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Many dogs will get into anything they come across, from rat poison to dropped medication to antifreeze. And of course, that puts the dog’s health at risk. Teaching a “leave it” cue to your dog can be a lifesaver, but you can’t watch your pet every minute of the day. It’s important to know the common signs of poisoning and how to respond in case your dog encounters something dangerous.

Common Signs of Dog Poisoning

The symptoms of poisoning vary depending on the substance and quantity your dog has breathed in or eaten. There is no single sign that you can use to diagnose the situation. However, there are some common symptoms to watch out for such as gastrointestinal or neurological issues. The following may be signs of dog poisoning:

  • Diarrhea or blood in the stool (either bright red blood or dark black tarry stools)
  • Vomiting or loss of appetite.
  • Seizures or tremors.
  • Behavioral changes (lethargy or unsteady when standing or walking; hyperactivity)
  • Bruising or bleeding (best found in areas of little or no hair, such as the gums, inside the ear flaps, and inside the groins; nose bleeds or bloody urine)
  • Finding of unusual material in a dog’s stool, such as peculiar green or corn-like substances which might be rodenticide ingestion.

Poisoning can cause a whole range of effects within your dog’s body. Some are immediate and others can have longer-term consequences like anemia or organ damage. Plus, some signs will be impossible to notice on your own like cardiac problems, such as an irregular heartbeat, or liver failure. That’s why it’s so important to take any noticeable symptoms seriously and consult your veterinarian immediately.

Rottweiler laying down on a cobblestone path.
Olexandr Andreiko/Shutterstock

What to Do in an Emergency

Obviously, every dog with diarrhea or vomiting hasn’t been poisoned. There are a whole range of reasons for some of these symptoms. But if you have any reason to suspect poisoning, see multiple symptoms, or you’ve found your dog interacting with something dangerous, take immediate action. The faster you respond, the better the outlook for your dog. Here are the steps you should take:

  • Stay calm and remove your dog away from the potentially poisonous substance.
  • Take note of the situation and your dog’s symptoms.
  • Contact your veterinarian. Always have their number programmed into your phone. If it’s after hours, contact the nearest emergency clinic or a pet poison hotline. Ask if you should come in immediately or induce vomiting at home.
  • If possible, safely collect any of the remaining potential poison or the packaging. If your dog has vomited, collect a sample. This will help the vet diagnose and treat your pet.
  • Follow your veterinarian’s directions completely. If they advise you to come in, go in as soon as possible.

Pet Poison Hotlines

In the unfortunate event that you’re unable to reach a vet clinic, there are a few emergency hotlines available. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is available 24 hours a day all year long for poison-related situations. Their phone number is (888) 426-4435, and a consultation fee will apply. There is also the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661. They charge a $59 fee per call. However, you can get lifetime access to the Pet Poison Helpline for only $15 through AKC Reunite. Finally, there is the AKC Vetline which allows you to contact trained pet care professionals and licensed veterinary staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For only $99 you get access for the life of your pet.

Treatments for Poisoning

Your vet will choose your dog’s treatment based on the substance encountered. That’s why samples are so important. If possible, take a photo of the substance or label on your phone. If you don’t know what poisoned your dog, be aware that your vet is not able to test for every possibility, but blood tests may help determine the source. Some poisons, such as antifreeze and certain rat poisons, have antidotes, so whenever that’s the case your vet will administer the antidote as soon as possible.

Your vet’s main goal will be to prevent any further absorption of the substance into your pet’s body. That might involve activated charcoal to absorb the poison from the stomach, the use of an enema (the injection of fluid into the lower bowel) to flush the digestive system, or gastric lavage (a tube passed into the dog’s stomach to introduce water) to wash out the inside of the stomach. Your vet might also use medication to encourage your dog to throw up, known medically as inducing emesis.

Your vet might use diuretic drugs (drugs that encourage urination) to aid secretion of the poison.

Common Poisonous Substances to Watch Out For

There are all kinds of substances that can poison your dog. Some are obvious like chemicals or insecticides, but others are safe for people and therefore often assumed to be safe for dogs. But dogs have a different metabolism, so you can’t judge safety by human standards. Be aware of the following list of common dog poisons to avoid:

  • Over-the-counter medication for humans like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Prescription medication for humans like blood pressure pills or antidepressants.
  • Prescription or over-the-counter medication for dogs when encountered at higher than prescription doses.
  • Human foods that are dangerous to dogs like garlic, onions, or chocolate.
  • Rat poison and insecticides like ant baits or slug pellets.
  • Household products from bleach and other cleaners to batteries and antifreeze.
  • Plants that are hazardous to dogs, like tulips or holly, either in the house or out in the garden.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Tummy Troubles: When Does Dog Vomiting Require Veterinary Care?
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