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Symptoms of poisoning in pets

Common foods, household products and human medications are some of the biggest killers of domestic pets. Emergency veterinary treatment is critical.

Know the symptoms of poisoning in your pet!

If your pet ingests or is otherwise affected by any toxic substance you should treat it as an emergency requiring urgent veterinary treatment. Call the hospital immediately for advice.

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If this is not possible, click here for advice on first aid for poisons. Please note that treatment at home is not a substitute for veterinary care in cases of poisoning.

Poisoning is one of the biggest killers of domestic pets

There are literally hundreds of products and substances harmful to domestic animals — dogs, cat and horses. They range from plant materials, indoor and outdoor, to seemingly harmless food items like onions and chocolate, to common household products such as snail baits, rat poisons and household cleansers. Ingestion of human medication, prescription and over the counter, is the single biggest cause of pet poisoning cases. Even products designed to help your pet — flea and tick powders and your pet’s own medication for example — can be toxic in some circumstances.

In all cases of poisoning there is potential for serious ongoing health issues. With many toxic substances the consequences are immediately severe, life threatening and, often, fatal. Even if we can pull a pet through the immediate danger there is a chance of permanent damage to various organs.

Successfully treating cases of poisoning requires prompt, appropriate hospital care. Time is of the essence and every pet carer needs to be familiar with the various symptoms that may indicate poisoning.

Dogs: Symptoms of poisoning 

Dogs are the pets most often involved in incidences of poisoning. Dogs that have swallowed something toxic may display any of the following symptoms. Symptoms may arise within minutes of ingestion, or take an hour or two to appear.

  • Drowsiness.
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Changes in the colour of the gums and mucous membranes
  • Excessive salivation.
  • Laboured breathing and/or changes in normal respiration patterns.
  • Hyper-sensitivity to light or noise, apparent hallucinations and disorientation.
  • Ataxia, or staggering and wobbly gait.
  • Muscle tremors or convulsions.
  • Unusual odour on the breath or from the skin.
  • Burns inside the mouth or on the tongue or lips, generally an indicator of eating caustic chemicals.

You may also see stings, bite marks, or small punctures. These, coupled with any of the symptoms above, may indicate a bite from a venomous snake or spider. These cases require different treatment (see Snake bite: Symptoms and Treatment).

Cats: Symptoms of poisoning

Most of the symptoms of poisoning in cats are similar to those in dogs. Other, cat specific, symptoms include:

  • Lack of balance and co-ordination.
  • Excessive drooling.
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Agitation. Some cats may become agitated after ingesting a toxin, walking aimlessly and excessively licking the fur or chewing at the paws. A poisoned cat may also become lethargic and present general weakness.
  • Rapid and superficial respiration that comes on suddenly.
  • Seizures. A cat experiencing a seizure may indicate that a toxic substance has already entered the cat’s bloodstream, an often fatal development. A seizing cat needs to see the vet immediately.
  • Coma. If a cat enters a coma after ingesting a poisonous substance it’s usually the last stage of toxic shock. The body is shutting down and even veterinary treatment is unlikely to save the animal. If the cat does come out of the coma there is a high probability of brain damage.

Is it really poison?

While there can be causes other than poisoning for your pet showing the kind of symptoms listed here, if you see any of them you should always first assume ingestion of a toxic substance and treat them as an emergency.

Unfortunately, pet owners are not always around to see exactly what their pets may have swallowed but if you suspect poisoning please try to have the following information when you call the hospital:

  • Species, breed, age, sex and weight.
  • Symptoms
  • Name/description of the substance involved, if known, and the amount the animal was exposed to.
  • How long it has been since your pet ate the material or was exposed to it.

Try to collect any material your pet may have vomited or chewed. Put it in a plastic sealable bag and bring it with you when you bring the animal in to the hospital. If possible, also bring the product container.

Poison cases are distressing, for your pet, for you and for the treating vet. Prevention is always preferable to cure. In addition to understanding the symptoms, pet owners should also familiarise themselves with the many substances that can be toxic, and try to keep them away from your pet.


E&OE. The information provided in the articles on this site is intended as a guide to assist readers to become better informed about health issues that may affect their pets and livestock. They are not a substitute for appropriate veterinary advice and treatment. They should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any individual animal and no person should place reliance on information derived from them, where such reliance may result in loss, damage or injury. Always consult a qualified veterinarian to obtain advice.

Although Alpine Animal Doctors make every effort to ensure that the information contained in our articles is accurate and up-to-date we can accept no responsibility for errors or omissions that may occur.