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Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook


A poison is any substance harmful to the body. Animal baits are palatable poisons that encourage ingestion. This makes them an obvious choice for intentional poisoning.

Dogs are curious by nature and have a tendency to hunt small game, or explore out-of-the-way places such as woodpiles, weed thickets and storage ports. This puts them into contact with insects, dead animals and toxic plants. It also means that in many cases of suspected poisoning the actual agent will be unknown. The great variety of potentially poisonous plants and shrubs makes identification difficult or impossible unless the owner has direct knowledge that the dog has eaten a certain plant or product. Most cases suspected of being malicious poisoning actually are not.

In some types of vegetation, only certain parts of the plant are toxic. In others, all parts are poisonous. Ingestion causes a wide range of symptoms. They include mouth irritation, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, hallucination, seizures, coma and death. Other plant substances cause skin rash. Some toxic plants have specific pharmacological actions that are used in medicines.

The following tables of toxic plants, shrubs and trees are included for reference.

Poisonous Houseplants

Toxic Houseplants:

A. That give rash after contact with the skin or mouth:



Creeping fig

Weeping fig

Pot mum > might produce dermatitis

Spider mum > might produce dermatitis

B. That are irritating to mucus membranes (toxic oxalates); the mouth especially gets swollen; painful tongue; ore lips:

Arrowhead vine

Boston ivy


Drunk cane

Emerald duke

Heart leaf (philodendrum)

Marble queen


Neththytis ivy


Red princess

Saddle leaf (philodendrum)

Split leaf (philodendrum)

C. That may contain a wide variety of poisons. Most cause vomiting, abdominal pain, cramps. Some cause tremors, heart and respiratory and/or kidney problems, which are difficult for owners to interpret:


Elephant ears

Pot mum

Asparagus fern

Glocal ivy

Ripple ivy


Heart ivy

Spider mum

Bird of paradise


Sprangeri fern

Creeping Charlie

Jerusalem cherry

Umbrella plant

Crown of thorns

Needlepoint ivy

Outdoor Plants with Toxic Effects

A. Outdoor plants that produce vomiting and diarrhea in some cases:


Poke weed

Indian tobacco



Wisteria Castor beanwoody

SoapberryIndian turnip

Ground cherry Skunk cabbage

Foxglove Larkspur

B. Trees and shrubs that are poisonous and may produce vomiting, abdominal pain and in some cases diarrhea:

Horse chestnut

Western yew



English holly almond

Rain tree

Peach cherry

Monkey pod

Wild cherry

American yew

Bird of paradise

Japanese plum

English yew

Black locust

Balsam pear

Mock orange


C. Outdoor plants with varied toxic effect:








Poison hemlock

Dutchman's potatoes


Tomato vine


Mescal bean


Water hemlock


Mushrooms trumpet


Angel's Jasmine

Matrimony vine

D. Hallucinogens:




Morning glory



E. Outdoor plants that produce convulsions:



Water hemlock


Nux vomica

If you think that your dog may have been poisoned, the first thing to do is try to identify the poison. Most products containing chemicals are labeled for identification. Read the label. If this does not give you a clue to its possible toxicity, call the Poison Control Center.

Poison Control Centers are located throughout the United States and Canada. All available information on the toxic ingredients in thousands of medicines, insecticides, pesticides and other registered commercial products has been placed confidentially in the centers by the government in these Poison Control Centers. It is estimated that 1,500 new items are added each month. The local Poison Control Center's telephone number is listed in the front of most telephone directories. Alternately, you can call the emergency room of your local hospital and ask them to request the information that you require.

The first step in treatment is to eliminate the poison from your dog's stomach by making it vomit. The second step is to delay absorption of the poison from the dog's intestinal tract by coating it with a substance that binds it. This is followed by a laxative to speed elimination.

Note: Do not induce vomiting or give charcoal by mouth if your dog is severely depressed, comatose, unable to swallow or experiencing seizures. Before proceeding, consult Vomiting, How to Induce in this chapter.

How to Delay or Prevent Absorption

1.Mix activated charcoal (one tablet to 10-cc water). Give one teaspoonful per two pounds body weight and follow with a pint of water. Depending upon the dog's condition, this may need to be given by stomach tube. Veterinary assistance usually is required.

2. Thirty minutes later, give sodium sulphate (Glauber's salt), one teaspoonful per ten pounds body weight, or Milk of Magnesia, one teaspoonful per five pounds body weight.

Note:If these agents are not available, coat the bowel with milk, egg whites or vegetable oil and give a warm water enema.

If your dog has a poisonous substance on the skin or coat, wash it well with soap and water or give a complete bath in lukewarm (not cold) water, as described in the SKIN chapter. Even if the substance is not irritating to the skin, it should be removed. Otherwise, the dog may lick it off and swallow it. Soak gasoline and oil stains with mineral or vegetable oil. Work in well. Then wash with a mild detergent, such as Ivory soap.

When signs of nervous system involvement begin to show, the dog is in deep trouble. At this point, your main objective is to get your dog to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Try to bring with you a sample of vomitus, or better yet the poison in its original container. If the dog is convulsing, unconscious or not breathing, see Shock and Artificial Respiration. (Also see NERVOUS SYSTEM:Fits).

The poisons discussed below are included because they are among the most frequently seen by veterinarians. Strychnine - Strychnine is used as a rat, mouse and mole poison. It is available commercially as coated pellets dyed purple, red or green. Signs of poisoning are so typical that the diagnosis can be made almost at once. Onset is sudden (less than two hours). The first signs are agitation, excitability and apprehension. They are followed rather quickly by intensely painful tetanic seizures that last about sixty seconds, during which the dog throws the head back, can't breathe and turns blue. The slightest stimulation, such as tapping the dog or clapping the hands, starts a seizure. This characteristic response is used to make the diagnosis. Other signs associated with nervous system involvement are tremors, champing, drooling, uncoordinated muscle spasms, collapse and paddling of the legs.

Seizures caused by strychnine and other central nervous system toxins sometimes are misdiagnosed as epilepsy. This would be a mistake as immediate veterinary attention is necessary. Epileptic seizures are self-limited; the signs usually appear in a certain order, and each attack is the same. They are over before the dog can get to a veterinarian. Usually they are not considered emergencies (see NERVOUS SYSTEM: Epilepsy).

Treatment: With signs of central nervous involvement, don't take time to induce vomiting. It is important to avoid loud noises or unnecessary handling that trigger a seizure. Cover your dog with a coat or blanket and drive to the nearest veterinary clinic.

If your dog is showing signs of poisoning, is alert and able to swallow and hasn't vomited, induce vomiting as discussed above.

Sodium Fluroacetate (1080)

This chemical, used as a rat poison, is mixed with cereal, bran and other rat feeds. It is so potent that cats and dogs can be poisoned just by eating the dead rodent. The onset is sudden and begins with vomiting followed by excitation, straining to urinate or defecate, an aimless staggering gait, atypical fits or true convulsions and then collapse. Seizures are not triggered by external stimuli as are those of strychnine poisoning.

Treatment: Immediately after the dog ingests the poison, induce vomiting. Care and handling is the same as for strychnine.


Arsenic is combined with metaldehyde in slug and snail baits, and may appear in ant poisons, weed killers and insecticides. Arsenic is also a common Impurity found in many chemicals. Death can occur quickly before there is time to observe the symptoms. In more protracted cases the signs are thirst, drooling, vomiting, staggering, intense abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, paralysis and death. The breath of the dog will have a strong smell of garlic.

Treatment: Induce vomiting. A specific antidote is available but requires professional use. Metaldehyde - This poison (often combined with arsenic) is used commonly in rat, snail and slug baits. The signs of toxicity are excitation, drooling and slobbering, uncoordinated gait, muscle tremors and weakness that leads to inability to stand in a few hours. The tremors are not triggered by external stimuli.

Treatment: Immediately after the dog ingests the poison, induce vomiting. The care and handling are the same as for strychnine.


Lead is found in insecticides and is a base for many paints used commercially. Intoxication occurs primarily in puppies and young dogs that chew on substances coated with a lead paint. Other sources of lead are linoleum, batteries, plumbing materials, putty, lead foil, solder, golf balls and some roofing materials. Lead poisoning can occur in older dogs after ingestion of insecticides containing lead. A chronic form does occur.

Acute poisoning begins with abdominal colic and vomiting. A variety of central nervous system signs are possible. They include fits, uncoordinated gait, excitation, continuous barking, attacks of hysteria, weakness, stupor and blindness. Chewing and champing fits might be mistaken for the encephalitis of distemper, especially in young dogs.

Treatment: When ingestion is recent, induce vomiting. Otherwise, coat the bowel as described above. Specific antidotes are available through your veterinarian.


This chemical is present in rat and roach poisons, fireworks, matches and matchboxes. A poisoned dog's breath may have a garlic odor. The first signs of intoxication are vomiting and diarrhea. They may be followed by a free interval, then by recurrent vomiting, cramps, and pain in the abdomen, convulsions and coma. There is no specific antidote. Treat as you would for strychnine.

Zinc Phosphide

This substance also is found in rat poisons. Intoxication causes central nervous system depression, labored breathing, vomiting (often of blood), weakness, convulsions and death. There is no specific antidote. Treat as you would for strychnine.

Warfarin (Decon, Pindone)

Warfarin is incorporated into grain feeds for use as a rat and mouse poison. It causes death by interfering with the blood clotting mechanism. This leads to spontaneous bleeding. There are no observable signs of warfarin poisoning until the dog begins to pass blood in the stool or urine, bleeds from the nose or develops hemorrhages beneath the gums and skin. The dog may be found dead with no apparent cause. A single dose of warfarin is not as serious as repeated doses.

Treatment: Induce vomiting. Vitamin K (for clotting) is a specific antidote. It is given intramuscularly (or in cases where there are no symptoms it can be given by mouth as a preventative).

Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol)

Poisoning with antifreeze is not uncommon because ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that appeals to dogs and cats. In dogs, a toxic dose is one half teaspoonful per pound body weight. Signs of toxicity, which appear suddenly, are vomiting, uncoordinated gait (seems "drunk"), weakness, mental depression, coma and death in twelve to thirty-six hours. Convulsions are unusual. Dogs that recover from the acute phase may have damage to the kidneys and go on to kidney failure.

Treatment: Induce vomiting. Coat the bowel to prevent further absorption. Intensive care in an animal hospital may prevent kidney complications.

Organophosphates and Carbamates

These substances are used on dogs to kill fleas and other parasites. The common ones are dichlorvos, ectoral and sevin, but there are others. They also are used in garden sprays and in some dewormers. Improper application of insecticides to the dog can lead to absorption of a toxic dose through the skin. These drugs effect the nervous system primarily. For more information, see SKIN: Insecticides.

Treatment: For topical insecticides, bathe your dog immediately using warm soapy water to remove residual compounds from the coat. Call your veterinarian.

Chlorinated Hydrocarbons

These compounds, like the organophosphates, are incorporated into some insecticide preparations for use on the dog. The common products in veterinary use are chiordane, toxaphene, lindane and methoxychior. The treatment is the same as for organophosphates.

Corrosives (Acid and Alkali)

Corrosives and caustics are found in household cleaners, drain decloggers and commercial solvents. They cause burns of the mouth, esophagus and stomach. Severe cases are associated with acute perforation, or late stricture, of the esophagus and stomach.

Treatment: If acid is ingested, rinse out your dog's mouth. Give an antacid (Milk of Magnesia or Pepto-Bismol) at the rate of one to two teaspoons per five pounds body weight. If an alkali, use vinegar or lemon juice. Vinegar is mixed one part to four parts of water. The amount to give is judged by the size of the dog. Do not induce vomiting; this could result in rupture of the stomach or burns of the esophagus.

Petroleum Products (Gasoline, Kerosene, Turpentine)

These volatile liquids can cause pneumonia if aspirated or inhaled. The signs of toxicity are vomiting, difficulty of breathing, tremors, convulsions and coma. Death is by respiratory failure.

Treatment: Do not induce vomiting. Administer an ounce or two of mineral oil, olive oil or vegetable oil by mouth; then follow it in thirty minutes with Glauber's salt. Be prepared to administer artificial respiration.

Garbage Poisoning (Food Poisoning)

Food poisoning is common, as dogs are notorious scavengers and come into contact with carrion, decomposing foods, animal manure and other noxious substances (some of which are listed in DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: Common Causes of Diarrhea). Signs of poisoning begin with vomiting and pain in the abdomen; they are followed in severe cases by diarrhea (often bloody) in two to six hours. If the problem is complicated by bacterial infection, shock may develop. Mild cases recover in a day or two.

Treatment: Induce vomiting. Afterward, coat the intestines to delay or prevent absorption. The condition may require antibiotics. (See also NERVOUS SYSTEM: Botulism.)Chocolate Poisoning

All dogs like chocolate, but chocolate can be dangerous. Chocolate contains a caffeine like alkaloid called theobromine. While not toxic to people in the amounts present in commercial foods, theobromine in these amounts can be quite harmful to the dog.

Signs of chocolate toxicity occur within hours after the dog ingests the chocolate. They include vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tremors, seizures and coma.

A small dog weighing five to ten pounds can die after eating four to sixteen ounces of milk chocolate; a medium-sized dog weighing twenty to forty pounds can die after eating sixteen to thirty-two ounces; a larger dog after eating about two pounds. Individual variations do occur. Unsweetened chocolate (used for baking) contains higher concentrations of theobromine and is therefore more toxic. A large dog can die after eating just four ounces.

Treatment: If you know your dog has eaten chocolate, induce vomiting (see Vomiting, How to Induce). If two or more hours have passed, administer activated charcoal to prevent the toxin from becoming absorbed.

Don't feed your dog chocolates. To prevent accidental ingestion, keep chocolate candy in the refrigerator.
Toad Poisoning - Since all toads have a bad taste, dogs who mouth them slobber, spit and drool. In southern states a tropical toad (Bujo marinus) secretes a potent toxin that appears to affect the heart and circulation of dogs, bringing on death in as short a time as fifteen minutes. There are twelve species of Rufo toads worldwide.

Symptoms in dogs depend upon the toxicity of the toad and the amount of poison absorbed. Signs vary from merely slobbering to convulsions and death.

Treatment: Flush your dog's mouth out with a garden hose and attempt to induce vomiting. Be prepared to administer artificial respiration.

People Medicines

Veterinarians frequently are called because a dog has swallowed pills intended for the owner, or has eaten too many dog pills. (Some dog pills are flavored to encourage dogs to eat them.) Drugs most often involved are antihistamines, sleeping pills, diet pills, heart preparations and vitamins.

Treatment: Induce vomiting

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