What is Nutmeg Poisoning?
Nutmeg, a common cooking and baking spice, is toxic to dogs. While eating the amount of nutmeg found in pastries and pies should not cause problems if a dog snags a bite, larger amounts of nutmeg can be harmful to a dog.
Nutmeg poisoning in dogs will occur when too much of the spice, which is often the equivalent of one nutmeg seed, is eaten. In contrast, a human would have to ingest 3 or more seeds to experience effects from it. Signs of toxicity from nutmeg can include dehydration, hallucinations, pain and seizures, and can turn fatal if left untreated.
Symptoms of Nutmeg Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms of nutmeg poisoning in dogs will appear in three to eight hours of exposure, and can last up to 48 hours. Signs of dehydration can occur, along with other symptoms, including:
- Pale gums
- Sticky saliva
- Difficulty walking
- Decreased body temperature
- Muscle tremors
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
Causes of Nutmeg Poisoning in Dogs
Nutmeg, derived from a tropical evergreen tree named Myristica fragrans, contains a substance that is toxic to dogs called myristicin. Long used as a hallucinogen in humans, myristicin is found in the oils inside the nutmeg seed. In addition to the myristicin, the seed is covered by veins of mace, another spice that is potentially harmful, causing agitation and disorientation. It is an ingredient in the self-defense product of the same name.
Many of the toxic effects in dogs arise from nutmeg’s hallucinogenic properties, such as disorientation, hallucinations, seizures and high blood pressure. A small amount of myristicin can cause minor stomach upset in dogs, but a large amount will cause much more serious symptoms, including the possibility of death.
The toxic threshold for nutmeg poisoning is 5 grams. (In humans the threshold is 10 - 15 grams, or the equivalent of 3 nutmeg seeds). In addition to side effects from ingesting nutmeg, inhaling nutmeg powder can cause lung damage in dogs.
Diagnosis of Nutmeg Poisoning in Dogs
Recognition of the signs and symptoms is important in the diagnosis of the toxic reaction of nutmeg ingestion. If you find evidence of, or observe your dog eating nutmeg, contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately. Nutmeg poisoning is a medical emergency. If care is not available, nutmeg poisoning can result in death.
A complete physical exam will confirm the diagnosis in most cases. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any known exposure to nutmeg, and an estimate of how much may have been ingested, along with any signs you have noticed in your dog. Blood tests may be obtained in the hospital to help diagnose nutmeg poisoning.
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Treatment of Nutmeg Poisoning in Dogs
Nutmeg poisoning is a medical emergency and must be medically treated for a positive outlook for the dog. It is critical that you contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital immediately if you suspect or know your dog has ingested nutmeg. The veterinarian and staff will attempt to use emergency procedures to flush out the toxin and bring your dog back to health.
Emergency Decontamination Therapy
Veterinary staff will generally give an emetic solution to induce vomiting and get rid of any nutmeg in the dog’s stomach.
Depending on your dog’s condition, veterinary staff will provide medical support with intravenous fluids, and monitor and control any cardiac symptoms with medications. If dehydration is present, fluids and electrolytes are administered. A safe and supervised environment will be provided for the dog in the case of signs of hallucinations, seizures or disorientation. Care will continue until dog is stable.
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Recovery of Nutmeg Poisoning in Dogs
A dog that has ingested a toxic dose of nutmeg needs to be observed at home until the veterinary follow up appointment, typically in a few days to a week. Report any return of symptoms or other unusual behavior to the doctor immediately. It typically takes a few days for a full recovery.
An incident like nutmeg poisoning is a call to action for Pet Parents to consider the dog’s environment and its potential threats. Consider installing child-proof locks on cabinets and any place a dog might be able to access on their own. Put spices and other poisonous edibles away, out of the dog’s reach. For further information about this and other dog conditions, use Wag!’s Chat with a Vet service on the Wag! Website.