Think your dog has been poisoned? Learn the signs and what your vet can do.

By Brendan Howard
August 24, 2020
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There are many toxins, plants, chemicals, or food that can be poisonous to your dog. Common causes of poisoning in dogs can be found in your bathroom cabinet, in the backyard, in spoiled food scarfed on a walk, and human food that’s stolen off the counter or dropped from the kitchen table.

No matter what the toxin is or where it came from, here's what you need to know to notice potential signs of poisoning and take quick steps to help your dog survive.

Signs of Poisoning in Dogs 

Beyond a mangled plant, empty bottle, or missing food, there are many clinical signs that could indicate your dog has eaten a toxic food, chemical, poisonous plant, or spoiled dog food. The following is not a complete list but gives you a general idea of common signs to look for if you suspect your dog has been poisoned, and things your veterinarian can find with proper testing and a complete physical exam. 

A dog eating a toxic plant is a common reason for pet owners to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center's hotline, according to Tina Wismer, DVM, MS, DABVT, DABT and senior director of the center. The situation can be extremely urgent, depending on the plant. 

"Most common signs include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and seizures," Wismer says. "In severe cases, ingestion of poisonous plants can lead to liver failure, kidney failure, and cardiovascular problems. 

Clinical signs of poisoning in a dog may include: 

  • Gastrointestinal signs: vomiting, diarrhea, extreme salivation, loss of appetite, and nausea or dry heaving
  • Internal bleeding: indicated by pale gums, a racing heart, coughing up or vomiting blood, weakness or lethargy, or a dog's falling over or collapsing
  • Kidney failure: increased or decreased urination, increased drinking as well as lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Liver failure: yellow gums, acting abnormally or dully as well as tarry stool (melena), vomiting, diarrhea, or collapsing due to low blood sugar.

What to Do if Your Dog Has Been Poisoned

If you know your dog has eaten something poisonous, here's what to do:

  1. Make sure your dog is breathing, alert, and behaving normally.
  2. Keep your dog and everyone else away from the source of the poisoning. Note what was eaten and keep any labels of information about the product or object. That will help medical professionals make the right decision for treatment.
  3. If the poison is in the dog's fur, wash the dog thoroughly, if you can do so safely.
  4. Don't use any at-home remedies or antidotes. And don't try to make your dog vomit before you talk to a veterinarian. Vomiting may be the right approach, but it might also be dangerous based on what your dog ingested and what's happening in the dog's body.
  5. Make an immediate call to your veterinarian or a phone hotline to help with pet poisoning, like Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661, or ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435. Remember, hotlines like these do charge for their services, so a consultation fee may apply. 
  6. If your dog needs medical help, call your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary clinic as soon as possible. The sooner you get help for a dog poisoning, the better the chances your dog can recover from poisoning.

Treatment, whether at home under a veterinarian's orders or in a veterinary hospital, will be specific to the poison. Your veterinarian may recommend that you induce vomiting in your dog in some situations, but not in others. Once in the hospital, your veterinarian may give your dog intravenous fluid, flush your dog's stomach, give your dog activated charcoal to absorb the toxin, or perform surgery. Supportive medications may help your dog's kidneys and liver process the poison and heal.

The ASPCA Poison Control estimates that 25 percent of poisoned pets recover within two hours. Even with treatment, one in 100 poisoned pets will die.

What if I Suspect Someone Poisoned My Dog?

Intentional poisonings are rare and can be difficult to prosecute without hard evidence that your dog was poisoned on purpose. 

However, if you suspect someone has intentionally poisoned your pet, follow the steps detailed in the link above and contact your veterinarian along with the police. Your vet may be able to detect toxins with diagnostic testing. If your pet has died, a veterinary lab may be able to perform an autopsy to determine cause of death.