Can Dogs Get Drunk?

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Having a relaxed drink as part of a celebration is one of life's little pleasures. Of course, too much of a good thing results in drunkenness and an evil headache the next day. But what happens if at the July 4th barbecue, a beer is left within slurping reach and the dog laps it up?

Can Dogs get Drunk?

YES!

It's all too easy for a glass of beer left on the patio to spell doggy disaster. Whilst it might seem amusing for a dog to take a few laps and then stagger away, in reality this is potentially very dangerous indeed for the dog.

Given their relatively small size compared to people, a dog can quickly consume a toxic dose of alcohol. In addition, they seem particularly sensitive to its effects.

But alcohol poisoning isn't just about cocktails and beer, because dogs are also attracted to other sources. This includes foods containing alcohol (think rum-drenched fruit cake) and unbaked yeast dough as it proofs.

Whilst there's a tendency to think of a staggeringly drunk dog as amusing, there's a much more serious side. Internally, the dog's temperature drops dangerously low, as does their blood sugar level. This, coupled with a racing heart, means a drunk dog is only a whisker away from coma, seizures, and possible death.

Is My Dog Drunk?

Signs of drunkenness in dogs aren't a great deal different to in people - except the dog is likely to become severely ill more quickly.

The symptoms include:

  • Staggering and poor coordination

  • Drooling and nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Racing heart rate

  • Low body temperature

  • Weakness and drowsiness

  • Collapse and coma

  • Death from respiratory arrest

Of course, the 'smoking gun' is access to alcohol or dough that's proofing. If your dog lacks the opportunity to get drunk but is showing signs then contact your vet regardless. Conditions such as a stroke, bloat, hypoglycemia, or heart disease can mimic the symptoms of drunkenness.

How Do I Treat My Drunk Dog?

The first thing is to get all other sources of alcohol out of the dog's reach. Then, try and work out how much alcohol the dog has drunk, and phone your vet for advice.

In the meantime, give your dog fresh water to drink. They run the risk of having both a low body temperature and low blood glucose. To help remedy this, keep the dog warm (but not hot) and offer a few dog biscuits regularly.

It is essential to get your dog seen by a vet without delay if they are staggering or their heart is racing. If the dog has drunk alcohol in the very recent past, the vet may give an injection to make them sick and empty the alcohol out of the stomach. But this only works within 20 - 40 minutes of the dog drinking the alcohol.

Treatments include intravenous fluids to flush the alcohol from the dog's system, intravenous glucose, and drugs to suppress seizures.

How is Drunkenness Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Drunkenness in dogs is remarkably similar, but different in that it is potentially even more dangerous. Because of this, it's best to keep the dog well away from any sources of alcohol, and ensure your guests do the same.

Those tell-tale crossover symptoms include:

  • Staggering

  • Wobbliness

  • Poor attention span

  • Vomiting

How is Drunkenness Different in Dogs and Humans?

Alcohol has a profound effect on dogs. Whilst the symptoms look amusing, on a metabolic level the body is really struggling. Alcohol causes metabolic acidosis in dogs. This is the body's equivalent of knocking over the first domino in a domino run. As the body tissues become bathed in acid, it causes the heart to race, blood sugar level to drop, and depresses their ability to breathe.

Indeed , it is respiratory failure that is the commonest cause of death in drunken dogs, rather than inhaled vomitus as in people.

Case Study

On a perfect summer's afternoon, the family invite neighbors round for an impromptu barbecue. The beer is flowing freely as everyone mucks in to get the barbie set up and food cooking.

Midway through the afternoon, the family dog starts to stagger. Everyone laughs. However, twenty minutes later the dog collapses. He's rushed to the vet where alcohol poisoning is diagnosed. The dog starts to seizure and is placed on an intravenous drip and given diazepam to stop the fits. However, the dog proceeds into respiratory arrest and dies - putting a considerable damper on the party spirit.