Dog poisoning: Symptoms, Signs, And How To Prevent

Dogs are curious creatures. In fact, curiosity is a sign of health in dogs: the more inclined they are to explore their surroundings, the more they’ll engage their senses. But sometimes a dog’s curiosity can get them into trouble, especially when they’re putting their nose or mouth where it doesn’t belong.

Dog poisoning prevention is a year-round job. Even if your dog isn’t the curious type, understanding dog poisoning symptoms and what foods and other household objects (from anti-freeze to avocados) are poisonous to dogs will help you keep them safe. After all, knowledge is the best tool for dog poisoning prevention.

No matter how careful you are or how curious your dog is, accidents still happen. In this post, we’ll help you accurately identify signs of poisoning in dogs so you can take action and help them back to health.

Dog-proofing your house and yard

There’s plenty you can do around the house—inside and out—to prevent dog poisoning. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, seemingly small acts like securely storing trash bins and locking cabinets have a big impact, saving thousands of pets every year from being poisoned.

EXPERT TIP: To make your home as safe as possible for your dog, get down on their level and assess your surroundings from their perspective.

Whether you’re welcoming home a new puppy or you’ve decided to foster a dog, dog-proofing your home is a must. Sniff out possible danger by:

  • Removing small objects from their reach, like children’s toys or plug-ins
  • Cover or conceal electrical cords with protective panels or furniture
  • Keeping plants (even pet-safe plants) out of your dog’s reach
  • Securing garbage cans and compost lids
  • Locking up hazardous liquids in your home and in your garage
  • Safely storing human and canine medications and supplements
  • Restricting access to unsafe areas like mechanical rooms
  • Opting for dog-safe products when choosing everything from household cleaners to outdoor fertilizers

We recommend a thorough scan of your home and yard at least four times per year. Changing seasons often mean new products (and new possible toxicities) find their way into your home and into (or onto) your yard.

What causes poisoning in dogs?

There’s a long list of foods poisonous to dogs (more on that in a minute), but there are also a number of common household items that can have a similar or worse effect. Here are four of the top toxicity culprits:

EXPERT TIP: For the most part, pain and other prescription medications for humans are not safe for dogs. Never administer medication without consulting your veterinarian first.

  1. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: These range from vitamins, human pain meds like Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen), and common cold and flu medications.
  2. Prescription medications: Keeping heart medications, antidepressants, and other doctor-prescribed human meds safely out of reach helps keep everyone in your household (fur babies and human babies) safe.
  3. Veterinary products: Many vet-prescribed products are flavored to entice your dog to take them. Storing these products (like tasty routine deworming tablets) in a cabinet that they can’t access will prevent them from accidentally overindulging.
  4. Home reno supplies: Upgrading your home? Watch how and where you store things like paint, adhesives, and spackle, as these can be ingested and/or absorbed through their footpads or mucosal membranes

Despite your best efforts to dog-proof your home and yard, there is always the possibility your dog will nose their way into the garbage or pantry. When this happens, what do you do?

EXPERT TIP: Child-proof does not equal dog-proof when it comes to containers. Dogs have powerful jaws and sharp teeth that can tear or break open just about anything. Store your supplements and other vet-recommended products in a spare Waggle Mail dog subscription box!

Symptoms of dog poisoning

Different poisons affect dogs in different ways. Ingestion is not the only pathway to poisoning: dogs can also show signs of poisoning after absorbing toxins in contact with their skin or footpads, or by breathing them in. To make matters more complicated, some symptoms of dog poisoning happen immediately while others won’t present for several days.

Signs of dog poisoning may include:

  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Excessive drinking and peeing
  • Pale or yellowish gums
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and/or drooling
  • Dilated pupils, disoriented, and/or staggering
  • Nervousness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, seizures, and/or comatose

As you can imagine, these symptoms can cause your dog tremendous discomfort and pain (and are distressing for you as their parent). Next, we’ll cover how to alleviate that mutual discomfort as quickly as possible.

What to do if your dog is showing signs of poisoning

The best thing you can do for your dog when you suspect they’ve been poisoned is to act fast and try to remain calm. It’s natural to feel scared when you see or suspect your dog is showing signs of dog poisoning but remember: if you’ve worked up, chances are they’ll get worked up (and become less cooperative), too.

Follow these five steps to get your dog the care they need:

  1. Gather and document the suspected/known dog poisoning material(s). Recording details like brand name, medication strength, and ingredients help your veterinary team decide what actions to take.
  2. Especially if your dog has been exposed to gas or noxious fumes, get your dog (and yourself) into fresh air as soon as possible.
  3. Wear protective gloves and use paper towels or clean rags to remove substances that may have been in contact with your dog’s body. Don’t use water or liquid soap unless instructed by a veterinarian.
    EXPERT TIP: Reach out to your veterinary team any time there’s a medical or health change with your dog. Up-to-date medical records (covering things like current medications, food and drug allergies, weight, and vaccination history) can significantly speed up the process of treating your dog.
  4. If your family veterinarian is not available, call a dog poisoning helpline such as Pet Poison Helpline (1-800-213-6680) or ASPCA Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435). They may instruct you to rush your dog to the nearest veterinary clinic.
  5. Even if you see your dog eat something, do not induce vomiting unless instructed by a veterinarian. Some toxic substances can cause more damage on the way up than they did on the way down. A professional may ask you to induce vomiting at home with 3% hydrogen peroxide. We believe every dog owner should have a bottle of this on hand; that’s why we include it in our Waggle Mail First Aid Kits.

Foods poisonous to dogs

We’re asked all the time (in a clinic and by our Waggle Mail subscribers) about whether certain foods are dog poisoning. Most of us know the usual suspects—things like chocolate and alcohol—are toxic to dogs, but we thought we’d share a few FAQs that range from pantry staples to specialty produce.

  • Are grapes poisonous to dogs?
    • Yes. Dogs may ingest grapes and raisins by eating the fruit off the plate or vine, or by licking up concentrated wine dressings. Because grapes put your dog at risk of kidney failure, they’re a no-go.
  • Are onions and garlic poisonous to dogs?
    • Yes. These veggies (including chives) and herbs cause gastrointestinal (GI) irritation, but in more serious cases they can damage your dog’s red blood cells. Make sure your onions (white, yellow, or red) are stored in a cupboard your dog can’t nudge open.
  • Are avocados poisonous to dogs?
    • No. Avocado pulp is not toxic, but keep your dog away from the pit as these can get lodged in dogs’ guts and cause an emergency blockage.
  • Are cherry pits and apple seeds poisonous to dogs?
    • Not really. The fruits themselves tend not to elicit a reaction beyond a small tummy ache. However, citrus fruits, in general, contain varying amounts of citric acid and essential oils in their stems, leaves, peels, and seeds, so it’s best to avoid them if possible.
  • Are cranberries poisonous to dogs?
    • No. Cranberries are a delicious dog treat that packs a punch: along with preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs), cranberries are high in Vitamin C and contain antioxidants that help neutralize and protect cells against aging.
  • Is baking soda poisonous to dogs?
    • Yes, in high concentrations. A small amount in a home-baked dog biscuit won’t harm your dog, but direct ingestion can cause sodium levels to spike. In severe cases (known as hypernatremia) baking soda ingestion may cause swelling in important organs like the brain.
  • Is raw potato poisonous to dogs?
    • Yes, in large amounts. What’s interesting about potatoes is that raw potatoes pose more of a risk than cooked potatoes (in moderation, of course). The same principle applies to tomatoes: as they ripen, the level of tomatine (toxic for dogs) decreases to become a non-toxic treat.
  • Is rice poisonous to dogs?
    • No. Rice is a pantry staple for dogs and humans alike. Many veterinarians recommend small, frequent meals of digestible foods like rice after GI upset. A mixture of cooked rice and lean chicken or hamburger should do the trick.
  • Are sugar and caramel poisonous to dogs?
    • Sugar is not toxic to dogs, but too much sugar might cause a tummy ache. On the other hand, xylitol (a sweetener found in things like caramel, gum, candy, and even toothpaste) is extremely toxic and should be avoided.
  • Is white chocolate poisonous to dogs?
    • This one depends on the amount ingested and the weight of your dog. The reason for the ambiguous answer is that all types of chocolate (including coffee and caffeine) contain varying concentrations of toxic methylxanthines. Your best bet is to keep all chocolate off-limits.
  • Are coconuts poisonous to dogs?
    • Not really. Small doses of coconut and coconut-based products don’t really cause concern, although the oils in coconut flesh and fresh milk may cause tummy troubles like diarrhea. Coconut water is a different story: its high potassium levels can cause hyperkalemia, which can impact the functioning of your dog’s heart.


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