First Aid for Dogs: Toxin Ingestion

As careful as we are with our beloved pets, there are times that we will find ourselves in emergency situations. Years ago, shortly after arriving home from a piano lesson with my daughter, I found chewed up orbit gum wrappers all over the floor. This was an alarming scene because Orbit gum contains xylitol, a sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs.


Our Border Collie Lucy was lying in the midst of the papers. I was surprised, but she looked guilty enough, so I gave her a dose of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. She proceeded to throw up everything in her stomach, which did not include Orbit gum.


So, realizing that I had induced vomiting in the wrong dog, it occured to me that our little terrier Susie was most likely the culprit. I immediately gave her a full dose of peroxide and within 10 minutes our backyard was covered with minty chewing gum.


Keep potentially toxic food items and medications stored safely away from dogs and other pets.


Xylitol is a sweetener contained in some (not all) gums, candies, peanut butters, toothpastes, and medications. Dentists prescribe xylitol to help prevent cavities, and ENT doctors prescribe it for gargling to help with sore throats. Even small quantities of xylitol are highly toxic to dogs. If not caught within 30 minutes, ingestion of xylitol by a dog can be fatal.  Fortunately I was home and realized the situation only 15 minutes after Susie had ingested the xylitol containing gum. I had a bottle of fresh peroxide with a dosing syringe on hand to induce vomiting. We followed with fluids and bloodwork to be sure there were no lasting effects and Susie recovered uneventfully.


Hydrogen peroxide is used to clean wounds and is also used to induce vomiting in dogs. If your dog has ingested a toxic substance, contact your veterinarian, a local veterinary emergency clinic, and/or animal poison control for instructions on how to proceed. If possible, do not induce vomiting in your dog without instructions from a veterinarian or poison control. There are numerous contraindications to inducing vomiting!


If you have a dog, you should have a fresh bottle of unopened hydrogen peroxide and a dosing syringe included in your pet first aid kit. Peroxide is used to clean wounds but also to induce vomiting in dogs that have ingested a toxin or harmful foreign object.


In many cases, depending on the toxin ingested, if discovered quickly, vomiting can be induced with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Commonly ingested toxins include xylitol containing gums and candies, Baker’s chocolate, raisins, grapes, chewable medications (dogs commonly eat large quantities of children’s or animal chewable tabs), rat poison, and a variety of plants. Ibuprofen and acetominophen (Tylenol) are highly toxic to dogs (and cats).  It is important NOT to induce vomiting in a dog that has ingested a caustic substance such as bleach, other cleaners, and large or pointy objects. Also, dogs must be conscious and free of respiratory issues to safely induce vomiting.


It is important to keep a fresh, new, unopened bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide along with a dosing syringe as part of a complete first aid kit for your dog. Your regular veterinarian, the emergency vet, or the poison control vet will give explicit dosing instructions for administering peroxide to induce vomiting when necessary. If possible, feed your pet a piece of toast or some crackers before giving peroxide to absorb the toxin in the stomach and to aid in inducing vomiting. Give the peroxide slowly and carefully to avoid aspiration.


Since vomiting doesn’t remove all of the stomach’s contents, it is important to bring your dog to a veterinarian for further treatment for specific toxin ingestions. Some situations require follow up care with acute as well as long-term treatments.


It is very important to know what to do if your dog ingests a toxic substance. It is equally important to be vigilant about keeping potential toxic medications and foods stored safely where your dog doesn’t have access to them. Learn about common household toxins on the ASPCA Poison Control website. Read labels, know what your dogs might be exposed to, and consider altogether banning certain items from your house.


Mushrooms are highly toxic to dogs. Keep your yard free of mushrooms. There are hundreds of species of mushrooms. All should be considered toxic. If your dog eats mushrooms it should be consider an emergency.


In the case of our little Susie described above, we already had a household ban on xylitol containing gums and candies that had not been respected. Susie found the gum in a backpack that had been left on the floor. Of course after some serious discussion with family members, the xylitol ban went back into effect following our potentially life threatening close call with our little Susie!


The ASPCA poison control website has complete information on toxic plants and other household toxins.


If you feel your dog has ingested a toxic substance, call your veterinarian immediately.  It’s also a good idea to contact the ASPCA Poison Control- 888-426-4435  (you’ll need a credit card to pay for services).

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