Don’t let Barium bury ‘em…

A party trick we won’t EVER be repeating. (Or the second only documented case world wide of acute barium toxicity in the dog)

We had a very close call with our beloved dog, Ella, a week ago. We found her at 3 am lying on our driveway. She was whimpering, salivating and unable to stand. Her eyes were glazed, her muscles twitching but, bless her, she still managed to wag her tail.

She was clearly close to death so we took her straight to the Pet ER at Stafford Heights. They did some blood tests on her and it showed the level of potassium in her blood to be extraordinarily low. In fact it was so low, the test was run several times to make sure there was no error in the result.
There followed several hours of head scratching as everything that was possible was done to support her whilst we tried to determine the cause of the problem. She was on fluids with potassium supplement, tests were done for lead, snake bite and other intoxications but, despite all of this, she continued to deteriorate.

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Her breathing was becoming laboured, in fact we thought she might require ventilation. An Xray was taken and some sort of metallic substance was seen in her stomach. That was when the penny dropped. Our son and his friends had, on the weekend, been messing around with sparklers. I imagine everyone knows about party sparklers and have, at some stage, used them to decorate cakes or at other celebrations. Boys are also often fascinated by fire and flames and there are a number of internet sites that show how to make “sparkler bombs” and other minor explosive devices by shaving the flammable parts off the head of the sparkler. What is not well known is that the flammable part of the sparklers contains a large amount (more than 50% in one product description sheet) of Barium Nitrate and Barium in this form is extremely toxic.

Somehow Ella has managed to access an unburnt sparkler and chewed it. Ella is not an indiscriminate eater which suggests to us that the sparklers may have some degree of palatability. Maybe they have a salty taste? The small amount that she ingested was enough to very nearly kill her.
By immediately pumping her stomach with a solution to bind the Barium and with constant monitoring and 2 days in intensive care, Ella pulled through. If Calum had not heard her whimpering at 3 am there is no doubt she would have died. Barium toxicity is very rapid (a mere hours after exposure) and very dangerous and IT AFFECTS HUMANS AS WELL AS ANIMALS. Humans can be poisoned by Barium by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.

Whilst we have not been able to get accurate figures on the amount of Barium that will cause toxicity in a person, Ella is a reasonable sized dog (about 23 kgs which is similar to a young child) and we feel she was probably only exposed to 1 or 2 sparklers at most. We have rung the importers of the sparklers and alerted them to our concerns and have also passed information onto the Poisons Information Centre at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Sparklers are now banned in our household and we wanted to let others know what happened. They might be pretty and I think everyone is wary of the flammable potential but the greatest danger perhaps lies in the substance they are made of.