10500 Little Brier Creek Lane, Raleigh, NC 27617 | (919) 544-2226

Did Your Dog Eat Something Toxic?

There are a number of common human foods and products that are toxic and even deadly to dogs. Do you know what to do if your dog eats chocolate, grapes, or raisins? We’ll break it down.

Chocolate Toxicity

The toxic principles in chocolate (theobromine and caffeine) are rapidly absorbed and stimulate the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity usually occur within 6 to 12 hours of ingestion and include…

  • Increased drinking
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Restlessness or hyperactivity

Severe cases of chocolate toxicity can progress to ataxia (staggering as if drunk), tremors, seizures, heart arrhythmia, increased heart and/or breathing rate, high blood pressure, high body temperature, and even coma. Pancreatitis can also occur due to the high fat and sugar content in chocolate.

How We Treat Chocolate Toxicity

Activated charcoal is messy but highly effective.

The severity of chocolate toxicity depends on the size of your dog, and how much and what kind of chocolate he ingested. Dark chocolate is more potent, for instance, than milk chocolate. If your dog ever eats chocolate, please call us and we’ll determine the exact circumstances.

We have seen many dogs who ate chocolate—such as Leo, who ate a dozen chocolate donuts—and recovered fully with quick medical intervention.

Treatment of chocolate toxicity includes induction of vomiting, which can be helpful even hours after ingestion since chocolate may form a firm lump in the stomach. We also use several doses of activated charcoal, which binds to the chocolate and carries it out through the intestines.

While your dog is hospitalized with us, we will regularly monitor his sodium level, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen level, and pancreatic enzymes. If necessary, we can use medications to regulate body temperature, cardiac issues, seizures, and tremors. A urinary catheter to prevent reabsorption of chocolate may also be helpful.

Grape and Raisin Toxicity

Grapes, raisins, and currants can cause kidney damage and failure in dogs even in small amounts. Signs of kidney issues will show up shortly after ingestion in routine blood work. Clinical signs appear within 24 hours and include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, dehydration, excessive drooling, and abdominal pain.

If the kidneys begin to fail, within several days symptoms will include increased drinking and urination, ataxia, weakness, swelling, and trembling. As the kidneys shut down, a dog may urinate abnormally small amounts, stop urinating altogether, and have high blood pressure.

Treatment includes inducing vomiting and several doses of activated charcoal. Further treatment may require IV fluids, nutritional support, and medication to correct electrolyte deficiency.

Xylitol Toxicity

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol used in a wide variety of human products: some sugar-free candies and gum, peanut butters, baked goods, drink powders, condiments, jellies, syrups, baking mixes, protein mixes and bars, toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamins, supplements, cosmetics, deodorants, sunscreen, and hair care products. Always check the label before you give your dog peanut butter as a treat!

Xylitol is safe for people but dangerous for dogs. It stimulants an exaggerated insulin release that may cause severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and acute liver failure. Life-threatening low blood sugar may result in seizures. Liver failure presents as jaundice, low potassium and high phosphorus levels, and internal bleeding.

Since xylitol is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, we only induce vomiting if ingestion has occurred within 30 to 60 minutes. Low blood sugar is treated with an injection of dextrose through an IV catheter. Support care also includes administration of liver protectants, IV fluids, medications to correct low potassium and high phosphorus, and vitamin B12.

Aspirin and Salicylate Toxicity

Aspirin and NSAIDS are used to treat humans for inflammation, fever, clotting, and pain. Salicylates may be found in topical analgesic ointments, sunscreen, acne treatments, tanning agents, and wart removal products.

Signs of acute overdose in dogs may take up to 4 days to occur and are the result of gastrointestinal bleeding: vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with blood, as well as abdominal pain, lethargy, weakness, and pale gums. Larger exposures can result in high body temperature, increased breathing rate, dehydration, seizures, fluid in the lungs, liver injury, and even coma. If GI perforation occurs, the dog is at risk of developing a life-threatening septic infection. When liver and/or kidney damage occurs, there may be bleeding, jaundice, seizures, and low blood pressure.

We will induce vomiting within 2 hours of ingestion, and only if your dog is not having seizures or difficulty breathing. We use several doses of activated charcoal to bind any aspirin or salicylate in the gut.

Paintball Toxicity

Paintballs are toxic to dogs and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia, tremors, increased heart rate and body temperature, weakness, hyperactivity, increased drinking, blindness, depression, seizures, coma, and even death.

Inducing vomiting is only helpful if ingestion has occurred with 60 minutes and there are no seizures or respiratory or cardiac issues. Activated charcoal is actually contraindicated since it pulls water into the gut, causing symptoms to worsen.

Flushing the stomach with water (while the dog is under anesthesia) and warm water enemas help stimulate removal through the GI tract. Other critical support may include IV fluids, seizure medication, and medication to control body temperature.

A Final Note: Marijuana Toxicity

Of the reported cases of marijuana toxicity in animals, 96 percent occur in dogs. We understand this may be a sensitive subject, but we need to know if your dog has ingested marijuana so we can help him. We practice the best medicine; we are not law enforcement nor do we report to law enforcement. It is rare, but we have seen a few animals who needed medical intervention after eating marijuana.

Symptoms begin with dilated pupils, incoordination, listlessness, stupor, decreased heart rate, and possible urinary incontinence. Vomiting, low body temperature, low blood pressure, and red eyes may also occur.

Inducing vomiting is only helpful if ingestion has occurred within 30 minutes and the dog is not showing symptoms. We use several doses of activated charcoal to bind the marijuana in the gut.

Symptomatic dogs benefit from IV fluids and possibly mild sedation. We will closely monitor respiratory rate, heart rate, and body temperature and administer GI protectants, seizure medication, oxygen, and other support care if needed.

Call us at (919) 544-2226 if you ever suspect your dog has ingested something toxic. We will do everything we can to help.