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11 Common Types of Toxicosis in Dogs: Our Vet Discusses Causes & Treatment

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By Dr. Iulia Mihai

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Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

DVM MSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Toxicosis or intoxication is a pathological condition that occurs after the ingestion of toxic foods or substances in dogs. It is manifested mainly by vomiting, diarrhea, and hypersalivation, and in severe cases (depending on the toxin), nervous signs and kidney and liver failure may also occur.

The most common toxicoses in dogs are caused by drugs for human use (ibuprofen, paracetamol, etc.), antifreeze, rodenticides, insecticides, xylitol, chocolate and other toxic foods, toxic plants, and chlorine. In fact, all substances have a toxic potential if administered incorrectly, in inappropriate doses, and/or at inappropriate times.

Intoxications are encountered mainly in young dogs because they chew and eat almost anything. Dogs that wander freely near farms, repair workshops (including car services), warehouses containing various toxic substances, or even landfills are also more prone to toxicosis.

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The 11 Types of Toxicosis in Dogs

1. Ibuprofen Poisoning in Dogs

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for human use, often used to treat fever, pain, or inflammation. Ibuprofen has a narrow margin of safety in dogs (the dose must be determined precisely), and since there are countless other safer drugs available, it is rarely prescribed by vets. However, do not give your dog ibuprofen without your vet’s advice.

Ibuprofen poisoning in dogs can occur from a single dose or multiple doses. Clinical signs of ibuprofen poisoning in dogs include:
  • Low appetite
  • Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Incoordination
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin)
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma

The treatment depends on the dose ingested and the clinical signs that your dog presents. In some cases, hospitalization and continuous administration of IV fluids for 1–2 days may be necessary, and in more severe cases, your dog may require a transfusion. Don’t leave ibuprofen where your dog can reach it, and don’t self-administer it unless your vet tells you to.

pills out of a bottle
Image Credit: photo_gonzo, Shutterstock

2. Acetaminophen Poisoning in Dogs

Paracetamol (active substance: acetaminophen) is a human drug with analgesic and antipyretic action, being used in the case of pain of weak or moderate intensity and to lower the temperature in case of fever. This medicine should not be given to pets without the approval of the veterinarian or left in places where dogs can easily reach it.

In dogs, it causes severe liver and gastrointestinal disorders. The lethal dose of acetaminophen in dogs is 150 mg/kg. Clinical signs of acetaminophen poisoning in dogs include:

  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Lethargy
  • Hypersalivation
  • Tremor
  • Incoordination
  • Brown or blue color of the mucous membranes
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hypothermia
  • Edema of the limbs, neck, and face
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice
  • Coma

The treatment consists of inducing vomiting and administering medicinal charcoal, IV fluids, and drugs that can slow down/stop the absorption of acetaminophen.

3. Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Many dogs crave whatever they see you eating, and you may be tempted to share. Don’t let your dog fool you with their big puppy eyes, especially if you are consuming chocolate or sweets that contain xylitol. These are toxic to dogs.

The degree of toxicity is directly proportional to the amount of chocolate ingested. In fact, it is not the chocolate itself that is toxic, but the cocoa in it, which contains theobromine. Theobromine is an alkaloid found in the beans of the cocoa tree used in the preparation of various chocolate-based foods. Once ingested by dogs, it causes frequent urination and stimulates the central nervous system and the heart.

Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs include:
  • Nausea
  • Hypersalivation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Panting
  • Bloating
  • Hyperactivity
  • Restlessness
  • Wobbly walk
  • Tremor
  • Frequent urination
  • Racing heart rate
  • Lower body temperature
  • Convulsions
  • Death

If your dog ingested chocolate a maximum of 2 hours prior, the vet could decide to induce vomiting, then administer medicinal charcoal and supportive treatment. In some cases, the veterinarian may resort to gastric lavage. Chocolate poisoning has no antidote.

4. Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many products, including sweets and medicines. This sweetener is toxic to dogs, so you must look carefully at the product label before giving a food to your dog. The toxic dose for dogs is 75–100 mg/kg (chewing gum has approximately 1 gram of xylitol).

Clinical signs of xylitol poisoning in dogs include:
  • Mild form — It causes mild hypoglycemia and is manifested by apathy, tremors, and lethargy. It has a favorable prognosis.
  • Severe form — It causes vomiting, diarrhea, wobbly walking, hepatotoxicity, severe hypoglycemia, and hypoglycemic coma. It has a severe prognosis and often leads to death.

In the mild form of intoxication, a surplus of carbohydrates can be administered to maintain a glycemic value within limits, but in the severe form, hospitalization is recommended, as your dog will need supportive treatment and blood glucose monitoring every 2–4 hours.

cute sick dog waiting for the vet
Image Credit: Utku Demirsoy, Shutterstock

5. Human Foods Toxic to Dogs

Apart from chocolate, other foods are potentially toxic for dogs. The most common are:
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Avocado

The mechanism of toxicity of grapes and raisins is unknown, but if they are ingested by dogs, they can lead to kidney failure. The clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia, abdominal pain, and others. Kidney failure develops within 24–72 hours of ingestion, and most dogs die or are euthanized.

Onions, chives, and garlic can damage red blood cells and cause anemia. They can also cause gastrointestinal irritation if ingested. Avocado contains persin, a substance found in the plant’s leaves, fruit, seeds, and bark that can cause gastrointestinal disorders (vomiting and diarrhea) in dogs.

Treatment is generally supportive, as there are no antidotes.

6. Alcohol

Even small amounts of alcohol can be toxic to dogs. Both ethanol (the alcohol in beer, wine, and spirits) and hops (the main ingredient in beer) can cause alcohol poisoning in dogs.

Signs may include:
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • High body temperature
  • Restlessness
  • Sleepiness
  • Excessive panting
  • Muscle tremors and convulsions

In severe cases or if left untreated, alcohol poisoning can cause severe internal organ problems and death. So, don’t put your dog’s life in danger just for a few minutes of fun, and take your pet to the vet immediately if they have consumed alcohol.

7. Plants Toxic to Dogs

Dogs are not big lovers of houseplants like cats, but plant poisoning can occur in dogs too. The most “loved” houseplants are Dieffenbachia or Philodendron, which contain insoluble calcium oxalates.

In general, ingestion of plants rarely leads to severe clinical signs or death. The most common signs of plant poisoning in dogs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Hypersalivation
  • Diarrhea

However, lilies and sago palms are toxic for dogs because they can cause kidney and liver failure, respectively. Plants like chrysanthemums can lead to respiratory failure and death.

The treatment consists of induced vomiting if the plant was ingested no more than 2–4 hours prior. IV fluids will be administered mainly to support body functions.

vet examining a dog in the clinic
Image Credit: ARVD73, Shutterstock

8. Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs

Antifreeze poisoning is a common problem among dogs, especially at the beginning of the cold season. The ethylene glycol in the antifreeze component is the substance that makes it so poisonous, even in small quantities, being extremely toxic for the brain, kidneys, and liver.

Antifreeze poisoning is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary assistance. Clinical signs include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Loss of coordination (the dog seems “drunk”)
  • Muscle contractions
  • Short and quick movements of the eyeball
  • Shaking of the head
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

The treatment includes supportive therapy and administration of the antidote. If the veterinarian institutes the treatment less than 5 hours after the antifreeze was ingested, your dog has a high chance of survival.

9. Intoxication With Slug & Snail Bait in Dogs

Slug and snail baits contain metaldehyde, a deadly substance for dogs, even in small quantities. Clinical signs are observed within a few minutes to a few hours and include:

  • Hypersalivation
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Tremors
  • Increased temperature
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

The treatment consists of inducing vomiting within 1 hour of ingestion and the administration of activated charcoal. Supportive therapy may also be administered.

10. Insecticide Poisoning in Dogs

Even though insecticides have become safer for mammals in recent decades, certain insecticide pellets and sprays can still cause problems. The most common toxicoses are caused by preventive products for fleas and ticks.

In dogs, insecticide poisoning can cause the following clinical signs:
  • Skin irritations
  • Hypersalivation
  • Nervous signs (e.g., uncontrolled movements of the ears and paws)
  • Depression
  • Incoordination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The treatment varies depending on the insecticide product with which your dog was poisoned. For example, if your dog has ingested insecticide granules, the vet will induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal and supportive care. In the case of poisoning with anti-parasitic substances, the vet will wash your dog with special substances that eliminate toxins and administer supportive treatment.

vet checking a dog's stomach at his clinic
Image Credit: Dragon Images, Shutterstock

11. Rodenticide Poisoning in Dogs

The purpose of rodenticides is to get rid of mice and rats. However, these products are dangerous for dogs and can cause death if ingested. Most rodenticides contain anticoagulant substances that cause internal bleeding. Clinical signs include:

  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy

Internal bleeding is not evident externally. Rodenticides do not produce signs of poisoning for several days after the toxic dose has been consumed (after about 3–7 days, the clinical signs become more obvious).

The treatment will be administered depending on the type of rodenticide that your dog ingested. For example, if your dog has consumed rodenticides with anticoagulant substances, the treatment will consist of the administration of antihemorrhagic drugs and supportive therapy.

12. Chlorine Poisoning in Dogs

Some owners use chlorine or other substances that kill viruses and bacteria to disinfect their pet’s paws and ensure that their four-legged friend will not spread them around the house. But these cause burns and great discomfort, and once ingested, they can even be deadly.

If your dog has ingested diluted chlorine, the clinical signs will not be that severe (hypersalivation, mild vomiting, anorexia or depression, and diarrhea). But ingesting undiluted chlorine can cause significant corrosive damage to your dog’s digestive tract.

In case of poisoning with chlorine or other corrosive substances, do not try to induce vomiting. Your veterinarian may recommend that you give your pet water or milk. Treatment generally consists of supportive care with IV fluids.

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It is recommended to keep potentially toxic products, substances, or foods away from the prying paws of dogs. When you are unsure whether something is safe for your dog, it is best not to give it to them and to ask the veterinarian about it. Do not try to induce vomiting at home, as you risk doing more harm, unless your vet has told you otherwise. Take your dog to the vet immediately if they have ingested a toxic substance or product. Do not wait for time to pass because your dog’s life depends on how fast you respond.

Featured Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

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