First-aid for poisonous substances

In an emergency, if you can’t make it to a veterinarian, you need to know what to do.

One of the worst feelings as a dog owner is knowing that your dog has accidentally ingested something poisonous. Maybe you came into the room and saw the evidence — chocolate wrappers partially chewed and scattered on the floor, or the cabinet under the sink ajar and cleaning products spilled.

Or maybe you noticed that your otherwise healthy dog suddenly started acting strange, and their condition keeps getting worse. You suspect they ate something toxic, but you have no idea what. You know time is of the essence, but that’s about it. Call your veterinarian or local emergency veterinary clinic immediately. If you think you know what your dog may have eaten, tell the vet the brand name, ingredient list, how much your dog ate, when they ate it, and approximately how much they weigh.

With this information, your veterinarian should know if there is cause for concern, how critical the situation is, and whether it’s okay for you to try to induce vomiting at home.

If you’re not sure if your dog ate anything or what they may have eaten, but they appear acutely ill and rapidly deteriorating, you need to get to a veterinarian right away.

If for some reason you cannot reach a veterinary professional, or you can call the ASPCA 24/7 Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. There are fees for the services, but it’s well worth it.

Some poisons are more dangerous than others. Some are only toxic when ingested in large amounts, whereas some are deadly with just a tiny bit. The information you get from Poison Control could save your dog’s life, or it could save you an unnecessary trip to the veterinarian.

If you can’t find local veterinary help right away, Poison Control will offer first-aid tips. They can tell you if it’s safe and how to induce vomiting at home, and they can explain how critical it is to get your dog to a veterinary clinic right away. For instance, if a toxic dose of bromethalin rat poison was ingested, it’s imperative your dog receive life-saving hospitalized care as soon as possible.

When pets ingest inappropriate objects or toxins, making them vomit may not always be the right thing to do. In fact, induction of emesis is sometimes contraindicated. That’s why it’s so important for owners to consult with a veterinarian or veterinary poison control center to discuss the best course of action in each specific instance.  If needed, they will administer activated charcoal with or without an added cathartic like sorbitol to minimize absorption of the toxin. For severe cases of ingestion of lipid-soluble toxins, like bromethalin rodenticide, they may give the dog intravenous lipid emulsion therapy.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. When you become a member of the Riney Canine Health Center, you will receive a free subscription to DogWatch.

Updated March 2024