What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol is absorbed into our pet’s bodies in as little as 30 minutes. The gastrointestinal tract rapidly absorbs this toxic substance, as does the skin. Products like rubbing alcohol, antifreeze, and even fermenting bread dough can cause poisoning in dogs. Most cases of alcohol poisoning in canines results from the ingestion of alcoholic drinks left unattended or spilled, though our pets are curious by nature and can easily become poisoned by ingesting other types such as antifreeze (which is quite palatable to dogs). Documentation has recorded many cases of toxicity resulting from dermal exposure as well, due to overuse of alcohol based flea sprays and alcohol containing detergents. As with any other household hazard, products containing alcohol must be kept out of reach of children and animals; incidences of severe poisoning can result in symptoms as dangerous as seizures and breathing difficulties which require a hospital stay and supportive measures in order to eliminate the toxin.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a dog ingests substances containing ethanol (like alcoholic drinks and liquid medications), isopropanol (such as flea sprays that are alcohol based), and methanol (as in windshield washer antifreeze). Toxicity occurs rapidly as the alcohol is quickly absorbed into the dog’s system.
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Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs
Dogs who have consumed toxic amounts of alcohol will begin to show the effects within 30 to 60 minutes. Symptoms can range from a mild intoxication to severe inebriation that can be life threatening. If you suspect that your dog has ingested a product like rubbing alcohol, uncooked bread dough, or cough medicine, or if is reacting to a shampoo, a visit to the clinic is needed. Your dog may show the following signs of poisoning.
- Loss of bodily control (ataxia)
- Excitement which changes to depression
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow heart rate (brachycardia)
- Heart rhythm problems
Death can occur due to:
- Respiratory distress
- Low body temperature
- Low blood sugar
- Metabolic acidosis (too much acid in the body)
There is also risk of aspiration pneumonia if your dog inhales his vomitus. Eye irritation can occur if liquid containing alcohol splashes into the eyes.
Isopropanol (twice as toxic as ethanol)
- Alcohol based flea spray
- Some rubbing alcohols
- Windshield washer antifreeze
- Alcoholic drinks
- Some rubbing alcohols
- Medications like cough syrup or decongestants
- Fermenting bread dough
Causes of Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs
- Alcohol is absorbed very quickly by the canine body, whether it be dermal or by ingestion
- Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, ethanol to acetaldehyde, methanol to formaldehyde, and isopropanol to acetone
- The central nervous system experiences depression due to the alcohol
- Hypothermia and hypoglycemia are secondary to the toxicosis
- Alcohol is an irritant of the gastric mucosa which triggers vomiting
- Excessive vomiting leads to dehydration
Diagnosis of Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs
If you are aware or suspect that your pet has consumed or has been over exposed to a form of alcohol, immediate veterinary care is essential. Your dog may show signs as early as a few minutes after ingestion but do not wait for symptoms to appear before heading to the clinic. Bring the packaging with you (the bottle of cough medicine, the flea spray, or the rubbing alcohol container for example) as it helps the veterinary team to know exactly what type of alcohol poisoning they are dealing with.
Your veterinarian will take the vital signs of your pet which can indicate heart rate abnormalities or respiratory challenges. A blood test can indicate blood alcohol levels, which are extremely important to know as the team moves forward with the treatment plan. Your canine companion’s symptoms will indicate the level of intoxication, too and you may even smell the scent of alcohol on your dog’s breath.
Treatment of Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs
The veterinarian will make stabilizing your dog the first priority. If the alcohol was consumed under 40 minutes prior, the veterinary team may induce vomiting (especially if your furry family member is asymptomatic). In addition, the readjustment of body temperature and adequate ventilation are needed to bring your dog back to normal. Most dogs who succumb to alcohol poisoning do so because of dangerously low body temperature, respiratory distress, and low blood sugar.
Intravenous fluids consisting of electrolytes will work to get your dog’s kidneys and urine outflow back to normal (as well as to aid in the elimination of the alcohol). Your dog may have been dehydrated which adds to the nausea created by the alcohol. Seizure medication and tracheal intubation may be needed if the symptoms are severe.If your pet has had a dermal exposure, his skin and coat will be gently shampooed.
Recovery of Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs
Alcohol poisoning is known to affect the brain of an animal first, then the respiratory system, followed by the cardiovascular system. Recovery of these areas, as well as other bodily functions and normalcies, can take time. With a mild to moderate exposure, symptoms can be lessened within 4 hours. With a more serious case, a canine may have to be hospitalized for a minimum of 24 hours. Once home, your pet will benefit from a warm, quiet place to rest. Be vigilant in the future when storing products containing alcohol out of the reach of children and pets.
Alcohol Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My golden retriever was in perfect health and a very well behaved and loved dog. We suspect that she might have been poisoned. The man who carried her body after she died had a severe allergic reaction and had to be rushed to the hospital due to inability to breath. He is not allergic to dogs. They sealed her body and refused to do a necropsy or to cremate because they didn’t want to risk the safety of the workers. She was fine the night before and she passed away at 11am the next morning. She had been let out for potty and play from 7-11. No rat poisoning found in yard or any other substance.
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Did my dog died from poisoning or because of the anti rabbis vaccine? He had anti rabbis vaccine two weeks ago but he was active not until the last two days. He was still hyper two nights before but he suddenly became lethargic and he was already vomiting. Before, he eats everything in his plate even though he is already full but suddenly he doesn't even drink a sip of water. This morning he was too thin already and suddenly lost his balance this night. We planned on taking him on a veterinarian tomorrow morning but he died a few hours ago. But he already smells like he already died for two days when he was just dying at that time. Please help me. Thank you very much.
Sudden death in puppies is always stressful and upsetting; I cannot tell you the cause, a necropsy would give you more information. Rabies vaccines usually cause a reaction within hours or days of administration, two weeks is a long time between vaccination and death (although it is a possibility); puppies may be born with congenital disorders or with infections (like cardiac parvo) which may cause death at an early age, obviously poisoning may affect a dog at any age. Again, a necropsy would be valuable if you are looking for definitive answers. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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