A veterinarian will treat many cases of poisoning in dogs over the course of a year. While some cases will be, unfortunately, malicious, the vast majority of cases are accidental.
In most cases, the effects of any particular poison are dose dependent. In other words, the more poison a dog is exposed to, the worse the symptoms. Poisoning can be described as acute or chronic. Acute refers to the effects of a poison which occur in the first 24 hours after exposure, whereas chronic effects occur when a dog is exposed to a poison for an extended period.
Diagnosis of the cause of poisoning can be difficult. It will help if you can tell your vet as much as you can about your dog’s environment and recent activity. Tell him about any symptoms your dog is showing, when they started and how long they have been present.
A thorough examination of your dog is important, and in many cases, your vet will send some blood to a laboratory. This will tell him several things. Firstly, it will show if there are any changes to the blood cells, and give him an idea of cell numbers. Secondly, it will help determine if there is any damage to the liver and kidneys, which are two of the most common organs affected by poisons. Liver cells contain enzymes, and when cells are destroyed, these enzymes are released into the bloodstream. Blood tests can measure these enzymes. The kidneys are responsible for removing urea and creatinine from the blood, and if the kidneys aren’t working, blood levels of these two chemicals will increase.
There are several steps to treating poisoning in your dog. The first step is to prevent your dog from absorbing any more poison. This may involve washing your dog thoroughly if the chemical has been applied to the skin. If your dog has eaten the poison, then it’s necessary to make him vomit any material that’s still in the stomach. This is only effective if it’s done within a few hours of eating the poison. In some cases, your vet may choose to flush the stomach under a general anesthetic. Activated charcoal can help absorb a wide variety of substances, and is commonly used in a conscious animal.
Secondly, your dog will need supportive treatment while the poison is being excreted. This can take many forms, depending on your dog’s symptoms. In most cases, intravenous fluids are used; other medications may be needed to control seizures, regulate heart rate, and maintain breathing.
Lastly, some poisons have specific antidotes, and these can have different mechanisms of action. Some bind the toxin and stop it being effective, and some stop a poison being changed in the body into something even more toxic.
If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, contact your vet sooner rather than later. Work with him/her to reach a diagnosis, and follow any treatment instructions carefully.