Every dog owner needs to know what to do if a dog has been exposed to a toxin or poison. There are many kinds of toxic substances that a dog can come into contact with. If you think your dog has been exposed to a poison or toxic substance, it is important that you act quickly. If possible, take time in advance (before it's an emergency) to learn what you should do if your dog is exposed to a toxin.
Identify the Poison
If your pet seems stable, try to identify the toxin and how your dog came into contact with it so you can provide as much information to your vet as possible. If, however, your dog appears sick and/or you are not sure how long ago the exposure happened, seek treatment right away to prevent worsening illness. Early intervention can be life-saving for many toxin exposures, especially if they can be removed before too much time has passed. Your vet may be able to deduce what toxin was ingested based on the physical exam and lab findings. If you or another family member has time to investigate, try to figure out if it was eaten, inhaled, or a contact exposure. Was it a poisonous plant? Could it have been a harmful food? Did your dog come into contact with another animal such as a toad? Was it a toxic chemical or human medication? Try to determine how much of the toxin your dog ate, inhaled, or otherwise came into contact with. Obtain the original packaging of the toxin (if applicable).
Get Professional Help
Your next step is to call for veterinary medical advice, even if your dog is acting normal. You should not wait for your dog to show signs of illness because it may be too late by then. Never give your dog a home remedy or other treatment without speaking with a veterinary professional first. If your family veterinarian's office is open, call them first. If the poisoning occurs after hours, call a nearby veterinary emergency clinic. A veterinary professional will be able to tell you how to proceed. The actions you will be advised to take will depend on the type of toxin exposure. The following are some actions a professional may advise:
- You may be advised to rush your dog to the nearest open veterinary clinic. Get there quickly, but be safe! Remember to bring the packaging of the toxin if applicable as well as your dog's medical records if he will be new to this vet clinic.
- A professional may ask you to induce vomiting at home with hydrogen peroxide. For this reason, you should try to always keep an unopened, non-expired bottle of hydrogen peroxide in your home (old hydrogen peroxide will not usually work). You will give the hydrogen peroxide to your dog by mouth. The veterinary professional will tell you how much to give. NOTE: Never do this unless advised to do so by a veterinary professional. It is not always safe to induce vomiting and peroxide can cause severe irritation to the gastrointestinal tract).
- If your dog's skin or coat came into contact with a toxin, you may be advised to bathe him. A professional may recommend normal dog shampoo or something stronger. In some cases, a grease-cutting cleanser works best. Try to keep some Dawn dish soap around, as a professional may recommend you bathe your dog with it.
- You may be asked to call animal poison control. Some veterinary offices prefer to call poison control themselves to get advice directly. Either way, a fee may be passed on to you. Try to keep these phone numbers handy:
ASPCA Poison Control (888)426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline (800)213-6680
Be Ready for an Emergency
It is a good idea to keep your dog’s medical records including vaccination history, current medications, food and drug allergies, and identification (such as a microchip or tattoo) and other important items in an accessible area in case you have to go to a new veterinary clinic. Also, make sure your dog wears a collar with an ID tag or keep it near the door (with a leash) so they are easy to grab on the way out.
In general, you should contact a veterinary clinic if your dog shows any signs of illness, even if you don't suspect poisoning. The symptoms of toxicity may not appear for hours to days. Signs may be vague, such as lethargy or poor appetite. Signs of toxicity may also be more extreme, such as seizure, collapse or trouble breathing.
Do everything you can to prevent toxin exposure in the first place. Keep dangerous items out of your dog's reach (this includes your garbage). Try to use products in your home and yard that are known to be safe for pets. Take care not to drop potentially harmful food items while cooking. Choose pet-safe plants and flowers for your home and yard. Prevention is the best thing you can do to protect your dog. However, toxicities can still occur, no matter how careful you are. Fortunately, you now have good information and resources to help you in case your dog is exposed.
Mahdi, Ali, and Deon Van der Merwe. Dog And Cat Exposures To Hazardous Substances Reported To The Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory: 2009–2012. Journal Of Medical Toxicology, vol 9, no. 2, 2013, pp. 207-211. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s13181-013-0289-8
Pet Poisoning. Banfield Pet Hospital
General Treatment Of Poisoning - Special Pet Topics - Veterinary Manual. Veterinary Manual, 2020