Health

How to Avoid, Recognise and Treat Dog Poisoning

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for dogs to die from poisoning. In the event of a poisoning, it is important to act quickly. Once the poison has entered the bloodstream, it may be too late. Therefore, it is necessary to recognise the symptoms of poisoning quickly and to know what can be poisoning for your dog. Of course, it is always best to prevent poisoning from happening in the first place. And there are a few things you can do to prevent it.

The symptoms of poisoning can be very different

Definition & Description

What is poisonous for my dog?

Unfortunately, there are very diverse possibilities of poisoning in dogs and even everyday foods that are perfectly digestible for humans can be highly toxic for dogs.

Therefore, it is important for dog owners to inform themselves in advance and to know the relevant poisons, e.g. in the household and garden, and to avoid making them accessible to the dog if possible.

The following possibilities of acute or long-term poisoning in dogs exist, whereby this list raises no claim to completeness:

Outdoors: garden, parks, forest, meadows and fields

  • Toxic garden and pot plants and toxic forest and meadow plants
  • Rat and mouse poison e.g. from poison bait
  • Slug pellets
  • Horn shavings
  • Pesticides in the garden (e.g. ant poison)
  • Herbicides in the garden (e.g. Roundup®)
  • Fertiliser (e.g. lawn fertiliser)
  • Venomous snake bites
  • Farmland, meadows, fields and their borders: pesticides and herbicides
  • Parks where drug users are present: dogs can be poisoned by ingesting e.g. human excrement if it contains drugs (e.g. also cannabis) after heavy consumption. Unfortunately, this is not as absurd as it sounds, but has already happened in parks frequented by drug users. Drug stashes in said parks can also be a potential source of danger for dogs.
  • Bait intentionally placed to kill dogs
    • Poison bait
    • Bait with nails, needles, broken glass

Flat, house, household

  • Anti-freeze agent
  • Medicines
  • Nicotine: Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Illegal drugs of any kind
  • Toxic houseplants
  • Toxic food for dogs, in particular chocolate is toxic for dogs
  • Cleaning products
  • Dog toys can be made of toxic materials such as carcinogenic plasticisers. Read more: Dog toys: Our healthy and sustainable tips
  • Birch sugar (xylitol) in food, toothpaste, chewing gum and globules

In addition, there are many toxins that cause different symptoms and require different therapies. For example, there are:

  • Cardiac and circulatory toxins
  • Blood and blood vessel toxins
  • Nerve toxins
  • Liver toxins
  • Kidney toxins
  • Immune system toxins

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of poisoning in dogs? How do I recognise poisoning in a dog? 

Symptoms of poisoning can vary greatly depending on the poison, the dose, the time elapsed since ingesting the poison and the general condition of the dog.

When do the first symptoms of poisoning in dogs appear?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a general answer as to when the first symptoms of poisoning appear in a dog. The occurrence of symptoms strongly depends on the poison, the dose and the respective dog. In many cases, the first symptoms appear a few minutes after ingestion of the poison. However, when ingesting rat poison, for example, the first symptoms do not appear until days after ingestion.

The following symptoms may occur in case of dog poisoning:

  • Typical gastrointestinal problems
    Examples: Nausea, increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain
  • Motor system disorders (so-called neurological symptoms)
    Examples: Trembling, swaying, unsteady stance or walk, muscle spasms, cramps, paralysis
  • Respiratory difficulties
    Examples: Difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, rapid or very slow breathing
  • Disturbances of consciousness
    Examples: Disorientation, the dog is unresponsive, unconsciousness and in the most severe case: coma
  • Restlessness
    Examples: Restlessness, agitation, can manifest itself in constant standing up, lying down, walking
  • Cardiovascular problems
    Examples: Palpitations, slow heartbeat, cardiac rhythm disturbances, faintness, circulatory problems, apathy
  • Eye symptoms
    Examples: Pupils are greatly dilated or contracted, there may also be different sizes of the two pupils. Yellowing of the whites of the eyes due to jaundice.
  • Bleeding, coagulation disorders
    This can manifest itself, for example, in bloody vomiting, bloody diarrhoea or bloody urine. Bleeding from the gums, bleeding under the skin shows itself in reddened skin patches, bleeding from wounds cannot be stopped.
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in the oral mucosa
    Example: Blue-grey colouration of the skin and mucous membrane of the oral cavity

If the dog is already unconscious, it should be laid flat on its side and its head turned so that vomit and saliva can run out of its mouth.

Diagnosis

How is poisoning diagnosed in dogs?

As a pet owner, you may have seen your dog ingest something it shouldn't have. You may know what it is and take a sample with you, or you may not know what it was. Your dog may be showing the first suspicious symptoms. What is the best way to react?

You are sure that your dog has just ingested poison and you know the poison:

  • Acute emergency: See the vet immediately!
    This is an acute emergency where time matters and your dog's survival is at stake. Take the dog to the vet immediately. Tip: it is best to call the vet beforehand so that the vet is also on site and can be prepared.
  • Take poison information with you, secure poison
    It helps the vet immensely in the therapy and can save the dog's life to know which poison it ingested. Therefore: Take the information about the poison with you, if available, and secure the poison if possible. Otherwise, it is always good to take a sample of the poison with you, e.g. in a bag.
  • Remember the time of poison ingestion
    It is important to react quickly in case of poisoning to get the poison out of the body as soon as possible and to treat symptoms of poisoning, which can be life-threatening, at the earliest possible time. 

You did not observe your dog ingesting anything. However, your dog shows suspicious symptoms of poisoning:

  • Acute emergency: See the vet immediately!
    This is an acute emergency where time matters and your dog's survival is at stake. Take the dog to the vet immediately. Tip: it is best to call the vet beforehand so that the vet is also on site and can be prepared.

You observed that your dog has ingested something, but you do not know what it is. Your dog shows first suspicious symptoms of poisoning:

  • Acute emergency: See the vet immediately!
    This is an acute emergency where time matters and your dog's survival is at stake. Take the dog to the vet immediately. Tip: it is best to call the vet beforehand so that the vet is also on site and can be prepared.

You observed that your dog ingested something, but you don't know what it is. However, he does not show any suspicious symptoms of poisoning so far:

  • This is the case that is the most difficult to decide. While it is likely that it was not something poisonous, it is not certain. However, if it is known that poison bait has been placed in the area, I would consult a vet as a precaution.
  • I would not leave my dog alone, but watch it for suspicious symptoms, especially in the next few hours. But the only way to be sure is to see a vet who will examine the dog closely for symptoms.

Tip: Have emergency veterinary service numbers and addresses for your region at hand

  • It is best to always have the emergency veterinary number for your region handy and store it on your mobile phone or write it down somewhere where you can find it quickly.
  • Find out the emergency veterinary practice in advance so that you know the address and have the telephone number saved.
  • Even on holiday, it is helpful to find this out in advance and have it ready.

Tip: Learn to recognise symptoms of illness and poisoning in dogs before an emergency

  • With a dog first aid course you learn how to recognise the first signs of an illness. This is helpful in an emergency situation to quickly assess the situation.

Therapy & Treatment

How is poisoning treated in dogs?

Poisoning is an acute and can also be a life-threatening emergency. Depending on the poison and the dose, the time for treatment is absolutely life-critical! Therefore, if poisoning is suspected, a veterinarian or an emergency clinic should always be consulted immediately. Especially the first time after ingesting is critical, as the vet can detoxify before the poison goes from the stomach into the blood and thus prevent the worst.

During a poisoning therapy, the vet will try to remove the poison from the body, if this is reasonable and possible. With some poisons and acids, however, this is not possible in a reasonable way without poisoning the dog even more. On the other hand, the vet will try to alleviate the specific symptoms of poisoning. Since the therapy often depends on the poison, it helps the vet immensely if you can tell him which poison it is.

If the dog is poisoned, how can the poison be removed from the body? Can I do anything myself?

There are different methods to remove the toxin from the body. One of them is the administration of activated charcoal (Carbo medicinalis), which binds the poison in the stomach and then excretes it with the activated charcoal. If possible, this should be done within two hours of ingestion of the poison so that the poison does not enter the bloodstream. The administration of activated charcoal can be combined with a laxative, especially if there is a risk of constipation. For this purpose, there are already ready-to-use activated charcoal solutions that are combined with laxatives.

Note: Charcoal tablets are far less effective. Therefore, a solution of activated charcoal should always be preferred.

Tip: Ready-to-use charcoal suspension (activated charcoal solution) belongs in the dog's medicine cabinet for home and travel.

It is absolutely recommended that you always have the right ready-to-use charcoal suspension for your dog at home or in your travel first-aid kit, e.g. on long hikes or abroad. It is the only effective means of eliminating the poison, which you can always use yourself in the first two hours after ingestion of the poison, before you reach the vet. It is best to call the vet and, after describing your case, discuss this measure briefly with them before you go to the vet.

The vet can also try to remove the toxin from the body with different medications - either by inducing vomiting or diarrhoea. For some poisons, diuretic medications are also helpful. Gastric and intestinal lavage and enemas are other ways to remove toxins, but are less commonly used in dogs.

What you should NOT do if your dog is poisoned:

  • You should never try to make the dog vomit. This is not as easy as with humans and it can be dangerous with certain poisons or acids to get the poison into the throat and mouth.
  • Do not use so-called home remedies for poisoning, such as oil or milk, as these can even accelerate the ingesting of some toxins.
  • Let the doctor decide which is the best measure in this case!

If the dog is poisoned, what can the vet do to alleviate the symptoms of poisoning?

The further treatment measures depend very much on the poison and the dose that the dog has ingested. Many poisons bring different symptoms, which the vet will treat to stabilise the dog:

  • Stabilisation of breathing
    For example, by keeping the airways clear of mucus and vomit. Artificial respiration is also used by the vet to stabilise breathing.
  • Stabilisation of the cardiovascular system
    The vet can achieve this through infusions (blood transfusions, electrolytes, plasma, etc.), medication, heart massages.
  • Antispasmodic medication
  • Painkilling medication
  • Medication to protect the stomach lining
  • Medication to protect the liver
  • Medication against nausea

What can the vet do if my dog has swallowed a bait with glass splinters, nails, needles, razor blades and similar sharp objects?

If you suspect that your dog has swallowed a bait with sharp objects, this can often be determined with the help of an x-ray at the vet. Treatment of the dog depends on various factors, such as whether the dog had an empty or full stomach at the time of ingesting the foreign body.

Possible treatments include a gastroscopy. In lucky cases, it is also possible that the foreign bodies are excreted again without injury, but this must be monitored very closely. In all other cases, only a surgery to remove the objects will help. Allowing the dog to vomit is of course not an option in this case, as the dog could injure itself on the objects during vomiting.

Prognosis

What is the prognosis for poisoning in dogs? Will my dog get completely well again?

A prognosis in poisoning always depends on the poison, the dose, the time that has elapsed since the ingesting of the poison until the start of treatment and the general condition of the dog.

The dose of the poison that can be dangerous for the dog varies from poison to poison. It is usually referred to as the "lethal dose" and is expressed in grams/kg weight of the dog.

In the case of a lethal dose of a strong poison for the dog, the prognosis will of course unfortunately be much worse than in the case of a less strong poison and a low dose. The prognosis may also be favourable if the poison has not yet passed through the stomach into the bloodstream and the vet can still take measures to successfully drain the poison from the body.

As a general rule, poisoning is an acute emergency and no time should be wasted in getting to a vet or emergency clinic. Every minute counts to save your dog's life!

Causes & Prevention

How can I prevent my dog from being poisoned?

Of course, every dog owner wants to avoid his dog from getting poisoned. But it is not easy to always keep an eye on the dog and to dissuade him from ingesting foreign substances in the first place.

What I can always do as a dog owner, however, is to find out in advance which substances are poisonous for my dog and stow them away in the house and garden out of his reach. Particularly with puppies, that take everything in their vicinity into their mouths, chew on it and, if they are unlucky, even swallow it, absolute caution is required!

How can I prevent my dog from being poisoned at home?

Of course, it would be best if your dog would not even pick up substances that it is not supposed to pick up or spit them out again immediately on command. For this you can train appropriate commands.

  • Teach “leave it”
    The command “leave it” is very easy to train in most dogs, but takes time to work reliably. It may never work with very greedy dogs, but it is always worth a try!
  • Teach the dog never to eat anything that you have not given it permission to eat
  • Poison bait alerts

Flat, house, household

I can prevent poisonings in my home and household by storing the following substances in such a way that my dog cannot reach them. For example, keep them in locked cupboards:

  • Medication
    Note: Medicines that seem harmless to humans can be fatal to dogs. For example, aspirin, paracetamol or even tea tree oils! Therefore NEVER administer medicines for humans to the dog at your own discretion and ALWAYS keep medicines well locked away from the dog.
  • Nicotine
    Ashtrays, butts and cigarette packets should not be left near dogs! Puppies in particular like to ingest butts and can become severely poisoned.
  • Alcohol
    Alcohol is a poison that is absolutely taboo for dogs. Supposedly funny videos of alcoholised pets circulate on the internet again and again. However, this is not a "trivial offence" or a prank, but can become a fatal poisoning! Some dogs even like alcohol, all the more reason to keep it out of their reach.
  • Illegal drugs
    It should go without saying not to keep illegal drugs accessible for the dog, but it should be explicitly mentioned again at this point.
  • Cleaning products
    Many cleaning agents and cleaning cloths soaked with them are toxic for the dog and should always be kept closed.
  • Antifreeze, acids, paints, oils, varnishes, turpentine, petrol etc.
  • Toxic houseplants - Which houseplants are toxic for dogs?
    Here you will find a list of toxic houseplants that are best removed from the dog's environment or at least placed so that it cannot reach them.
  • Fertilisers for houseplants
  • Toxic foods - Which foods are toxic for my dog?
    Unfortunately, there are some foods that are perfectly edible for humans but not for dogs. Learn about the foods that are toxic for dogs.

Toxic toys - What should I look for when buying a dog toy?

Unfortunately, standard toys can also contain toxic substances. Although these usually do not cause acute poisoning, they may contain carcinogenic substances that can later cause cancer in your dog. Therefore, make sure that you only buy toys for your dog that are explicitly made of natural materials. 

How can I prevent my dog from being poisoned in the garden or on a walk?

Especially in the garden area, but also in parks or in the nature in forests and meadows or on fields, there can be poisonous substances for the dog. Here is a list of dangers (the list raises no claim to completeness): 

  • Rat and mouse poison e.g. from poison baits
  • Slug pellets
  • Bark mulch
    Bark mulch can be toxic not only because of toxic additives and fertilisers, but because of its plant components. For example, bark mulch can be made from oaks or rhododendrons, which in themselves can be toxic to dogs. Note: There are very different qualities of bark mulch. It is absolutely possible that there are foreign substances of plant origin that do not come from bark, but can be toxic for the dog.
  • Toxic plants
    Unfortunately, there are many toxic plants in gardens, parks, meadows and forests.
  • Fertiliser
    Many people forget that artificial fertilisers, which are often used for lawns and plants, can be toxic for dogs. There are, for example, lawn fertilisers that are harmless to dogs. This should always be taken into account and all family members should be informed!
    Horn shavings, which are often used as organic fertiliser, are also toxic for dogs!
  • Caution may also be needed around farmland, meadows and fields: Artificial fertilisers and pesticides and herbicides can also be applied here, which can be dangerous to the dog. So caution should be taken that the dog does not eat grass or plants in this environment.
  • Garden poisons
    Caution is advised with all garden poisons! Poisons are often used against so-called vermin such as ants or lice (pesticides) or against weeds (herbicides). They should always be stored in such a way that they are not accessible to the dog. If you have a dog, it is best not to use any poisons in the garden, especially as they often also harm beneficial insects such as bees.
  • Bait intentionally placed to kill dogs
    • Poison bait (e.g. meat chunks or treats poisoned with rat poison or hydrogen cyanide)
    • Bait with nails, needles, broken glass
  • Snake bites can also occur. Therefore, you should not let your dogs roam through the undergrowth in areas where there are venomous snakes.

Toxic hazards in the horse stable

  • Horse hoof horn
    The horse's hoof horn can be tempting for dogs and can unfortunately lead to poisoning very quickly! Has the farrier just been there? If so, it is essential to remove the horn particles/horn shavings!
  • Worming treatments for horses
    Unfortunately, it has happened that dogs have picked up the not yet empty packaging of a deworming treatment for horses from the rubbish and have died from it. The deworming treatment for the horse can be poisonous for the dog!

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