I got a phone call on Thanksgiving morning from a worried client. Her son was on prescription medication and he dropped the pill on the floor of the kitchen. Lucy, their dog snarfed up the pill. They had called National Animal Poison Control – wisely. Their instructions were to NOT make the dog vomit. More on this later. Instead, they were instructed to go to their veterinary clinic, us, to administer activated charcoal.
Activated Charcoal for Pets
Activated charcoal is a liquid form of charcoal, that comes in two versions, one with and one without sorbitol. This medication prevents the absorption of toxins and drugs. Administering activated charcoal is a feat. It has to go down the dog with encouragement or a feeding tube. Thankfully in this case at the clinic we treated Lucy with activated charcoal and she was just fine and lived many more years.
Should I Induce Vomiting in My Dog?
Bottom line here – inducing vomiting is NOT always the best approach if our dogs eat something toxic or inedible. Sometimes, the toxin is caustic and so irritating that it will cause damage on the way back up – like if our pets eat bleach or batteries. In the case I discussed at the beginning of this article, the act of making the pill come back up could have overstimulated the dog with this medication and caused a seizure. The most important thing to remember, before making your dog vomit, is to call your vet or an emergency animal poison control number to get their advice.
I know there are recommendations all over the internet endorsing the use of hydrogen peroxide for the purpose of making a dog vomit, but hydrogen peroxide can be dangerous. Very dangerous. We have had one dog throw an air embolism to her brain and one cat who died from the use of peroxide orally.
One product on the market is designed to help us with this problem. The FDA approved the drug, Clevor, in June of 2020. It is useful for helping us with dogs that eat toxins or other indigestible items.
What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Something Toxic?
You would be surprised what a dog will eat. We have seen socks, baby pacifiers, popsicle sticks, metal shards, pens, razors, underwear, and toys go down. And dogs will happily eat candy including the wrappers, sugarless gum and candy containing xylitol, chocolate, drugs, meat wrappers, rat poison, even light bulbs. While it’s impossible to list every item a dog could eat, here are a few of the more common culprits and my advice:
Mouse or Rat Poison: Retrieve the package, read the type of toxin, and contact Poison Control for advice on inducing vomiting and treatment. The amount consumed, length of time since consumption, size of the dog, and type of poison will dictate treatment. The safest mouse and rat poisons contain corn gluten. These are non-toxic to pets and should be the ONLY types of these poisons used in households, kennels, barns, shops, or other areas with pets.
The most common rodent poisons interfere with vitamin K metabolism. Vitamin K is not the same as vitamin K1. Vitamin K1 is the specific antidote for this type of rodenticide. Inducing vomiting and vitamin K1 administration will usually prevent bleeding. Blood work to assess blood clotting is essential to managing this toxin exposure. Sometimes vitamin K3 is used when poisons like these are ingested, however, vitamin K3 is a synthetic version that is sometimes toxic and can actually lead to red blood cell destruction. So vitamin K1 is the best and safest option. If not diagnosed in time, a blood transfusion may be necessary to prevent death.
Some of the newer mouse and rat poisons alter vitamin D metabolism, causing the dog’s blood calcium to spike. Left untreated, these dogs will die of kidney failure.
Chocolate: This is over-rated as a toxin. True chocolate toxicity is not common. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is. Most chocolate consumed is milk chocolate or chocolate combined with other treat such as peanut butter. As risky as the chocolate is, the wrappers may be more risky. The risk with chocolate is the metabolite is a stimulant, which can be toxic. Contact your veterinarian or poison control with the type of chocolate, length of time since ingestion, size of the dog, and symptoms to determine the best course of treatment.
Alcohol: Even a tiny amount of alcohol can be toxic to our pets. Avoid all alcohol exposure, including beer, wine, and hard liquor. Ingestion will cause symptoms similar to that seen in humans, including incoordination, vomiting and death. Seek veterinary assistance if you believe your cat or dog drank alcohol.
Coffee/Caffeine: This is a stimulant in dogs and cats, as it is in people. Remember, even a small amount can cause symptoms. Do not induce vomiting without veterinary advice.
Grapes/Raisins: Veterinarians do not understand why some dogs develop kidney failure after ingesting raisins or grapes. There is not a known association with grape variety, where they are grown, what they are treated with and so on. Avoid feeding these to your dog and contact your veterinarian if there is an exposure. Vomiting, charcoal, and IV fluids with monitoring blood work may be indicated.
Sugarless Candy: Candy and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be toxic at even a low dose. Low doses will cause low blood sugar, and associated weakness, staggering, and seizures. Higher doses will cause liver damage. If ingestion is suspected, feed ice cream to the dog immediately. Find the packaging and go directly to your veterinary clinic. Your veterinarian will do blood work, start IV fluids containing glucose or dextrose, and will provide other supportive care including hospitalization as indicated.
Human Medication: There are so many kinds of medications we cannot cover all of them. Some are toxic at low doses, such as ibuprofen, some are toxic at higher doses and some are fairly safe. Of course, no human medications should be administered to your pet without the advice of your veterinarian. Should you suspect or have knowledge of accidental ingestion, contact Poison Control or your veterinary clinic for advice on how to manage this situation.
My Dog Ate an Ant Trap
Ant poisons are rarely toxic to our pets. Most ant poisons are sweet, to attract the ants. Unfortunately, dogs like sweets too. Ant traps usually contain boric acid, fipronil (like in Frontline) and other toxins. Most of these are not toxic to our dogs. However, the plastic ant trap pieces can cause upset to the stomach or intestinal blockage if the pieces are large. Avoid putting the ant traps where your dog can reach them and if you discover your cat or dog ate ant bait contact your veterinarian.
National Animal Poison Control Center
The National Animal Poison Control Center is one of the best resources for help with animal poisonings in the country. To the surprise of many clients, there is a fee associated with this service. Most people are unaware that local poison control phone numbers they use for their children in cases of exposure are funded by our government. Our animals don’t have that funding. So a credit card must be provided at the initiation of the call to cover the expense, which is under $100. Their phone number is 888.426.4435. A second option is the Pet Poison Hotline at 855.764.7661. Additionally, some products may have a phone number on their package you can call in an emergency for assistance. Unlike the first two services, these may not be 24/7 services so keep the alternative numbers handy for immediate action.
If you have a dog who has a tendency to find trouble, be prepared. Know who your veterinary resources are before you need them. Avoid handling your medications with pets underfoot. Keep chocolate, candy, and medications safely out of reach. Turning your back even for a second will allow your pet to find their way into your purse, your kid’s backpacks, the incoming bags of groceries, and wrapped gifts that may contain dangerous products. Keep them safely crated or behind baby gates if you can’t prevent exposures.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.