Dogs are naturally curious. They sniff and taste almost anything. Cats are more sensible. They don’t taste unpleasant things but are prone to poisoning from cleaning their coats. (And, from our experience, some pet owners are surprisingly thoughtless about what they put down their pet’s throats or on their coats.) The inevitable consequence is that poisoning is surprisingly common. Often it is relatively minor, such as stomach irritation and vomiting caused by pain control medicines meant for us, not our pets. These and other poisons can cause a variety of clinical signs including:

  • hyperactivity and high heart rate
  • tremors, disorientation, seizures
  • lethargy, dullness, stumbling, incoordination
  • drooling, nausea, vomiting
  • diarrhea, abdominal pain
  • internal bleeding

Poison prevention

  • A top on the waste bin is not enough. Keep rubbish and waste bins securely covered.
  • Review your home and garden cleaning strategies to reduce cleaning and maintenance chemicals to a minimum.
  • Don’t store dangerous substances in glass containers.
  • Keep all chemicals in the kitchen, bathroom, garden or garage out of reach of your pet and in child and pet-proof cabinets.
  • Keep human and veterinary medicines out of reach. A child-proof cap is not a deterrent to a dog. Any package other than glass is easily chewed through.
  • Don’t give human medicines to your pet without first checking with us.
  • Keep your pet out of the garden for at least 24 hours whenever chemical fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides are used. Chemical sprays used by professional lawn-care services remain as a fine aerosol in the air above the lawn, at pet breathing level for a considerable time.
  • Do not let your pet eat grass from a chemically treated lawn or field.
  • Never use a cleaning product on your pet if it cannot be used on us.
  • Take extreme caution with insecticides especially in cats. Meticulously follow package instructions.

Dogs that drink from the toilet

Large dogs find the height of toilet bowls just right for drinking from. Don’t let you dog do so. Aside from concentrations of potentially dangerous bacteria you dog may also swallow toilet cleaner, almost invariably consisting of dangerous acid or alkali solution. Train your entire family to cover the toilet after use.

The compost heap is a canine snack bar

The aroma of a healthy compost heap is irresistible to some dogs but it’s also potentially deadly. Coffee grounds, onions in any form, apricot, peach and plum stones, apple and pear seeds are all potential poisons. Moulds, fungus and bacteria are additional hazards, including Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that produces the toxin that causes botulism. Most deadly are toxic mushrooms that may grow on the compost. Keep your compost heap securely fenced, mix it regularly and don’t let your dog near it or near compost immediately after it has been spread in the garden.

Poisoning by skin contact

Paint, paint remover, tar, petroleum products, motor oil and many other chemicals all can cause irritating skin damage and burns. If the dog licks these substances the inside of the mouth may be burned. If they are swallowed, general poisoning may result.

Carefully clean your pet’s coat

If the coat is contaminated with paint, tar or motor oil, don’t use paint stripper, turpentine, turpentine substitutes or mineral spirits. Don’t use concentrated biological detergents.

  1. If the contaminating substance is hard enough, cut away affected hair. If this is not possible, wearing rubber gloves rub large amounts of vegetable or mineral oil into the contaminated areas to loosen the substance.
  2. Once the contaminant is loosened bathe the affected area with lots of soapy warm water. Dish washing liquids and baby shampoos are both gentle and non irritating. Alternatively, use proprietary hand cleaners from the DIY that are safe and non-irritating.
  3. Rinse well and repeat as often as necessary until all contamination is removed.
  4. When extensive contamination occurs rub flour or powdered starch in with the vegetable oil to help absorb the poison. Remove the mixture with a wide-toothed comb then bathe the hair in soapy detergent and rinse thoroughly.

If the coat is contaminated by anything other than paint, solvents tar, petroleum products and motor oil:

  1. Flush the contaminated area for at least 5 minutes with large quantities of clean water.
  2. If the whole body has been contaminated with alkali such as caustic soda flush for at least 15 minutes. Concentrate on the eyes. Make sure the arm pits and groin receive as much water as other parts of the body. Flushing the affected area with clean water dilutes the poison, arrests chemical burns and cleans the region.
  3. Wearing gloves, wash the affected areas with soapy warm water or mild detergent such as baby shampoo or dish washing liquid.

Poisons that are inhaled

Inhaled poisons most often interfere with breathing. Others, for example, concentrated insecticide fumes, may cause neurological signs like twitching and salivating. If smoke or irritants such as tear gas have been inhaled assume that the air passages have been inflamed. Don’t put yourself at risk by entering an environment containing dangerous toxic fumes. Don’t underestimate the damage caused by inhaling smoke or other irritant fumes. Serious and potentially fatal swelling may affect the air passages hours later. After any inhalation accident always get veterinary advice and assistance.


Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute in a variety of products including ‘suger-free’ chewing gum, nicotine replacement chewing gum, baby food, cakes and muffins and home-baking products. It may be listed on a package as E967

Xylitol is safe for us because it is absorbed slowly. It is dangerous, potentially lethal for dogs because it is absorbed very rapidly. Almost all of it is in a dog’s bloodstream within 30 minutes of eating xylitol containing baby food or biscuits or chewing gum.


Xylitol triggers a dog to release insulin. The more xylitol that is eaten the greater the amount of insulin a dog pumps into its blood. That’s what causes the precipitous drop in blood sugar. Xylitol triggers the dog’s pancreas (where insulin is produced) to release up to six times as much insulin as sugar does. As little as 0.1g/kg xylitol can cause critically low blood sugar or “hypoglycemia”.

Some but not all dogs vomit after eating xylitol-containing foods. Some, but not all become lethargic and are unable to walk. If a toxic amount of xylitol is eaten a dog collapses and has seizures.

If a dog survives the sudden surge of insulin, liver failure can follow. Eating 0.5g/kg usually results in liver failure.

Working out how much xylitol is in a product is difficult. That’s because most products list ‘sugars’ (mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol etc) but don’t say how much of which. If a product is manufactured here in Europe it will list Xylitol as E967.

American research suggests that we assume there is 0.3g of xylitol in a stick of gum. That means that one and a half sticks of gum is toxic to a typical Yorkshire terrier or small Poodle. In home-baked goods, assume that a cup of xylitol contains 190 grams.

 Because it is absorbed so quickly, dogs need to be induced to vomit within a maximum half hour of eating xylitol. Telephone us and we will tell you how to do this safely at home with a small amount of washing soda crystal or salt. (These procedures can be dangerous in themselves.) If that isn’t possible bring your dog to us immediately where we will monitor blood sugar levels (and liver function and blood electrolytes) constantly for the next 12 hours. If blood sugar drops we will give a 25 % dextrose solution intravenously followed by an intravenous drip containing 5 % dextrose.  Monitoring blood sugar will continue daily for two more days. If your dog has eaten more than 0.5g/kg we will start concentrated dextrose treatment immediately, whether or not blood sugar has dropped. We will also give liver protectants.

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