My dog has been poisoned!

When the phone call starts that way, I am often skeptical.  People often blame poisoning for everything from cancer to parvovirus diarrhea.  How do you know it's been poisoned?  Did you leave poison out where your dog could get it?  Did you see him eat it?   Before I could ask any of my questions, the owner told me that another dog had died with the same symptoms two weeks ago. "He's drooling like crazy, and having convulsions. He has vomited and passed diarrhea.  He can't get up and I think he's dying."  You know how in old Westerns they used to say "Shoot first and ask questions afterward"?  At this point I'm thinking, let's get him into the hospital and ask questions afterward.

Brutus (2) So here's Brutus.  He's pretty much just lying there, except for the constant severe muscle tremors that you can't see in a still picture. Those tremors are why his temperature is 106.   He certainly has all the signs of exposure to a toxin affecting the nervous system.  It's not carbamates or organophosphates because his pupils are dilated.  Could be permethrin or something similar, maybe slug bait.  No way to tell really, so it's on to supportive care.  I. V. fluids, atropine for the salivation, and plenty of valium for the seizures and tremors. 

Once we got him calmed down and quasi-stable, further questioning revealed that Brutus had escaped the yard, allegedly in search of romance.  When the owner caught up with him, he was down and out.  Turns out his deceased buddy had also escaped the yard prior to his demise.  I'm thinking that would have put me to work some overtime on the fence situation, but now we've got to worry about what we're going to do after the fact.

Toxiban (2) Brutus got relatively quiet, though his muscles were still quivering like a sack of snakes.  At the risk of having it vomited all over me, I administered good old Toxiban + Sorbitol.  This is as close to the "universal antidote" as we have.  First of all, we really don't know for sure what Brutus got into, and for a lot of toxins there really is no specific antidote.  This stuff is activated charcoal, which acts like a "chemical sponge" to catch toxins that are still in the gut. This should keep more from getting into his bloodstream and making things worse.  The sorbitol is a cathartic, to shoot the stuff on through and get rid of it.  A little messy, to be sure, but "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do".

Black stuff In the hospital, it's not that much of a problem, but if you send somebody home full of this, you have to warn the people that he's either going to vomit "black paint" or possibly have diarrhea like "black paint".  It will darn sure ruin clothing or carpet.  Inexplicably, some people don't take this warning seriously and destruction ensues.

Anyhow, I spent all Sunday morning with Brutus, missed church, missed Sunday luncheon, too.  By noonish he was getting pretty stable.  By evening he didn't look great, but he was holding his head up and looking like he might get over it. Evidently, he didn't get enough poison to kill him outright, and we got the rest of it flushed out.  His body's natural defenses came through (with some help from me).

Brutus alive (2) Today he's looking good and going home… hopefully to an enhanced fence.

27 thoughts on “My dog has been poisoned!

  1. Janet says:

    That’s one of my worst nightmares, especially since I have a neighbor everyone else thinks is crazy, and she does not like Spot at all. Nice to know there’s Toxiban. How do you get it down the dog’s gullet?

  2. Doc says:

    Hello, Janet,

    When a dog is up and going and you use it as a precautionary measure, some dogs will actually drink the stuff. It comes in a bottle with a sort of squirt-spout.

    I’ve included a bottle in the first-aid kit for the sheriff’s department drug dog. The dog in his enthusiasm could conceivably ingest the evidence. The officer (if he can’t get to me right away, and he’s often 30 miles away or more) is to use it after he’s induced vomiting and the dog has emptied his stomach… and finished vomiting.

    Most of the time when I use it, I have to use a stomach tube, passed through a mouth-speculum (something with a hole to protect the tube that you can clamp the dog’s jaws down on and tape his mouth shut). Actually, you pass the tube down the esophagus almost to the stomach, give it slowly and let the muscular contractions of the esophagus take it the rest of the way.

    This requires some delicate judgment, as you don’t want a semi-conscious dog to regurgitate the junk, then aspirate it into the wind-pipe. That would create a hellacious pneumonia that probably wouldn’t get better.

    The stuff is always a mess. I’ve ruined trousers and smocks, but whaddayagonnado?

    Thanks for reading and writing.

  3. Shellie says:

    As an ER nurse, I give a LOT of activated charcoal, (usually to drug overdoses, either deliberate or accidental). In my volunteer job at a shelter clinic, we’ve also given it numerous times. I have found that the enthusiastic “eat-anything” dogs will generally take the charcoal with sorbitol by mouth; with just a little encouragement (sorbitol is very sweet-tasting) they will usually slurp it out of the spout on the bottle. If not, then the tube is the answer. As you said, either way is messy. I always put on an impervious gown over my scrubs and gloves before I even open the bottle; even so I have a number of scrubs that are now relegated to indoor-painting wear.

  4. Rosey Baxter says:

    In mid October in Massachusetts, two out of the three family dogs died within 6 days of each other. The 2nd dog was put down because he was apparently suffering from whatever the first dog got. The first dog was a Corgi, (a rescue) that would have been 7 years old in December. He was high energy and super happy dog. My father did take them out twice a day for long walks in the woods without their leashes. They loved it!
    On Tuesday Oct 20th, the Corgi and the Basset Hound apparently got into something on some conservation land. They liked to eat poop and when they were off leash you couldn’t always see what they were doing. It could have been tainted poop with canine Parvovirus or may be someone was setting the dogs up with rat poison. So the Corgi wasn’t eating or really walking at some point on Tuesday afternoon. So what did my father decide to do? NOTHING. He didn’t take the Corgi to the vet because he thought whatever he was sick from would pass. The dog was dead by 6PM on October 21st. I was shocked and I’m having a terrible time trying to get over the dog. The dogs and my father had recently moved out of my house. I had lived with them since we had all three dogs. I can’t believe the Corgi is gone now. The poor Basset Hound who was getting so old and sickly was put down 6 days later and my father said he was suffering from the same illness. The problem is I don’t talk to my father so I am getting the story second hand. Why didn’t he just take the dog to the vet when he saw that he was sick? If it was too late for the necropsy on the Corgi, why not perform one on the Basset Hound since he was at the vets to be euthanized. We would have had an answer of what may have killed these dogs. The poor old dog was so sweet too. He just wanted to be loved and had to fight for attention at times with the two younger dogs. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told my that my father committed a felony in this state by not taking the dog to the vet. I am so upset about these deaths especially the young Corgi that had so many more good years ahead of him. I am still upset with my father for not doing the right thing but I know he wasn’t expecting that result either. If the dogs were still living here with me, I would have had them at the vets immediately. I’m sorry for such a long story.

  5. Doc says:

    Hello, Ms. Baxter,

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    Try not to be too hard on your father. Even with our OWN bodies, how many of us rush to the hospital emergency room every time we get sick?

    I well remember having what I took to be a “24-hour bug”. I didn’t go to the doctor until I had been vomiting for 3 days (pretty sure that was more than 24 hours). Then he told me I had a virus and it would just take time (which it did – 2 more days).

    Once a tragic outcome has occurred, it’s easy to look back and see that we should have been more aggressive in seeking treatment. Unfortunately, we just have to make the best judgment we can at the time.

    As to the post-mortem, most veterinarians advise it. I can tell you, however, that the answer I get most frequently (even when I have offered the necropsy at no charge), is “It won’t bring him back. I can’t stand to think about doing that.”

    The loss of a pet is an emotional time, at best, as you obviously know. It is not always a time when we think clearly and logically.

    Again, I am sorry for your loss.

    Best wishes.

  6. Yogi In a Bag says:

    My 7-8 month old, 45 pound mix breed puppy died suddenly last night. He was in the fenced backyard. He was running around happily with my other dog.

    I went inside the house and shortly thereafter heard two blood curdling screams. A friend heard it from 3 blocks away, it was that loud and dramatic.

    I found him lying stiff on his side making strange distressed sounds. Almost instantly he stopped. I scooped him up in my arms to run to the car, he was completely limp. I put him on the floor, he was unresponsive and appeared not to be breathing. I closed his muzzle with two hands and began puffing into his nose.

    He jerked his head up and moved. I grabbed him and ran to the car but he went completely limp in my arms. His eyes were open and his tongue was hanging out.

    I tried mouth to muzzle again without any luck.

    This all happened in less than 5 minutes.

    I’m devastated and stunned. I rescued him and brought him back from Uruguay three months ago. He’s had puppy wellness checks, blood work, all his vaccinations.

    What could cause him to die so quickly? My other dog was outside with him and she’s fine.

    I scoured the small backyard with several friends and we couldn’t find anything that seemed dangerous.

    I am terrified to let my other dog out into the backyard, afraid the same thing will happen to her.

    If you have an ideas about what could cause his quick death I would appreciate it if you would share it with me so that I can prevent it from happening again. It also might give me peace of mind.

    Thank you,

  7. Doc says:

    Hello, Catherine,

    I cannot think of any readily available poisonous compound that would act so swiftly.

    In addition, one almost never sees the malicious poisoning of a dog inside a fenced yard. Most cases of intoxication occur when the dog is roaming.

    The fenced yard also pretty much rules out trauma.

    Other than some congenital weakness that gave way with heart failure or internal bleeding, I am at a loss to explain what has happened.

    Generally, a complete post-mortem examination is the only way to tell, and even then I have sometimes been unable to detect the reason for death.

    I am sorry for your loss.

  8. Christopher Dann says:

    my dog died on June 5th. He turned 8 on May 18th. He was as happy and as healthy as a dog could be. He was walked every day. He was a maltese-shiht-zu mix. He hated the heat and on hot days he would get a long walk at 5am before it got hot. I carried a handi drink water bottle to keep him cool. People would see us walking and ask his age and when I said 7 they thought I meant 7 months because he was like a puppy. At his last 3 yearly vet appointments his weight was 17.5 pounds. The tech said she never saw a dog with the same weight year after year. She joked that “next year I’ll just write in 17.5 and not bother weighing him”.He was always on flea med and heartworm. He passed his yearly tests with flying colors each year. I know his mother and father and his sister and his brother and they all are in perfect health. He never had a sick day in his life. On May 24th he acted depressed. He got so many gifts for his birthday I spaced them out over 6 or 7 days. It was the first day he didn’t get a present and it was also the first really humid day of the year. So I thought the hot weather and no presents made him a little sad.Later that night he seemed worse and I took him to an ER because my vet was closed. The lady was very rude and acted like I was nuts saying nothing was wrong with my dog. I explained he was always active and happy but she wouldn’t listen. The next morning I went to my regular vet and they knew he was not acting normal. His temp was 103.2 and he was limping on his right front foot. They took blood and gave me an antibiotic. They had to wait a day for the bloodwork. That night he was really acting bad. Not breathing well and not moving. I took him to a different ER. His temp was up to 104.1 and he seemed very weak. They gave him fluids thru the neck behind his head like we would get an IV. He seemed a little better after the fluids were in him. They tested his poop for a parasite and tested him for lymes disease. Those tests were negative. The next morning the vet called and said the bloodwork was normal. I had never had a dog before and he was never sick so I never saw a sick animal before. I was very worried. They said dogs get sick like people and keep giving him the medicine and keep an eye on him. They gave me special food to feed him. Over the next few days he was improving. Not 100% better but better. Each day he got more like his old self. By the time the medicine was finished he was like a puppy again. He ate he went the bathroom he drank his water he played with his squeeky toys. I started to take him on short walks and he would act mad that we walked for 10 minutes rather than the usual 45 minutes. By the end of the week he seemed 100% better. Friends and neighbors saw him and thought he looked great and he was all better. Nobody thought he was still sick so this is not a case of me being in denial. I went to bed with him in my lap on Sat June 4th. At about 2:30am I heard him wimper and at first I thought he was dreaming because he dreamed alot. When I reached down to say your dreaming and he didn’t stop wimpering I looked down to see his tongue hanging out of his mouth. It looked white. There was poop all over his tail and butt. I tried to rush him to the ER but he died in my arms on the way. I wanted to do a necropsy but 10 different people said they paid 2000 dollars and never got an answer. I called Cornell and they said it would be 50-50 at best. They also said NY law states that I couldn’t bet my dog back because it had to be cremated. I was in mild shock and I was trying to make the best decision I could. In the past 3 months I sent his tests to several vets. I either get no response or I get “who knows” or I get an explanation that includes everything other than Santa Claus did it. I have called a dozen different college hotlines looking for help but they say they aren’t supposed to give those types of answers. I have lost 45 pounds. I can’t sleep. I have gone to grief counselors and therapists and a mental health clinician and a priest. Nothing helps. Not knowing what happened is killing me. I continue to blame myself. I feel it was my job to take care of him and I failed.I’m single with no kids and we did everything together. I thought I would treat him well and he would live a long healthy life and when he got old and wasn’t happy and active he would die like a grandparent dies. I thought I’d look back with pride on the job I did and the life I gave him. Now each day is empty and sad. I hear people say “wow the summer really went by quick” and to me it seems like the longest summer of my life. Each day seems to drag on forever.I know there are no magic words to make me all better but not having closure is making it hard to move forward. If you could help me understand what happened I would appreciate it. thank you

  9. Doc says:

    Hello, Christopher,

    I wish that I had something to add. It is obvious how much you cared for your dog, and the pain that you are suffering goes to my heart.

    A necropsy might have given you a more specific answer, but it wouldn’t have brought your friend back to you.

    I can only say that it seems to me that nobody could have done more than you did. All that we can do is to make the best decision we can with the information that we have. That includes doctors, parents, everybody.

    Any time that the outcome is bad, we want to look at something we could have done differently. Would it have been better, or only different?

    You gave your friend your best and nobody can do more than that, or ask for more than that.

    Someday another friend who needs you will come into your life, and they will have come to a good place.

    Best wishes.

  10. princess candy says:

    Hi there, my beloved pal died last week, unexpectedly.
    Super hyper, active, 10 month old puppy, became deathly ill, I don’t no what happend. I feel as if this was my fault! I need answers.

    It all started on friday afternoon, throwing up mucus bial, followed by very bloody stools, constantly (every 10 minutes) I thought this would pass, so I took him to emergency saturday morning, to find out he was very dehydrated and had a high fever and seemed very tired The vet gave him some fluid thru an iv , and some medicine he seemed to be a bit better after that so we brought him back home.. The next morning I woke up to him laying in his own bloody stool barely alive having a very hard time breathing, went to my regular vet and they gave me no other option but to euthanize him.

    Can somebody please give me an answer,
    Was he poisioned?
    What caused this in a 10 month old puppy… ?
    Was he in pain?

  11. Doc says:

    Hello, Princess,

    You don’t give me any history about the pup’s housing or immunizations.

    The scenario you describe is pretty typical for a puppy with parvovirus. Any puppy who has not had a proper vaccination series(or dog who failed to respond to vaccines)is at high risk. We start vaccines (“shots”) at weaning age, and repeat at 3 to 4 week intervals until the puppy is at least 14 weeks old.

    While we usually think of younger puppies as being the high-risk patient, a puppy less than one year old is still considered high risk. I have seen a beautiful 11-months-old Lab pup die in just 48 hours of illness.

    These dogs don’t die of dehydration or blood loss, but rather from the toxic byproducts of cell death in their intestines. These get in the bloodstream and shut down other systems.

    Most rodent poisons cause free bleeding, but wouldn’t generally cause vomiting or fever.

    The fevers that we see with poison cases are usually due to hard muscle tremors or seizures.

    What you describe sounds more like a very severe infection than it does like a poisoning. There are certainly other infections besides parvovirus that can do this. There are bad bacteria (like clostridium) that we cannot vaccinate for effectively, though it is rare for those to cause a problem on their own. They usually come in as secondary opportunists when another problem has weakened the pup’s defenses.

    It is hard to say whether your puppy was in pain. Parvovirus infections do produce painful conditions with the inflammation in the bowel walls. If you have ever had just a 24-hour stomach virus, you know that you can have some pretty painful cramps.

    I am sorry for your loss.

  12. princess candy says:

    Sorry about my lack of info, he was tested for parvo through a stool sample, came back negative, he was up to date on his vaccines, we live in a house ( fenced in backyard , neighbors on both sides with dogs aswell ) And I forgot to add I do have another female 3 year old that is absoloutly fine, just a little depressed now that her friend is gone! He was a 10 month old Shepherd Mix.

  13. Doc says:

    Thanks for the additional info. It sounds like Parvovirus should be ruled out, but we do see occasional vaccine failures and often have false negative stool Parvovirus tests, especially in the first day or two of illness. A microscopic pathology exam would have been the definitive test (after post-mortem, of course).

    Still sounds more like infection than poison to me, even if parvovirus is ruled out.

    Tough situation.

  14. Cathy says:

    I just lost my 7 month old dog,she was a rescue pet from the animal shelter I got in December, I don’t know about shots before I got her, but my vet. did give her parvo shots,she was very active, nothing wrong until 3 days ago she refused food and water,there are no er vets in my area for the weekend,she vomitted carmel colored foamy flem looking stuff, along with some bloody looking substance. She did not have bowel movements until the very last few hours she was alive,the smell of this was horrible,not like a dog poop smell. Could she have been poisoned? or Parvo? She stayed in the house or back fenced in yard. And yes, we did have a neighbor that did not like her.

  15. Doc says:

    Hello, Cathy,

    The diarrhea with parvovirus usually has a significant blood content, and the smell is truly awful, not a bit like normal poop.

    Common poisons typically cause neurological signs, with twitching and jerking and drooling, or free-bleeding.

    I don’t know of a common toxin that would cause the scenario you describe.

    There are other diseases besides parvovirus that can mimic what you saw. Even when the vaccines are given properly, it is possible for a rare individual to have a vaccine failure, and get the disease anyway.

    From your description, I do not think your dog was poisoned. This is a difficult thing to prove or disprove, however.

  16. chris says:

    My son’s 1 year old lab was fine about 7 pm when she came back into the yard. She was maybe a little hyper but she came into contact with my other dog who was in the gate. The lab had gotten out a few times, and there was a neighbor complaining of dogs chasing ducks. The parish animal control had put a note on my door a few days earlier but my dogs were in yard so I never called. The next morning after the lab came home at 7 pm, in the morning the dog was sleeping in her normal spot stiff and dead. She had likely been dead a while when found so she would have passed in the early hours of the morning. There were no signs of vomiting or sickness of any kind and she is a lab from a good breed with no known congenital defects in the family. Is it possible my lab was poisoned? And if so what poison could affect the dog so quickly with little to no signs? Please let me know your thoughts. Sincerely,

  17. Doc says:

    Hello, Chris,

    The commonly poisonous compounds we see do not generally kill the dog like it just went to sleep. Insecticides and the newer rat poisons cause obvious neurological signs with muscle tremors, hyper-drooling, convulsions. Slug baits would be similar. It wouldn’t look peaceful. The older rat poisons cause the animal to become a free bleeder. Again, much less likely to appear as a sudden peaceful death. Other toxic compounds that damage the liver or kidneys are usually much slower to cause death.

    The fact that the dogs escape puts trauma on the list. I have seen many dogs where the owner actually saw them get hit by a car, but there were no externally visible marks. A severe head concussion could do this.

    Without a complete post-mortem (and frequently even with one) it is very difficult to determine the cause in these sudden-death cases.

    Analysis for toxic substances in the blood or stomach contents can be done, but they test for specific compounds, rather than “any kind of poison”. The more compounds you test for, the more you spend. It’s not so easy as the TV detective shows make it appear.

  18. chris says:

    Thank you very much for your response. Could a death with our lab have occurred through poisoning if the possible perpetrator was knowledgeable of veterinary medicine and had access to controlled medications? Please let me know. Thank you.

  19. chris says:

    Also when I went out this morning I did notice that the lab had vomited twice not far from where she slept. The dog food was not very well digested and appeared to be in a clear congealed liquid. I noticed this and thought that it may help with your opinion. Thanks again.

  20. chris says:

    Sorry for late response and multiples but my son also said the lab had walked around drive way apparently and there was some anal leakage and where he found her she had some fluid leaking out of her rectum.

  21. Doc says:

    Hello, Chris,
    Vomiting and rectal leakage could occur with toxic substances, also just as part of a terminal event.

    A post-mortem examination would tell you more (probably).

    I can’t think of some drug that I would use, despite my knowledge of veterinary medicine and controlled substances.

  22. John R says:

    I just lost my BearBear. She was a healthy, happy, bright, loving 5-yr old mixed breed, about 25 lbs. She lives with 13 other dogs of varying ages/sizes. About on a Wednesday, I noticed someone had vomited clear fluid with what looked like a little egg white in it. Then I figured it was BearBear, as she was refusing food (which she NEVER does). She didn’t eat Wednesday or Thursday, and no pooping either, and again more clear vomit as she would drink and drink. I figured it was a blockage, as a sibling had tore open a pillow and little foam pieces were everywhere and maybe she ate one. Plus in one of the vomits I saw her vomit up a small blue piece of foam. So we went to the vet on Friday, and did an examine, prescribed an oral laxative as well as syringes of liquid baby food and gatorade. All this time, she was having some abdominal cramps (belly was contracting every few minutes). But she did not give any indications her abdomin was in pain when the vet probed. BearBear was still active though subdued, and wanted to isolate (which is completely unlike her) since this all began. She let me hold her, pet her, rub her belly and didn’t fuss when fed with a syringe of baby food or laxative. She finally had a minor BM of liquid diahrrea (light brown) Sunday night so I thought things were better. That night she *really* resisted the laxative and baby food, but we got it in her. We went to sleep. In the morning, I discovered her unresponsive, and she had soiled her sleeping area. I picked her up, but she was limp. She looked at me and I kissed her, set her down to wipe her off. She moved once to re-position herself but then back to limp. Rushing to the vet, he was in surgery so we had to wait 30 min for him to finish. But she was dying. She had some bright pink blood in her loose stool, and a couple muscle spasms. The vet drew blood and I knew there was a problem immediately… it was thick and black. Her PCV count was maxed; the vet said he’d never seen anything remotely close in his career. BearBear’s eyes were glazed at this point and I could not see out of mine due to crying. With urging, I agreed to put her down right on the spot. I’m sorry BearBear for not protecting you from whatever happened to make you sick. I loved you as much as you loved me. You did not deserve this, and I miss you badly. All your pack misses you too. Does anyone know what might have happened? All the other dogs are fine. Everyone’s up on their vac’s. Everyone is active and loved. They all had a strong preventive course of panacur 3 months ago. Please, if anyone knows what might have happened, please let me know. I did not do a necropsy as those are not guaranteed. I’m still crying 3 days later. She loved me, looked up to me, and depended on me to care for her and I failed. I have to know if there is something I could have done, so in the least I can prevent anyone else dying. Also… if your dog ever changes behaviorally, always get a simple blood analysis in the very least. It might have saved my BearBear 🙁

  23. Doc says:

    Hello, John R,

    Thanks for your story. Cases like this are devastating. I recently lost a patient with many signs of toxic exposure, though we couldn’t identify any source. She seemed to respond for several hours, then we lost her.

    Certainly a post-mortem examination is not guaranteed to find the results, but just trying to guess is not very rewarding.

    I am sorry for your loss.

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