Avoid Alcohol Exposures for Your Pet! Cheers!

Ariana Schwab, CVT
Senior Veterinary Industry Representative
Pet Poison Helpline

Alcohol can cause dangerous health problems to our pets.  Luckily, many pets find the taste unpleasant and leave it alone.  However, we are not always that lucky and due to different scents and scenarios, alcohol toxicity does occur.  Our furry friends can be exposed to alcohol in many situations and there are many varieties of ethanol (alcohol) such as an alcoholic beverage unattended, uncooked bread dough left on the counter or even hand sanitizers.

When ingested, clinical signs in our cats and dogs may include vomiting/diarrhea, sedation, and disorientation plus a dangerous decrease in blood sugars, body temperature, and respiratory rate. Following worst exposures even death may occur.  These reactions can happen quickly with signs seen as soon as 20 minutes after exposure.  Another odd thing about alcohol?  It doesn’t just need to be ingested because it is toxic even if exposure happens through the eyes, absorption across skin, or via IV or inhaled route.  Of course, the severity of every exposure is dependent on the individual dose.  Each dose is calculated using the alcohol amount, the strength of the alcohol, and the size and species of the animal.

So, what happens if our pet is exposed?  The good news is that there are treatments available to help!  If we believe an ingestion may have occurred, we need to contact our veterinarian or an expert at the Pet Poison Helpline right away.  Some less invasive treatments may be possible if caught soon enough and no clinical signs have been seen.  If we are not that lucky, our pet will likely need to be evaluated and treated by a veterinarian.  Your veterinarian can help hydrate your pet, regulate blood sugars and body temperature, and provide supportive care.  With treatment, clinical signs will usually resolve in 24-36 hours.

Another interesting fact?  With so many people trying their hand brewing beer at home, we do see more exposures to hops as well.  Even though hops are used to make alcohol, this plant shows its own set of symptoms and can be very dangerous.  Ingestion can cause critical increase in body temperature, racing heart rates, panting and more.  These exposures need to be taken seriously and treatment is often required.

If you are concerned that your pet has been exposed to an alcohol-based product, a yeast ingredient or any other thing your pet doesn’t normally have access to, call a professional to help determine if this is a concern or not.