My dog has swallowed poison, what now?

First aid instructions for poisoned dog
By Laure-Anne Viselé, certified canine first aider, December 2010
Proof-read and edited by a veterinarian working for a poison centre

First aid for dog poisoning

This article gives you the generic first aid steps in case your dog has swallowed poison.

Step 1/ Induce vomiting

Most important of all: remain calm.

It will:

  • help you think clearly;
  • help you make better decisions; and
  • be less stressful for the dog.

Method: How to make the dog vomit

  • Wet your finger
  • Dip your finger (very little!) salt
  • Rub your finger at the back of the dog’s tongue.
  • Try this a couple of times only. Give up if it does not succeed in making the dog vomit.

Note on salt

Salt too can be poisonous to dogs, even in small doses, so:

  • Only do this if you cannot receive veterinary assistance in the next 15 minutes;
  • Keep quantities to a bare minimum; and
  • Do not try this on a dog weighing less than 5kg.

Exceptions: When NOT to make your dog vomit

  • You are not sure your dog is suffering from an intoxication.
  • You do not have quick access to a vomitive substance (like salt).
  • The dog has swallowed something soap-based or petroleum-based (e.g. terpentine). Vomiting would expose the dog to aspiration again (breathing the product in), which can cause pneumonia for many petroleum-based products.
  • The dog has swallowed something caustic (e.g. drain cleaner or oven cleaner). Vomiting would only burn the dog’s digestive tube over again.
  • You do not have ready access to salt.
  • The dog has likely ingested the poison more than 1 to 2 hours before.
  • The dog has lost consciousness.
  • The dog swallowed a substances causing convulsions (e.g. rhubarb leaves). Vomiting could intensify the convulsions.
  • The dog has also swallowed a sharp or large object. Vomiting could cause it to lodge in a dangerous place.

Step 2/ Seek veterinary help

When to call the vet’s?

Have someone call the vet’s at the same time as you are managing the dog if at all possible.

About the poison centre helpline

The Poison Centre in the Netherlands is reserved for calls by veterinary (and human) doctors, not the public. Your best course of action is to contact your veterinarian, who will contact the appropriate specialist helpline.

To do before you call the vet

Save your vet’s normal and out of hours telephone numbers:

  • in the mobile phone of every family member’s (and eventual pet sitter),
  • on the fridge or other house notice board,
  • next to the house phone; and
  • with your dog’s official papers.

Information to give to the vet

  • Precisely what you think the dog has eaten. Have the packaging handy if possible.
  • Precisely when you think the dog has eaten it,
  • Precisely how much you think the dog has eaten, and
  • List every abnormal sign and:
    • how long they lasted
    • how strong they were.

Step 3/ Preparing to go to the vet’s

To do before you leave

  • Always store your dog’s medical papers in an easy-to-access location.
  • Ensure that you are familiar with the route to your normal and out of hours veterinary surgery

To transport the dog

  • If someone is with you, get them to drive while you look after the dog in the back of the car.
  • Take the packaging (if you have it) of the poisonous substance. In your panick, do not leave it near the dog or children.
  • Take a sample of the poisonous substance or the dog’s vomit/diarrhea. Use protective gloves and do not leave the sample near children or the dog.
  • Make sure the dog can’t injure himself in the car. Ideally, have his basket in the car so it can’t glide around.
  • Do not transport the dog if he is having a fit. The vet’s will advise you on what to do on the phone.
  • Wear protective clothing/gloves if you suspect the dog has swallowed a caustic substance.
  • If the dog is unconscious and you have someone to drive you,
    • keep ensuring his airways are clear during transport. Do not try to dislodge an object if you feel resistance.
    • If you are trained in canine CPR, regularly check for pulse and breathing during transport.

What is poison?

Poison

any substance that can cause problems for the organism.

Intoxication

Problem caused by:

  • the ingestion of poison, or by
  • the excess consumption of normally harmless substances.

Thus technically speaking, this post addresses intoxication, not poison.

Prognosis

Intoxication problems can range:

  • from an upset tummy
  • to death.

Sources of intoxication for dogs

Substances that are toxic to dogs range:

  • from the obvious: e.g. anti-freeze, rat poison;
  • to the sneaky: e.g. chocolate, raisins, paracetamol.

Signs of a poisoned dog

Depending on the substance, signs can appear from 1/4 hour to several days after the facts.

Perversely, prognoses can be very pessimistic if no veterinary intervention takes place within two hours after ingestion (i.e. when substances are absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract).

Do not wait for symptoms if you have any doubt. Call the vet’s immediately. The difference can literally be LIFE OR DEATH.

Disclaimer on the list of symptoms

The list of symptoms is as long as the list of toxins, endless, so the symptoms below:

  • are just a sample of the possible symptoms of poisoning, and
  • could also be symptoms of other pathological conditions.

Behavioural signs

1/ Weakness;
2/ Restlessness;
3/ Excessive drinking/urinating;
4/ Fits/convulsions;

First aid steps for the convulsing dog:

  • If there is someone else around, have them call the vet’s,
  • Do not get too close to the dog, he could accidentally bite you
  • Note the start time of the fit,
  • Clear the area from objects/furniture against which the dog could hurt itself,
  • If you are alone, only call the vet’s now, not at the beginning. Make sure that the steps above take you no longer than 5 minutes.
  • Switch off the lights and any source of sound (TV, radio)
  • Note the end time of the fit.

5/ Loss of consciousness.

First aid steps for the unconscious dog:

  • If there is someone else around, have them call the vet’s
  • Clear the throat from any blocking object if you can do so without resistance/damage (wear protective gloves in case the substance is caustic)
  • (if you are trained in canine CPR) Ensure the dog is breathing and has a heartbeat
  • Call the vet’s

Physical signs

1/ Slowed down, or accelerated breathing;
2/ Diarrhea (with or without blood);
3/ Change in lips‘ colour and/or feel clammy and/or feel cold;
4/ Vomiting (with or without blood); and/or
5/ Excessive drooling.

On prevention

The following are the top reported pet poison cases in the US (Pet Place):

  1. Human medication
  2. Insecticide
  3. Rodenticide
  4. Veterinary medication (overdose, or taken by wrong pet)
  5. Household cleaning products
  6. Herbicide
  7. Plants
  8. Chocolate
  9. Home improvement products (e.g. paint, solvent, etc.)
  10. Fertiliser

So be safe, know what’s in your house, and dog-proof it.

Any comments

As ever, I greatly value your comments. I would particularly like to hear from you if:

  • You or someone you know has experienced a case of dog poisoning first hand.
    • What was the poison?
    • What did you do?
    • How did it go?
    • Is the dog OK?
  • You are a canine first aider with experience in managing intoxications.
  • You are a veterinarian with experience in treating intoxications
  • You are a poison centre employee with some insight on pet poisoning statistics, such as:
    • Most commonly reported noxious substances ingested by pets
    • Common poisonous substances and their respective prognosis

Useful links

American SPCA’s poison center

Dr. Becker’s Top 5 poison first aid tips

UK’s RSPCS poison advice

Further reading

Stop your dog from scavenging while walking
Dog hypothermia treatment
Common dog diseases

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