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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Poisoning, General View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Pets can poison themselves by swallowing something that tastes good to them such as chocolate candy, rat bait, antifreeze (which has a sweet flavor), or poisonous houseplants.


Poisons cause a wide range of symptoms that can develop within minutes or even days later. The signs depend on the kind of poison, the amount of exposure, and the individual pet.

Flea product toxicity will produce salivation, lacrimation (watering eyes), urination, defecation, and dyspnea (labored breathing). These symptoms generally develop within about 20 minutes. Other poisons, like warfarin (rat bait) often contain anti-coagulant ingredients that make the poisoned pet bleed internally, and even after the pet has been treated, signs can continue for up to 6 weeks. Antifreeze affects the central nervous system within a few hours. An antifreeze poisoned pet acts drunk at first but then returns to normal before ultimately suffering kidney failure, coma, and death. Poisoned pets can also suffer seizures.


A poison is any substance that is harmful to the body. Dogs, being curious by nature, tend to explore out of the way places such as wood piles, weed thickets, and storage areas. These environments put them into contact with insects, dead animals, toxic plants, and poison baits. It also means the exact cause of poisoning will not be known in many cases.

Intentional, malicious poisoning is a factor to consider whenever a dog is found dead with no apparent cause. However, several studies have shown that most cases of sudden death are caused by accidents and natural events. Malicious poisoning does occur, but it is far less common than accidental poisoning.

Flea products designed for dogs are often too strong for cats, and insecticides that are safe when used alone can turn deadly if you combine them. For instance, a flea and tick collar along with a spot-on treatment (a liquid insecticide that is applied to your pets coat) can build up toxicity on a cumulative basis. Pets can also be poisoned by having something spilled on their fur like gasoline, motor oil or other coal-tar toxins, or by being exposed to phenol-containing products like Lysol.


Diagnosis can be made by witnessing the event, or observing symptoms.


If your pet ingests an substance, it is important to determine whether that substance is a poison. Most products have labels that list their ingredients, but if the label doesn't tell you the composition and toxicity of the product, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 for specific information. The poison control center has a staff of licensed veterinarians and board-certified toxicologists on call 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You will be charged a consultation fee of $50 (USD) per case, which can be charged to most credit cards. There is no charge for follow up calls in critical cases. At your request, they will also contact your veterinarian. You can also click here: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/ for more information, including a list of toxic and non-toxic plants with images.

Other poison control hotlines include the Angell Animal Poison Control Hotline, operated by Angell Animal Medical Centers and the Massachusetts SPCA (1-877-226-4355, http://www.mspca.org/programs/angell-poison-control/, and the Animal Poison Hotline operated by the North Shore Animal League and PROSAR International Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-232-8870.

In some cases, you can call the emergency room at your local hospital, which may be able to give you information about how to treat the poison. Specific antidotes are available for some poisons, but they cannot be administered unless the poison is known, or at least suspected by the circumstances. Some product labels have phone numbers you can call for safety information about their products.

When signs of poisoning develop, the most important consideration is to get your dog to the nearest emergency veterinary facility at once. If possible, find the poison and bring the container with you. This provides the emergency personnel with an immediate diagnosis and expedites treatment.

If the pet has ingested the substance recently, residual poison is often present in the stomach. an initial and most important step is to rid the dog's stomach of any remaining poison. The most effective way to empty the stomach is to pass a stomach tube, remove as much of the stomach contents as possible, and then wash the stomach out with large volumes of water. This must be done by your veterinarian.

In many cases, it is preferable to induce vomiting at the scene rather than proceed directly to the veterinary hospital. For example, if you see the pet swallow the poisonous substance, it is obviously best to make the dog vomit it right back up. Similarly, if the poison was ingested within 2 hours but it will take 30 minutes or more to get to a veterinary facility, it is frequently advisable to induce vomiting at home.

Do not induce vomiting

  • If the pet has already vomited
  • If the pet is in a stupor, breathing with difficulty, or shows any sign of neurologic involvement
  • If the pet is unconscious or convulsing
  • If the pet has swallowed an acid, alkali, cleaning solution, household chemical, or petroleum product
  • If the pet has swallowed a sharp object that could lodge in the esophagus or perforate the stomach
  • If the product label says "Do not induce vomiting"

How to induce vomiting to prevent poison absorption - Induce vomiting by giving the dog hydrogen peroxide. A 3% solution is most effective. Give 1 teaspoon (5ml) per 10 pounds (4.5kg) of body weight. Repeat every 15 - 20 minutes, up to 3 times, until the dog vomits. Walking the dog after each dose may help stimulate vomiting.

Once the poison has been cleared from the pet's stomach, give him activated charcoal to bind any remaining poison and prevent further absorption. The most effective and easily administered home oral charcoal product is compressed activated charcoal, which comes in 5 gram tablets (recommended for a home emergency kit). The dose is 1/4 tablet per 10 pounds (4.5kg) of body weight. Products that some in a liquid or as a powder made into a slurry are extremely difficult to administer at home with a syringe or medicine bottle. The slurry is dense and gooey, and few pets will swallow it voluntarily. These products are best administered by stomach tube. This is routinely done by your veterinarian after flushing out the stomach.

If activated charcoal is not available, coat the intestines with milk and egg whites using 1/4 cup (60ml) egg whites and 1/4 cup milk per 10 pounds (4.5kg) of body weight. Administer into the dogs cheek pouch using a plastic syringe.

Intensive care in a veterinary hospital improves the survival rate for pets who have been poisoned. Intravenous fluids support circulation, treat shock, and protect the kidneys. A large urine output assists in eliminating the poison. Corticosteroids may be given for their anti-inflammatory effects. A pet in a coma may benefit from tracheal intubation and artificial ventilation during the acute phase of respiratory depression.

Seizures - Seizures caused by poisoning are associated with prolonged periods of hypoxia and the potential for brain damage. Continuous or recurrent seizures are controlled with intravenous diazepam (Valium) or barbiturates, which must be administered by a veterinarian.

Note that seizures caused by strychnine and other central nervous system poisons may be mistaken for epilepsy. This could pose a problem, because immediate veterinary attention is needed in poisoning cases, but not for most epileptic seizures. Seizures caused by poisoning are usually continuous or recur within minutes. Between seizures the dog may exhibit tremors, lack of coordination, weakness, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. In contrast, most epileptic seizures are brief, seldom lasting more than 2 minutes, and are followed by a quite period in which the pet appears dazed but otherwise normal. See Epilepsy for more information.

Contact Poisons - If your dog's skin or coat comes into contact with a poisonous substance or toxic chemical, flush the site with large amounts of water for 30 minutes. Wear rubber or plastic gloves and give the dog a complete bath in lukewarm water. Even if the substance is not irritating to the skin, it must be removed, otherwise the dog may lick it off and swallow it.


Keep all potentially toxic and poisonous materials out of reach of pets and children. Never keep poisonous plants in areas that are accessible to animals.


In an emergency, contact your veterinarian immediately to seek instructions on how to proceed. If your vet is unavailable, use one of the animal poisoning hotlines listed in the treatment section. The techniques listed here are for first aid situation stabilizing instances only, always seek veterinarian assistance when your pet has been poisoned.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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