Common Canine Poisons and Toxins
There are hundreds of items your dog can get access to. Some things are highly toxic and others are non-toxic. This article is a guide to help you determine if a particular item is a problem and link you on to more in-depth information. Be sure to look at the related articles, which can be found on the right-hand side of the page.
If you think your dog may have been exposed to a toxin, the best thing to do is to check the label of the item you think your pet ingested. Read the information about toxicity. Often, but not always, the information on packaging regarding children is relevant to dogs and some manufacturers even discuss dog toxicity. If there is an 800 number on the package – call them! It’s also recommended that you call your veterinarian to confirm the recommendations. If you go to your veterinarian, take all packaging and any information you have on the product.
General Information. For most poisonings, there is not much you can do at home. Consult your veterinarian or veterinary emergency facility if you suspect your pet has been poisoned. For some ingested poisons, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting before bringing the pet in for examination and treatment. Inducing vomiting of a toxic substance should never be done unless specifically directed by a veterinarian. For topical exposures, bathing in lukewarm water with a mild dish soap can reduce further toxin absorption before the pet is examined and treated by a veterinarian.
List of Common Dog Toxins
Non-toxic Items Commonly Eaten by Dogs. Chewing on things is a normal part of puppyhood so before you rush your pooch to the veterinarian, here is a list of some commonly eaten and, thankfully, non-toxic items. If your pup chews any of these, don’t worry about toxicity. The only real concern is the potential for obstruction if the object or container becomes lodged in the stomach or intestines. Also, you can expect some vomiting and maybe even a little diarrhea from eating a non-food item.
Amitraz. Amitraz is an insecticide used in some brands of dog tick collars and topical solutions. Toxicity most often affects curious puppies who ingest the poison but can occur from wearing the tick collar or receiving demodectic mange treatment. Typical symptoms begin within about 2 to 6 hours of ingestion and often begin with the pet becoming weak and lethargic. Vomiting, diarrhea and disorientation are also common. Without treatment, coma may result. In severe untreated cases, toxicity may result in death. Call and see your veterinarian for treatment.
Amphetamines. Amphetamines are human medications that are commonly used as appetite suppressants and mood elevators or for the treatment of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. Amphetamines must be prescribed by a physician, but because they are popular as appetite suppressants and mood elevators, they are often purchased illegally. Amphetamines are nervous system stimulants that also affect the brain. After ingestion, toxic signs are usually seen within one to two hours. Common signs include restlessness, hyperactivity, agitation, tremors and seizures. Prompt veterinary treatment for amphetamine toxicity is crucial and will give your pet a better chance of full recovery. If left untreated, amphetamine toxicity can be fatal.
Ant Traps. If an ant trap is ingested, the only real concern is the potential for obstruction if the object or container becomes lodged in the stomach or intestines. Most ant and roach traps are made from either sticky paper or chlorpyrifos, which has a low level of toxicity in mammals but is highly toxic to insects. Also, you can expect some vomiting and maybe even a little diarrhea from eating a non-food item.
Antifreeze. Ethylene glycol toxicosis is a type of poisoning that occurs after ingestion of antifreeze or other fluids containing the ingredient ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol itself is not toxic, but it is metabolized in the animal’s body to several extremely toxic chemicals that are responsible for its potentially lethal effects. Ethylene glycol poisoning results in nervous system abnormalities and severe kidney failure with almost complete cessation of urine output. Ethylene glycol poisoning can be fatal if not treated soon after ingestion (within 4 to 8 hours). The minimum lethal dose for dogs averages five milliliters per kilogram of body weight. Thus, a little more than three tablespoons (or 45 milliliters) could be lethal for a 22 pound (10 kg) dog. Definitive treatment should be started as soon as possible after consumption of ethylene glycol (within a few hours). If treated promptly and appropriately, pets that have consumed ethylene glycol will not develop kidney failure and have a good chance of survival. Signs to watch for include: nausea, vomiting, increased thirst, lethargy and incoordination progressing to coma. Pets may act as if they are intoxicated. These signs develop within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion of ethylene glycol depending on the amount ingested.
Aspirin. Aspirin toxicity (salicylate toxicity) is poisoning that occurs following the ingestion of aspirin or aspirin-containing products. Cats and young animals are more susceptible to the effects of aspirin than are dogs because they are unable to metabolize the drug as quickly. Aspirin interferes with platelets, which are responsible for helping the blood to clot. Disruption of platelet function increases the amount of time it takes the blood to clot after being cut. Spontaneous bleeding may also occur causing pinpoint bruises to appear in the skin and on the gums (petechiae). Aspirin toxicity may cause gastrointestinal problems, respiratory difficulties, neurological problems, bleeding disorders and kidney failure. Gastrointestinal problems are common in dogs whereas central nervous system depression is most common in cats.
Arsenic. Although a common poison in the days of Agatha Christie, arsenic is somewhat difficult to obtain and animal poisonings are rare. Usually, poisoning is due to the ingestion of very old insect traps. Since 1989, the use of arsenic in insect traps has greatly diminished but there are still some out there. The lethal dose is 1 to 25 mg per kilogram of weight, and signs of poisoning include severe vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. If caught early, most pets are treated and recover. If treatment is delayed and the signs of illness are severe, pets usually do not survive. If your pet has ingested an insect trap, make sure to check the label to see if arsenic is present and call your veterinarian.
Bathroom Cleaners, Bleach, Lysol and Other Corrosives. Household cleaners can cause very serious “chemical burns.” Most often these chemicals are ingested or licked by dogs causing a caustic or corrosive burn usually affecting the tongue and upper esophagus. If chemical ingestion is witnessed, immediately flush the mouth with large amounts of water. This can help reduce the amount of chemical in the mouth and may reduce the damage. Chemical oral burns may not show up immediately. Call your veterinarian for additional treatment recommendations. Common signs include: lack of appetite, drooling, pawing at the mouth and excessive swallowing.
Carbon Monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, that when absorbed into the bloodstream, forms a compound that causes hypoxia (reduced oxygen supply) of the heart and brain. Dogs can be exposed by automotive exhaust in a closed garage, faulty exhaust system, non-vented furnace, gas water heater, gas/kerosene space heater and/or smoke inhalation from a fire. Some pets are predisposed to toxicity due to preexisting heart or lung disease. Symptoms of toxicity include drowsiness, lethargy, weakness, incoordination, bright red color to the skin and gums, difficulty breathing, coma and/or abrupt death. Occasionally, chronic (low-grade, long-term) exposure may cause exercise intolerance, changes in gait (walking) and disturbances of normal reflexes. Be aware that if the source of poisoning still exists, both you and your dog are at risk. Prevent toxicity by minimizing exposure and using carbon monoxide detectors around your home.
Carbamate Insecticides. Carbamates are a type of insecticides used to treat insects on our crops and soils, prevent and treat flea infestations and are used in ant and roach baits. The majority of toxicities in dogs related to this chemical are due to improper use of the chemical, especially when many different types of insecticides are used at the same time. The dog formula should never be used on cats. Carbamates affect the nerve-muscle junctions. Without a normal nerve impulse through the muscle, the function of the muscle is impaired. Since muscle tissue is present in the intestinal tract as well as the heart and skeleton, various signs may be seen if a pet is exposed to toxic levels of this insecticide. Symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, difficulty breathing, muscles tremors, twitching, weakness and paralysis. Prompt veterinary care is required to survive a toxic exposure.
Chocolate. Chocolate, in addition to having a high fat content, contains caffeine and theobromine. These two compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic to your dog in high amounts. The levels of caffeine and theobromine vary between different types of chocolate. For example, white chocolate has the lowest concentration of stimulants and baking chocolate or cacao beans have the highest concentration. Depending on the type of chocolate ingested and the amount eaten, various problems can occur. The high fat content in chocolate may result in vomiting and possibly diarrhea. Once toxic levels are eaten, the stimulant effect becomes apparent. You may notice restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination and possibly excessive panting. Heart rate and blood pressure levels may also be increased. Seizure activity may occur in severe cases.
Cocaine. Cocaine is rapidly absorbed from the stomach, nasal passages and lungs. Following exposure the cocaine usually leaves the system within four to six hours. The lethal dose of cocaine in dogs is 25 mg per pound of body weight. Dogs exposed to cocaine show signs of intermittent hyperactivity followed by profound lethargy. Some may develop seizures. Treatment is aimed at supporting the body systems. Inducing vomiting is not helpful since cocaine is so rapidly absorbed. Hospitalization with intravenous fluids and sedatives are typical treatments. Depending on the severity of illness, amount ingested and time lapsed before treatment, some pets exposed to cocaine do not survive.
Detergents and Soaps. Most soaps and detergents are generally non-toxic. You can expect some vomiting and maybe even a little diarrhea from eating a non-food item. Read the container for additional information. If ingestion is witnessed, you may flush the mouth with large amounts of water.
Ecstasy. Ecstasy, also known by various street names such as XTC, Adam and MDA, is chemically related to other amphetamines, which stimulate the central nervous system. After ingestion by dogs, signs of toxicity generally develop within one to two hours and last longer in pets than in humans due to the animal’s inability to metabolize the drug. Symptoms include hyperactivity, restlessness, drooling, tremors, staggering, seizures, and if no treatment is given, coma and death ensue.
Estrogen Toxicity. Estrogen toxicity is a condition in which a group of estrogen compounds (female hormones), either produced in excess within the body or administered from the outside, become poisonous to the body of dogs. Estrogen toxicity is seen most commonly in reproductive-age females and older. Symptoms can include: lethargy, pale gums, bleeding, fever, thin hair coat and feminization (female sex characteristics) in males.
Ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol that is used commonly as a solvent (liquid that dissolves) in medications and is the major ingredient of alcoholic beverages. Common causes of toxicity in dogs include direct access to alcoholic beverages or spilled medication, ingestion of fermented products (bread), intentional or malicious administration by human beings and/or dermal (skin) exposure to these products. Toxicity can cause a wide variety of signs and may lead to death. Signs can include: odor of alcohol on the animal’s breath or stomach contents, incoordination, staggering, behavioral change, excitement or depression, excessive urination and/or urinary incontinence, slow respiratory rate, cardiac arrest and death. If you suspect your pet has ingested a form of ethanol, please call your veterinarian for additional instructions.
Fuel. Gasoline is not a commonly ingested toxin, most likely due to its odor. If ingested, unleaded gasoline irritates the gastrointestinal tract and may cause vomiting. Some dogs may inhale stomach contents as they vomit, resulting in aspiration pneumonia. To develop signs of toxicity, the amount of gasoline that needs to be ingested is around 20 ml per kilogram of weight. For a 20 pound dog, that is about 1/2 cup. Diesel fuel and jet fuel may also cause gastrointestinal upset but have less toxicity than unleaded gasoline.
Glow Jewelry. The active ingredient in most glow jewelry and other glow-in-the dark products is dibutyl phthalate. This substance has low toxicity and there has not been a report of an animal poisoned by its ingestion. If your dog has ingested dibutyl phthalate, you may see profuse drooling. Encourage him to drink a small amount of milk or eat a piece of bread. This will help dilute the taste of the dibutyl phthalate. Even rinsing the mouth out with water can help reduce the signs associated with glow jewelry exposure. Even after rinsing the mouth, you may want to bathe your pet to remove any dibutyl that may have leaked out of the tooth marks and onto the pet’s hair coat.
Grape and Raisins. Ingestion of grapes or raisins can be toxic to dogs. The amount of grapes or raisins ingested has been between a few grams to about 2 pounds, and dogs ingesting these large amounts have developed kidney failure. Any dog that ingests large amounts of grapes or raisins at one time should be treated aggressively, so contact your veterinarian immediately if ingestion has occurred. Eating a few here and there has not been proven to be toxic.
Herbal Medications. While most plants used have beneficial properties, it is important to remember that the strength of the plant’s active ingredients will vary with the variety of herb and the horticultural practices used to grow them. Herbs can be sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers. They may have been fertilized with improperly prepared compost, which can harbor harmful bacteria. They may produce more than one active compound causing unwanted side effects, which may worsen some medical conditions. There are no standards for quality control in production and dosages. Onion, garlic, pennyroyal and ginseng are a few of the commonly used herbal preparations that can cause toxicities if used inappropriately. Many have vomiting and diarrhea as a side effect. Even if your pet is taking an herbal supplement without complication, make sure your veterinarian knows what you are giving. Some herbs interfere with other health concerns and other medications.
Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is a popular and effective over-the-counter medication available to treat pain and inflammation in people. For dogs, ibuprofen can easily exceed toxic levels. The most common cause of ibuprofen toxicity is a well-meaning dog owner who tries to alleviate pain in his dog by administering a dose he thinks is adequate without knowing the toxic dose. The initial toxic effect is bleeding stomach ulcers. In addition to ulcers, increasing doses of ibuprofen eventually lead to kidney failure and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Symptoms include poor appetite, vomiting, black tarry stools, vomiting blood, abdominal pain, weakness and lethargy.
Inhaled Toxins can be toxic to dogs.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is typically associated with confinement in a running vehicle but can also occur in a home with improper ventilation and faulty furnaces. If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to carbon monoxide, remove him from the scene and place him in an area with fresh air. Contact your veterinarian or local emergency facility for further instructions.
Smoke inhalation is another common inhaled toxin.
Iron. Iron is a chemical element that is important to red blood cell production in the body. It is found in a variety of supplements and vitamins. Iron toxicity typically occurs after accidental ingestion of the supplements or from overdoses of supplements. Iron comes in a variety of forms and the forms that may result in toxicity are: ferrous fumarate, ferrous sulfate, ferric phosphate, and ferrous carbonate. Toxic levels of iron cause damage to the stomach and intestinal lining as well as cause severe liver damage and heart damage. The first signs generally occur within six hours of eating a toxic amount. Even without treatment, your dog may appear to have improved after the initial gastrointestinal upset. Unfortunately, spontaneous recovery has not really occurred and about 24 hours later, diarrhea returns along with liver failure, shock and possible coma. Bleeding disorders can also occur. See your veterinarian immediately if you suspect iron toxicity.
Ivermectin. Ivermectin is an anti-parasite drug that causes neurologic damage to the parasite, resulting in paralysis and death. Ivermectin has been used to prevent parasite infections, such as heartworms or ear mites. Causes of ivermectin toxicity in dogs include administration of excessive doses and breed sensitivity to lower doses (which occurs in some breeds such as the collie or Australian shepherd). Toxicity can result in any number or combination of clinical signs including dilated pupils, depression, drooling, vomiting, tremors, disorientation, weakness, recumbency (inability to rise), blindness, unresponsiveness, slow heart rate, slow respiratory rate, coma or death.
Lead. Lead toxicity refers to poisoning due to ingestion or inhalation of products containing the element lead. Dogs may be exposed to lead from several different sources. Lead toxicity can cause anemia (low red blood cell count), gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) and nervous system problems (seizures). Lead crosses the placenta from pregnant mother to babies and is also excreted in her milk. Thus, the developing fetus and nursing young can be affected. See your veterinarian if you suspect lead exposure.