Poisoning in dogs: How to diagnose and treat it

It happens more often than you think. From innocently licking up spilled cleaning supplies to gobbling up an intentionally laced item of food, poisoning in dogs is sadly a common occurrence.

How to recognize if your dog has been poisoned

The symptoms your dog will present with differ depending on the type of poisoning.

  • Poisons that are ingested will most likely present with vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, pale gums or kidney failure.
  • Common symptoms of inhaled toxic substances are breathing difficulties, lethargy or loss of consciousness.
  • Poisonous substances that come into contact with the skin can result in skin irritation, inflammation and pain.

What are the most common causes of poisoning in dogs?

  • Toxic foods
    There are number of foods that, while perfectly fine for human consumption, can be toxic and even potentially deadly for dogs. These include – but are not limited to – chocolate, onions, avocado, alcohol, grapes and raisins.
  • Household products
    Just like household cleaners (such as bleach, tile cleaner, drain unblockers, chlorine for cleaning the pool and dishwasher tablets) are harmful to humans, they contain chemicals that are dangerous for animals to ingest.
  • Insecticides
    Insecticides, as well as pest control products are not only lethal to insects and pesky rodents but are extremely dangerous for your pet if ingested. Sadly, in South Africa, there has been an increase in would-be burglars throwing food down laced with the insecticide aldicarb, with the idea of robbing the residence once the animal has succumbed to the poison. Aldicarb (also knowns a Temik) is highly lethal and your pet will need to be seen by a vet urgently after ingestion.   
  • Human and Veterinary medications
    While your prescription (or even over-the-counter) medications might be life-saving for you, they can be potentially life-threatening for your pet. As are your dog’s medications, if not given in the correct dosage or if the incorrect medication is administered.
  • Plants
    Pretty to look at, toxic to eat. Just some of the plants off-limits to hounds include azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips and daffodils.

When should I go to the vet?

If you suspect poisoning, don’t hesitate, take your pet to the vet immediately. If you can, take the source of the poison, as well as a sample of the expelled bodily fluids. All this information could be highly beneficial for diagnosing and ultimately prescribing the best course of treatment.

Your vet will do a thorough examination, will potentially take a blood sample, and will then prescribe treatment accordingly. There are a number of treatment options available depending on what was ingested/inhaled, as well treating the animal supportively to alleviate the pain and discomfort.

How to prevent your pets from being poisoned

The best course of action, as always, is prevention. Keep all potentially harmful substances out of ‘pet-reach’. If you spill bleach, mop it up immediately. Don’t give your dogs foods from the toxic list – no matter how much they beg. Avoid stocking your garden with dog-unfriendly plants, And If you spot strange food lying about in your garden, firstly remove your animal from the vicinity, then examine it for any traces of poison (aldicarb looks like black irregular grains or rice). Do not touch it, unless you are wearing gloves. Report it to the police, inform your neighbours and keep a watchful eye for unwanted strangers in your ‘hood. And preferably keep your dogs inside at night.

If you have any questions or concerns with regards to your pets, it is advisable to consult a registered veterinarian.

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