Being aware of the symptoms of dog poisoning might just save your pet one day. Learn the warning signs of a possible toxic reaction and immediately seek veterinary care if you see indicators that your dog may have been exposed to a toxin.
Warning Signs of Dog Poisoning
The severity of dog poisoning symptoms depends largely on the type of toxin involved and how much of it entered the animal's body. Some toxins have a cumulative effect and take time to build up in a dog's system after repeated exposures. This means the earliest signs of poisoning might go undetected or attributed to a dog feeling "under the weather." In other cases, the reaction could be immediate and violent, with the dog presenting obvious signs of distress. Signs of dog poisoning can include any combination of the following.
Loss of Appetite
A change in a dog's eating habits is usually the first signal for many illnesses. Your dog may not be interested in eating their regular kibble or even their favorite snack. If your dog skips one meal and is not showing other symptoms, this is generally not a cause for concern. However, if your dog skips multiple meals and/or has other symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Drooling is typically a sign of nausea, but it can also be caused by irritation of the mouth while ingesting a toxic substance. You may notice your dog drooling excessively if they are experiencing poisoning. Following the excessive drooling, your dog may begin foaming at the mouth.
This can occur with or without the presence of blood, since some toxins, such as the rat poison Warfarin, produce internal bleeding. If your dog does vomit, be sure to take a sample to give your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may be able to determine what your dog ingested with the sample you bring into the office.
Note: Many pet parents feel if their dog hasn't vomited the poison, they should induce vomiting immediately. This is not correct. You should never induce vomiting without your veterinarian's approval. Inducing vomiting can result in more harm to your dog depending on what is poisoning them. For example, corrosive household cleaners and other substances can burn the esophagus on the way back up, which can cause more harm to your pet.
This can occur with or without blood, as sometimes the bleeding is outside of the intestinal tract. You may notice the stool is black, green, or yellow. The diarrhea is often caused by stomach irritation due to the toxin.
Rash or Irritation at the Contact Site
This typically occurs when a toxin comes into contact with the skin. For example, if your dog has been in contact with poison ivy or blue-green algae, they may develop a rash where the body touched the plant or substance. You may notice:
- Red, irritated skin
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Swelling in the rash
- Continuous itching
Lethargic behavior can be due to the general ill-effects of the toxin, but it might also be a sign that the toxin is affecting the heart muscle. If your dog is feeling lethargic, they may not feel like going for daily walks or even getting up. You will notice an extreme lack of energy. If this continues for over 24 hours, without other symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. If your dog appears to be lethargic and the lethargy is accompanied by vomiting and/or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Slowed heart function can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs that leads to breathing difficulty. Poisons that interfere with blood clotting, such as rodenticides, can also result in blood in the chest cavity. If your dog is experiencing labored breathing, they will not be able to get a full breath in. If your dog has labored breathing, you will notice:
- The chest cavity moving more than normal
- Flared nostrils
- Extended head and neck
- Loud breaths
Sensitivity to Light
Some poisons can make a dog photosensitive. Your dog will search for a dark area to rest if they are experiencing sensitivity to light. Poisons which affect the nervous system may cause a sensitivity to light. In addition to being sensitive to light, they may be sensitive to touch and sound as well.
Bruising or Bleeding
This can be difficult to see on a dog due to their hair, but you may notice small red spots of bruising on the gums, ear flaps, or belly due to poisoning. This isn't the case with all poisons, but those that are particularly deadly, like rat poisons, have anti-coagulant properties. This means they affect the blood, so it is not able to clot well. You might first notice bleeding under the skin, then bleeding from the nose or mouth, or blood in their stool, vomit, or urine.
Loss of Coordination
This symptom is typically an indication that the brain has been affected by an ingested toxin. Your dog may bump into objects around the home, fall down, or have a hard time walking. Essentially, they will appear dizzy if they have lost their sense of coordination. Xylitol (found in sugar-free candies and some types of peanut butter), for example, can cause lack of coordination within 10 minutes after ingestion due to low blood sugar.
Tremors or Seizures
Tremors or seizures can be further sign of the brain's involvement with the toxin. It's possible your dog may show small facial twitches or full-body tremors, which is common with compost poisoning. During a seizure, your dog may:
- Lose all consciousness
- Urinate involuntarily
- Defecate involuntarily
- Drool excessively
Onset of Organ Failure
A dog's kidneys, liver, heart, and other organs may begin to shut down as the toxin takes full effect.
Loss of Consciousness
This is a severe sign. Your dog will not respond to you if they lose consciousness. If you notice them losing consciousness:
- Put your hands over your pet's heart and ensure you feel a heartbeat (do this with nonresponsive behavior and coma also)
- Contact your veterinarian immediately
- Take a video to show your veterinarian
The dog may remain conscious, yet not appear to see or hear anything going on around him. They may not know who or where you are. This stage is also known as stupor. This can be extremely scary, but try your best to remain calm. Your dog will need your comfort throughout this difficult time.
This is a most serious sign that could signal death is imminent. If your dog is comatose, they will appear as if they are sleeping but will not wake up. Do not give up if your dog is at this point. The veterinarian may still be able to help even if your dog has reached the coma state (of course we don't want it to get this far, though). The veterinarian will run multiple tests to determine the best method to help your dog.
Death is the final stage of poisoning. If you do not contact a veterinarian immediately, your dog may die. This is why it is so important to gather as much information as possible regarding your dog's symptoms, gather a stool/vomit sample (if possible), and determine what they may have been into.
There are many poisons which can harm your dog; however, the following are classified as most likely to be fatal:
- Snail/slug bait
- Mouse/rat bait
- Prescription medications
Recognizing the Symptoms of Dog Poisoning
If your dog exhibits symptoms of poisoning, do not hesitate to act. Immediately take the following steps:
- Try to identify whichever toxin your dog may have come in contact with. This knowledge could save your vet valuable time in formulating a treatment plan.
- Call your vet right away and do your best to describe the exact symptoms.
- Follow any directions your vet advises. For example, most vets will advise you to refrain from inducing vomiting because it can actually make the situation worse. In other cases, a vet may advise you to feed your dog activated charcoal to begin absorbing a particular toxin. Above all, never decide how to treat your dog on your own without the explicit advice of your vet.
- Take your dog in immediately for treatment unless your vet advises otherwise.
- If your veterinarian is not available, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661, both of whom are available 24/7.
Common Ways Dogs Are Exposed to Toxins
Although cases of poisoning are relatively rare in most dogs' lives, there are plenty of opportunities for a canine to come into contact with various toxins. One of the most common ways dogs are poisoned is by eating or drinking toxic substances. This can range from a puddle of antifreeze leaked from a damaged radiator to a mushroom that pops up in the yard overnight.
Some succulents and other plants are poisonous to dogs. Toxins can also be absorbed through the skin or delivered through the bite or sting of an insect. In some cases, they can even be inhaled in the form of noxious fumes.
Always Err on the Side of Caution
Many times, dog owners delay seeking treatment for a case of poisoning because they aren't entirely sure what has happened. In the long run, it's better to seek medical help and find out the situation isn't nearly as serious as it seemed than to find out it's too late to help. If you ever suspect your pet is displaying signs of dog poisoning, call your vet right away.