SO glad she is ok. I cannot imagine the panic you felt. Darn dogs will eat just about anything – it’s unbelievable. Poor girl and poor Rox. You are SO due for a glorious upswing in your life.

Keeping_Awake - December 17, 2010

My only caveat with the book recommendation is that it is in no way meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. It’s meant to help owners understand the diagnoses and treatment plans their vets have given them, to help an owner prepare for a vet visit, and occasionally to determine if the dog needs IMMEDIATE veterinary care or if it can probably safely wait til morning.

It’s simply meant to help educate pet owners. It’s not ever intended to be a substitute for actual veterinary care!

Keeping_Awake - December 17, 2010

If you don’t happen to have syringes laying around, a turkey baster will work in a pinch to administer liquids to a dog–at least the first time when they don’t know what it is. 😉

    Roxanne Hawn - December 17, 2010

    I still had some syringes (marked with cc’s) left over from when Lilly was a puppy and was so sick. The baster is a good idea, but I don’t think I have one in the house. :o)

Keeping_Awake - December 17, 2010

One good source for the guidelines on how to induce vomiting via hydrogen peroxide and when it’s either advisable or inadvisable to do so is The Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 4th edition, pp 24-25. It’s included in the chapter on accidental poisoning.

As the book is written by vets, it’s reliable. Excellent resource for any dog owner. Amazon has the best price on it.

So glad that Lilly seems to be OK!

    Roxanne Hawn - December 17, 2010

    Thanks so much for this book recommendation. I will have to add that to my at-home library.

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