What is Ethanol Poisoning ?
Many common household products contain alcohol, including obvious sources like alcoholic drinks and rubbing alcohol as well as less obvious places like coolants, medication, and even raw bread dough. With their smaller size, dogs have a much lower toxicity level to alcohol than humans, and this combined with their indiscriminate eating habits makes them more susceptible to ethanol or alcohol poisoning. Dogs can also absorb alcohol through the skin and may develop toxicity from the overuse of some alcohol based flea sprays. As well as becoming visibly intoxicated, dogs can exhibit severe central nervous system symptoms, hypothermia, vomiting, and diarrhea. The liver converts alcohol into various acids which can result in metabolic acidosis. Unlike humans, dogs won’t develop blindness through ingestion of rubbing alcohol, but severe toxicity will eventually lead to coma and respiratory failure.
Products containing alcohol can be poisonous for your dog. Veterinarians define this as alcohol or ethanol poisoning. Dogs develop symptoms of toxicity at much lower doses than humans and extreme cases can be fatal.
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Symptoms of Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms usually begin ½ to 1 hour after ingestion and may get progressively worse as toxicity increases. More severe symptoms will need medical help, so try to get your dog to see a veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of the following signs:
- Excessive salivation
- Excessive thirst
- Respiratory symptoms
These are the three types of alcohol most commonly responsible for ethanol poisoning in dogs, as well as some of the places where they can be found:
Ethanol – least toxic of the three substances, but symptoms should still be treated
- Alcoholic beverages
- Some rubbing alcohol
- Drug elixirs
- Raw bread dough
Methanol – toxic dose for dogs is 4-8 mL/kg, symptoms still present with lower doses
- Windshield washer fluid
- Other coolants
Isopropanol – twice as toxic as ethanol, symptoms can develop with any dose above .5 mL/kg
- Some rubbing alcohol
- Alcohol based flea sprays
(Some forms of antifreeze contain ethylene glycol instead of methanol. This is extremely toxic to dogs at doses of only a few teaspoons. Initial symptoms look similar to ethanol poisoning, but severe acidosis and kidney failure develops quickly. If you think your dog may have drunk antifreeze, check the ingredients so the veterinarian can make an accurate diagnosis.)
Causes of Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs
Ingestion of a substance containing alcohol
- Rubbing alcohol
- Cough or cold medication
- Bread dough
- Fermented or spoiled food
Absorption of alcohol through the skin
- Over-use of clinical spray
- Rolling in a fluid containing alcohol
- Walking through fluid containing alcohol
- Accidental spill
Diagnosis of Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs
There are many poison control hotlines for dogs. This can be a good place to call if your dog’s regular veterinarian is unavailable. Diagnosis is generally based on the symptoms. When signs of inebriation are accompanied by vomiting it suggests alcohol poisoning. Sometimes the smell of alcohol on the breath can be an additional indication. If you can trace the source of the poisoning this will be extremely helpful. You will be able to identify the exact substance and possibly even the amount your dog has absorbed.
The veterinarian can usually confirm a diagnosis of alcohol poisoning by checking your dog’s blood alcohol level. Bringing along a container of the substance you think your dog ingested may be helpful so that the vet can check for other harmful ingredients. Different poisons require different treatments, so accurately identifying the agent can be very important.
Treatment of Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs
If you know you dog has had a dermatological exposure, bathing with a mild shampoo is a good immediate treatment to halt absorption. Encourage your dog to drink water to decrease dehydration until you are able to get treatment. Follow any instructions given through a poison hotline.
The veterinarian will treat symptoms of dehydration with electrolyte injections or IV fluids. Diuretics may also be given to further aid the elimination of alcohol in the urine. If the ingestion is recent, vomiting may be induced to avoid any further absorption. In the past, activated charcoal was given to animals with ethanol poisoning, but this is not currently thought to be effective. If your dog is experiencing seizures, they can be controlled with diazepam. Medication can also be given to restart respiratory function in severely comatose animals, although this level of toxicity is much harder to treat.
Recovery of Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs
Many dogs will make a complete recovery, depending on the level of toxicity and the immediacy of treatment. However, prevention is by far the best way to manage ethanol poisoning in dogs.
Some people still find it amusing to give alcoholic beverages to dogs and observe their reactions. This should be strongly discouraged. The level of alcohol which is harmful to dogs is much lower than with humans, so there isn’t an amount of alcohol which is “safe” for you dog. Also be aware that the overuse of some sprays can result in intoxication.
Preventing accidental ingestion can be even more important. Store all cleaners, coolants, and medication in securely sealed containers. Do not leave open bottles unattended. Avoid leaving alcoholic drinks on counters or tabletops. Dogs are attracted by sweet tasting liquids and even the most well behaved dog can be tempted once your back is turned.
Try to think from your dog’s point of view. Old fermented food that you throw in the trash, uncooked bread dough or spilled antifreeze may all appear appetizing. If you can keep your dog away from potential sources, this will greatly reduce the risk of poisoning.
Ethanol Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Miniature 15 lb poodle ingested approx .1 oz (1/10 of an oz of 62% ethyl alcohol) hand sanitizer. No symptoms after 30 mins. Vet emergency?
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My dog ate some throw up from my father who was drunk before he threw up. We think it is alcohol poisoning. Now he is really weak. Previous to this he ate some cat poop from the yard. Now he is really sick. Please help. What can I do for him? I think he might die and I’m really scared. What can I do for Rocky? I want to give him 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with water. Is that a good idea? He ate the cat poop and throw up all on Friday and now it’s Saturday.
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