Signs of Poisoning in Dogs

You probably already know that chocolate is bad for dogs, but did you know that many other things that we consume or commonly have around the house are actually toxic or poisonous to our pets?

The inquisitive and sometimes mischievous nature of our furry friends commonly leads them to ingest things they shouldn’t. Many toxins/poisons even smell or taste attractive to dogs, which further entices them. Additionally, even over-the-counter medications that are safe for children may be toxic to dogs and can lead to life-threatening conditions.

In 2022 alone, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center assisted with over 400,000 exposures in animals in the United States. Pet Poison Helpline, another 24/7 veterinary poison control group, also assisted in many potential exposures, and nearly 90 percent of these calls were from dog owners.

In this article, we will cover the most common toxins/poisons that dogs are exposed to, common symptoms to watch for, and what to do if you think your dog has been exposed. As pet parents, you play an essential role in avoiding toxin exposures in your dog and in recognizing when to seek veterinary care for a potential exposure. The safest way to prevent exposures is to avoid having known toxins in or around the house whenever possible, and to lock away unavoidable things in a pet-proof container.

Signs of Poisoning in Dogs

Signs of poisoning in dogs will greatly depend on what they were exposed to, when they were exposed, and the amount of exposure.

Below are examples of common signs of dog poisoning, broken down by category. It is important to recognize that many of these symptoms (especially the gastrointestinal ones) are also seen with a wide range of other conditions. Seeing these symptoms without a known exposure doesn’t mean your dog was poisoned.

A dog who has been exposed to toxins/poisons will often experience symptoms in more than one of the following categories:


  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Stomach pain
  • Poor appetite


  • Hyperactive, agitated, or vocalizing erratically
  • Sedate or altered consciousness
  • Sensitive to noise/sound
  • Leaking urine
  • Wobbly gait/uncoordinated
  • Seizures, tremors, or twitching
  • Sudden vision loss and/or pupil size change (dilated or pinpoint)
  • Breathing changes (very slow vs fast and erratic)

Bleeding problems

  • Unusual bleeding and bruising (i.e., nosebleeds, bleeding around teeth, pinpoint red/purple spots on belly/inner ear/gums)
  • Bloody vomit or blood in feces
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fast breathing
  • Pale white gums

Cardiovascular and Respiratory

  • Heart rate that is too slow or too fast
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Gums that are bright red, pale/white, or blue/purple
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing rate, even at rest
  • Coughing or wheezing

Kidney and/or Liver  

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination or not making any urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Dark orange/brown urine
  • Yellowing of skin (especially inner ear) or the whites of the eyes

Skin and Mouth

  • Sores, blisters, burns
  • Swelling of the skin or mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Swelling or pawing at the face
  • Difficulty eating due to swelling or pain

General signs you may also notice if your dog has ingested a toxin include:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Weakness or reluctance to get up
  • Dehydration

What Is Toxic to Dogs?

The severity of poisoning in dogs usually depends on how much of a poisonous substance the dog consumed. However, many of the items on this list can lead to problems with even a small amount.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some common ingested toxicities in dogs:

  • Certain human foods, such as chocolate, grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, and macadamia nuts
  • Products containing xylitol (a sugar substitute), such as sugar-free gum, peanut butter, or protein bars
  • Over-the-counter and prescription medications (either human or veterinary)
  • Marijuana and other recreational drugs
  • Alcohol, tobacco, and nicotine products
  • Household items like glue, paint, batteries, and pennies
  • Outdoor items like pest control baits, fertilizers, insecticides, and antifreeze
  • Certain indoor and outdoor plants (e.g., sago palm, oleander) and some wild mushrooms

What to Do If You Suspect Your Dog Was Poisoned

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to a toxin/poison, you should contact a veterinary poison control group and/or a veterinarian immediately. They will determine whether you need to pursue further care for your dog. For true toxicities, both a phone consultation with a veterinary poison control group and in-person care with a veterinarian are often needed to ensure your dog receives the very best care.

If your dog is already exhibiting symptoms of toxin exposure or they ingest something you know is toxic, seek care immediately with a veterinarian (i.e. emergency veterinary hospital). If you don’t know what your dog ate, provide a list of all potential exposures.

Having your dog treated with a veterinarian before signs develop is always safest, as there are often ways to decrease the amount your dog absorbs. If your veterinarian or the toxicology expert recommends that you bring your dog in for care, promptly seek veterinary attention.

For potential toxin exposures with some of the more serious toxins (e.g., rat bait, antifreeze, medications, xylitol, etc.), heading to your local veterinary emergency hospital ASAP and calling them en route can save valuable time.

You can call one of the following veterinary poison control groups (available 24/7):

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435 
  • Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661 

Both groups have a vast database of information on many different toxins and medications, and they have a team of veterinary experts and toxicologists who specialize in exposures in animals. There is a fee associated with their phone consultation that will cover recommendations specific to your dog and follow-up calls with your veterinarian if treatment is recommended.

During the call, they will gather information about your dog and the toxin they ingested, such as the type, strength, and amount your dog may have been exposed to. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, count the number of pills left in an open bottle of medicine so you can estimate how much your dog ingested.

When treatment is recommended, the veterinary poison control group will work closely with your veterinarian to share the specific testing and treatment plan. All you have to do is provide your veterinarian with the case number and they will take it from there.

In situations where the toxin or exposure amount is not expected to cause serious problems, you will be guided on how to manage your pet’s care at home. In these cases, a phone toxicology consultation may help you avoid unnecessary trips to your veterinarian.

How Vets Treat Poisoning in Dogs

If you promptly seek veterinary care before your dog develops symptoms of toxicity, this often allows your veterinarian to take steps to decrease the amount of toxin that is absorbed. This is safer for your dog and often results in less hospital time and overall cost.

Treatment will vary significantly depending on the type of toxin/poison, the amount of exposure, how long ago the exposure occurred, and any signs your dog may already be exhibiting. Your dog’s specific treatment will be determined by your veterinarian and/or toxicology consult.

The following are some example treatments your veterinarian may recommend:

  • Bathing for topical exposures
  • Medications to make a dog vomit
  • Activated charcoal to help minimize absorption of certain toxins
  • Pumping the stomach (gastric lavage) under anesthesia for certain toxins/large exposures
  • Administering an antidote, if available, to counteract or reverse the effects of the toxin/poison
  • Medications to treat symptoms of toxicity until the toxin is out of the dog’s system (i.e. medications to control seizures, bleeding, gastrointestinal signs, or heart rate/rhythm abnormalities)
  • Supportive care, such as fluid therapy, oxygen support, or blood/plasma transfusions

Hydrogen peroxide (3%) is sometimes recommended by veterinarians or veterinary poison control for at-home use in dogs (never for cats) to induce vomiting, but you should never use it without professional guidance. It is considered less effective than the medications veterinarians use to make a dog vomit, requires precise dosing, and has an increased risk for complications. DO NOT use other home remedies to make a dog throw up.

How to Prevent Dog Poisoning

To help protect your dog from poisons, it helps to know the 4 Ps:


Create a safe space for your pets to roam that is free of any potential exposures. Keep all food, medicines, plants, and potential toxins out of reach of your pets. Avoid Ziplock bags of medications. Instead, keep medications in their original child-proof containers and up high and out of reach. Don’t forget to pet proof garages, sheds, backyard, and trash cans.

Proactive Prevention

Know the most common toxins for dogs. Avoid having them altogether, whenever possible. At minimum, keep toxins out of reach of pets. Other proactive steps you can take include:

Don’t give your dog medications unless they are directly prescribed by your veterinarian. Many over-the-counter and prescription human medications are toxic to pets.

Check food or drug labels to identify potential risks before bringing them home. Choose safer substitutes when possible. For example, check the ingredients list of gum, foods, and supplements to ensure they do not contain xylitol, bake with milk chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate, or buy trail mix without raisins. Supervise children eating grapes and raisins, and ideally keep your pets in another room, in case any food gets dropped.

Remove unsafe plants from your yard and home. Research new plants before bringing them home. There are varying degrees of toxicity among many plants. Some plants, like sago palm and oleander, can be life-threatening, even when very small amounts are ingested.

Always be aware of your dog’s environment. Exposures are common when changes disrupt your pet-proofing, such as traveling with your dog, going on walks/hikes, or having visitors in your home. If you have visitors over, keep their luggage or purses in a safe space out of reach of your dog. Ask your guests to keep gum, food, medications, and recreational drugs away from your pets.

Be Prepared

Save phone numbers (in phone, on fridge) for veterinary poison control groups, your dog’s veterinarian, and the closest 24/7 emergency veterinary hospital. Consider pet insurance to help with future pet care costs, as toxin exposures can be costly. Know what you have in and around your home so you can notify your veterinarian of possible exposures if your pet is unwell.

Promptly Seek Care

Call poison control with any potential exposures (keep packaging/detailed information on the toxin), and promptly seek care with a veterinarian. Don’t wait until signs develop before seeking help, as this can lead to irreversible damage. With signs of poisoning and no known exposure, have someone inspect the home for evidence of what your dog may have ingested (e.g., chewed up pill bottle).

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