Signs and Symptoms Of Poisoning In Dogs

Every year we hear hundreds of stories about dogs being poisoned at the park or even in their own backyard.

Perhaps your dog is acting weird and you’ve heard these horror stories.

In this article, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of dog poisoning and how you can recognise if your dog has been poisoned.

dog lying on ground looking sick a sign and symptom of poisoning in dogs

If you prefer to watch a video, Dr Leigh discusses signs and symptoms of poisoning in dogs in this video.

How To Tell If A Dog Has Been Poisoned?

It can be difficult to give an exact answer to this question.

Poisons can affect different body systems and consequently, the effects they have on the body are different:

  • Poisons that affect the Gastrointestinal system can cause
    • vomiting
    • drooling
    • diarrhoea
    • retching/gagging
    • oral irritation
  • Poisons that affect the cardiovascular system
    • elevated or decreased heart rate
    • elevated or decreased respiratory rate
    • elevated or decreased blood pressure
  • Poisons that affect the liver and/or kidneys
    • kidney failure
    • liver failure
  • Poisons that affect the skin
    • irritation and itch – dermatitis
    • hairloss
    • swelling, redness
    • 2° photosensitisation
  • Poisons that affect the neurological system
    • agitation
    • wobbliness
    • tremors
    • convulsions

Obviously, not all poisons and toxins act the same way so symptoms will differ however there are general themes that can guide us to what the causative problem may be. 

And we need to remember that there are many potential poisons that can affect our pets, found in many different places:

  • those in the garden
  • in our homes 
  • certain foods 
  • medications 

If you haven’t already, make sure you check out our article about common cat and dog poisons to learn what toxins you should make sure to keep out of reach of your pets.

Common toxic substances that we see include dogs eating mushrooms, dogs licking or eating rat bait or ant bait and in the colder regions dogs ingesting antifreeze that’s dripped from your vehicle. 

When in doubt, contact our vets 24/7 to get a plan of action. 

Gastrointestinal Signs Of Poisoning

pug dog vomit chocolate

When a dog has consumed a toxic substance, vets will often induce vomiting to aid decontamination.

 

The most common symptom for many poisons is gastrointestinal signs such as drooling, regurgitation, vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Yes, these signs can be caused by a number of things unrelated to poisoning, so the next question is – when do we need to become concerned that this is more than a simple stomach upset and take action?

If your dog is looking bright and alert, has only had a couple of vomits or diarrhoea bouts and is still acting pretty normal, then it’s highly unlikely that they have suffered from poisoning unless you’ve just witnessed them eat something they shouldn’t have. 

If however, they are dull, depressed and you see other things in their vomit and diarrhoea such as blood, seeds or a colour change (i.e. very yellow vomit) then it is worthwhile seeking vet advice as poisoning could be a possible cause. 

Neurological Signs Of Poisoning

The next common group of signs that we see with poisonings are neurological symptoms. 

This includes signs such as wobbliness, twitching, tremors, convulsions and seizures. 

If you notice any of these signs, even if mild it is recommended that you contact a vet asap. 

While not all these signs mean it must be poisoning, you don’t want these symptoms to progress and they tend to progress quickly. 

An example of a poisonous plant that produces neurological signs is Brunsfelsia (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow).

All parts of the plant – flowers, leaves, stems and seeds are poisonous.

If you want more information about plants that are poisonous to pets we produced an in-depth guide for you to download.

top ten poisonous plants for pets

 

Alterations To Blood As A Sign Of Poisoning

Blood problems are our next symptom that we commonly see with poisonings in particular with rat bait poisoning; one of the most common poisonings that vets see. 

Changes to blood parameters and the associated symptoms may not be apparent for a couple of days after ingestion of the poison, so if you see these signs you must seek veterinary attention immediately. 

Subtle signs that indicate that there is a problem with the blood that you might notice include:

  • Lethargy
  • Soft cough
  • Increased respiratory rate, shallow breathing or increased effort 
  • Petechial haemorrhage – red spots on their belly and between their legs, white of eye 
  • Bleeding nose, gums, mouth
  • Blood in their faeces or vomit 
  • Very pale gums
  • Black tarry faeces 

Like many things, it’s important to know what your dog’s normal vital signs are so that you can recognise when something is abnormal. 

dog abdomen with red circular lesions that indicate haemorrhage

Red circular lesions are petechial haemorrhage. This is a common sign seen in dogs who have eaten rat bait.

 

Cardiovascular Symptoms Of Poisoning

The heart and lungs are another area that is often affected by poisons. 

Heart

Many poisons elevate the heart rate so that it is beating much faster than normal putting extra strain on this muscle. 

The most common poison that does this is Chocolate!

Sometimes this increase in speed, combined with electrolyte imbalances in the blood leads to the heart beating erratically, otherwise known as having an arrhythmia. 

Heart arrhythmia can be fatal by itself or it can result in reduced blood flow that can have knock-on effects to other organs such as kidneys. 

Our article on how to do a physical examination on your pet has details of how to assess your dog’s heart rate. 

measuring dog heart rate hand on dog chest phone timer

Feel your dog’s heart rate on the left-hand side of the chest. Count how many beats in 15s and multiply by 4 to give the number of beats per minute.

 

Briefly, larger dogs have a lower heart rate while smaller dogs have a faster rate. 

It’s best to learn what is normal for your dog so you can tell when you need to take action. 

Most larger breed dogs have a HR from 60-100bpm while smaller dog breeds are 100-140bpm. 

If your dog is experiencing rates higher than 140bpm at rest, they need to see a vet. 

Your dog’s heart should also have a regular rhythm. 

If it feels irregular, jumping all over the place and your dog is lethargic, it’s possible that they have an arrhythmia and it’s best to seek veterinary advice immediately. 

Arrhythmias can be particularly nasty and result in sudden death.

Lungs

If the lungs are affected by a poison, then usually you will notice a fast breathing rate. 

Again, it’s always good to know what normal is – so count the number of breaths in a minute.

Dogs that are relaxed and not panting normally have a breathing rate between 10 and 35 times per minute. 

Sometimes we also notice that there is a lot of effort to breathe. 

If your dog is struggling to breathe you may see a lot of abdominal movement. 

They may move their elbows away from their body and stretch their neck out and breathe through their mouth. 

This is in an attempt to aid the movement of air into their lungs. 

 

If you notice any vital signs that suggest that your dog is struggling to breathe, GO TO THE VET ASAP

 

Poisoning Symptoms Related To Kidney And Liver

Kidney

The kidneys and liver play a vital role in how a body removes toxins from the blood. 

Many poisons are excreted via these organs and in the process cause irreparable damage to them resulting in organ failure. 

Damage to the kidneys can occur very quickly and initially, the symptoms will seem very non-specific for poisoning such as:

  1. lethargy, 
  2. perhaps they go off their food, 
  3. they might have the occasional vomit. 

Over the course of 24 hours, these signs often progress to an increase in drinking, but no increase in urination, more vomiting and then as it worsens your pet may just collapse. 

Urine may also change colour. 

Liver

Liver damage has similar symptoms, although you may also see the gums and whites of the eye turn a yellowish colour.

severe sign of jaundice yellow dog mouth

Jaundice (the yellow colour) can be a sign of poisoning in dogs.

 

Other Signs That Your Dog May Have Been Poisoned

Of course, there are many more signs that could indicate that your dog has been poisoned – things like hyperactivity, star gazing, vocalisation and fever to name just a few. 

Bottom line, if you are concerned, your dog is behaving abnormally or their vital signs are not typical for them, get in touch with a vet.

 

What To Do If  A Dog Has Been Poisoned or In An Emergency

If you are worried that your dog has been poisoned it is far better to get in touch with our registered vets to determine if you need to get your dog to a clinic. 

Timing is critical for the appropriate treatment of poisoning and often decontamination by inducing vomiting is all that is needed to save your dog from a life-threatening outcome. 

We recommend:

  1. Remove your dog from the source of the toxin
  2. Immediately contact our vets for advice
  3. Keeping safe yourself, collect a sample of the poison or the packaging
  4. Go to the vet if required, keep calm
  5. Give the vet the packaging or sample

How Long Does It Take For Dog To Show Signs Of Poisoning

How quickly signs of toxicity occur in your dog will depend on the type and potency of the poison that they have come into contact with. 

Some plant poisons that are ingested such as Yesterday Today Tomorrow, begin to show neurological tremor signs in dogs after about 4-6 hours. 

Inhaled poisons can cause respiratory symptoms within minutes. 

How To Stop A Dog From Being Poisoned

Like all these things prevention is far better than cure.

It’s wise to become familiar with the common poisons that can affect your dog and ensure that they have absolutely no access to them.

Invest in lockable cupboards or sheds so that it is impossible for your dog to open. 

As always, if you have any questions or stories you’d like to share, pop them down in the comments section below. We’d love to hear all about them. 

 

 

 

 

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