Beagle dog

Most dog poisoning occurs due to them eating things they shouldn’t.

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Dog poisoning: signs, causes and treatment

By Dr Holly Graham BVMedSci BVMBVS MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Watching what your dog consumes and knowing the symptoms for dog poisoning are really important for all pet owners.

With most dog poisoning coming from your pet eating something they shouldn't, it's important to keep an eye out on what your dog is up to when they're outside – yet inside your home is just as important. The key to dealing with dog poisoning is your getting hold of a vet as soon as possible, if you think there is a problem. Here you'll find all the key information about what to do, how and when.

What are the signs of poisoning in dogs?

Symptoms of poisoning can vary greatly depending on what toxin your dog has ingested, and can be mild or severe. Some toxins take a while to act on the body, so signs may not be seen immediately. Symptoms can include anything from drooling and vomiting to problems with breathing. Toxins that have been eaten by your dog often cause gastrointestinal signs such as sickness and diarrhoea. But they can also affect the heart, or your dog may show signs of agitation. Toxins that are inhaled may cause respiratory issues such as an increased breathing rate or breathing harder than normal, but can cause your dog to lose consciousness. If something toxic gets onto your dogs skin or paws, you may notice irritation, pain, redness or burns.

Other symptoms of toxin ingestion, inhalation or contact include: tremors or seizures; kidney failure; bruising or bleeding related to clotting disorders (most commonly seen with rat poison); ataxia or wobbliness when walking or standing; pale gums.

If you think your dog could have eaten something poisonous, it’s important to go straight to the vet, even if they aren’t showing any signs yet.

How long does it take for a dog to be poisoned?

Different toxins vary in the time they take to cause damage to your dog. Some toxins that are inhaled or that come into contact with the skin may cause reactions quickly. Poisons that have been eaten usually work over a long time period, and you may not notice signs for hours or even days in the case of some toxins.

How do you treat a dog that has been poisoned?

If you think your dog has been poisoned or eaten something that may be toxic, contact a vet immediately. If the poison is still within reach of your dog, make sure this is taken away and your dog cannot eat or come into contact with it again. After speaking to the vet, you’ll probably need to head straight to the practice for treatment. Keep your dog calm and cool on the journey. If you can, take the packaging of the poison with you so the vet can check the ingredients and amount eaten.

The vet will give your dog a thorough checkover and assess the poison. Treatment can vary greatly depending on what has been eaten, inhaled or touched. Treatment may include induced vomiting (emesis); antidote administration (e.g. for rat poison or antifreeze ingestion), surgery or hospitalisation with intravenous fluids. Fast treatment is important to ensure that there is no lasting damage to their internal organs.

How do you know if your dog has been poisoned?

You may see your dog eating, inhaling or touching something poisonous, but quite often this isn’t the case. Lots of owners come home and find empty packets or chewed up medication, and this can be very worrying. If this is the case, remove any packaging or medication and call a vet for advice. Dogs can find things to eat on walks that aren’t good for them, so it might be that you have no idea what your dog might have been poisoned with, or even when. It’s important to keep a close eye on your dog’s health and, if you see any signs that something is wrong, call the vet.

What is the most common cause of dog poisoning?

There are different categories of poisoning and animals can be poisoned with many household items or human foods. The most common causes of poisoning in dogs are human medications, followed by foods like chocolate or raisins. Things that can cause dogs to become very sick include:

●    Ingested or eaten poisons: human medications, including ibuprofen and vitamin tablets or creams, chocolate, onions and garlic, raisins, household cleaning products, rat poison or rodenticides, antifreeze, slug pellets, batteries, plants (including tulip bulbs), rock salt, xylitol (artificial sweetener).

●    Inhaled poisons: smoke, insecticides, household cleaning chemicals, paint fumes.

●    Poisons affecting the skin and paws: tar, petrol and gasoline, household chemicals, paint.

What is the most common type of dog poisoning?

Most dog poisoning occurs due to dogs eating things that they shouldn’t. Ingestion of toxic substances accounts for the majority of poisoned animals that are seen at the vets. These animals can become very sick and, if left untreated, the poisoning can be fatal.

What is the main cause of a dog's death following poisoning?

Poisons that have been eaten are absorbed through the intestines can cause multiple organ failure. If left untreated, it’s possible for these toxins to cause permanent damage to the liver and kidneys, or cause cardiac problems that can kill your dog quickly.

Is alcohol a poison for dogs?

Alcohol is toxic to dogs and should never be given, even in small amounts. Ethanol or hops in beer can cause alcohol intoxication that has the potential to cause serious damage to your dog's health. Signs of alcohol intoxication include vomiting, a high body temperature, restlessness, tremors and panting. If you think your dog has had more than a tiny sip of alcohol, speak to a vet immediately.

What should I do if my dog has been poisoned?

If you think your dog may have been poisoned, stay calm. If possible, remove the source of the poison and put well out of reach of your dog, then call a vet. Advise the vet of what you think may have poisoned your dog and, if you can, read out the ingredients on the packaging. Let the vet know how much of this was eaten and when this happened. Follow the vet’s advice and, if necessary, take them for treatment immediately. Never attempt to treat your dog yourself, as this can make the situation more dangerous and may prove fatal. If you think your dog has been poisoned, contact the vet straight away. Do not wait for symptoms to show.

What treatment is there for dog poisoning?

Treatment depends entirely on the poison. If your dog has come into contact with something caustic or that irritates and it is on their skin or fur, they may require washing and topical treatments or dressing. Animals who have eaten non-caustic substances, such as chocolate or raisins, may be given injections to make them vomit and remove the toxin from the body. Emesis, or vomiting, can only happen if the substance will not cause damage to the oesophagus and mouth, and needs to be done shortly after ingestion – and only by a vet. Other dogs may require antidotes or hospitalisation to help them recover. Fast treatment is necessary for a successful recovery in most cases.

How can I prevent my dog from being poisoned?

It’s easy to prevent poisoning in the home by keeping any potentially toxic substances away from your dog. This may mean putting those products up high or in cupboards that your dog cannot open. Put houseplants away from areas pets have access to and pick up leaves or dropped petals. Ensure your dog’s water bowl is always clean.

It’s more difficult to prevent this when out on walks, but if you notice your dog sniffing or trying to eat something, get them away from this as soon as possible.

When should I see a vet if I think my dog has eaten something poisonous?

If you have any suspicion at all that your dog has eaten something poisonous, call a vet straight away. Delaying treatment even by a few hours may be fatal. Any signs of respiratory problems should be checked out immediately. Always speak to a vet, if there are any signs of something wrong.

What will the vet do if my dog is poisoned?

If you can, take the packaging for the poison with you to the vets. This will be very helpful in determining how severe the toxicity is. The vet will assess the ingredients and amount eaten. The vet will then give your dog a health check, and look at all their vital signs and decide what treatment is most appropriate. Treatment may be simple or may require them to stay in the vets for more intensive therapy.

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