Triaging a Potentially Poisoned Pet at Home

Potential poisonings can be a scary situation for any pet owner. However, recognizing the signs of a toxin ingestion and taking the right action quickly can make a lifesaving difference for your pet. Pet Poison Helpline is available 24/7 to provide guidance in the event of potential poisonings, but it is important to be prepared should something happen to your pet.

If you believe your pet has been poisoned, the first step is to remove them from the area to prevent further exposure. Next, evaluate your pet for any abnormal behavior. Are they more hyper or lethargic than usual? Have they become agitated, aggressive, or are hiding? While signs of poisoning in dogs and cats can vary greatly based on the underlying poison, some common signs of poisoning include:

  • Gastrointestinal signs: Nausea, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, or decreased appetite
  • Cardiovascular signs: Racing or slow heart rate, pale gums, weakness or lethargy, collapse
  • Neurologic signs: Confusion, dilated or constricted pupils, ataxia (stumbling), tremors, seizures
  • Respiratory signs: Labored, rapid, shallow, or difficulty breathing; wheezing or sneezing
  • Kidney failure: Excessive thirst or urination, decreased or absence of urination, inappetence, vomiting
  • Liver failure: Yellow discoloration of the gums, skin, or eyes; weakness or collapse, dull mentation, vomiting, black tarry stools
  • Internal bleeding: Coughing or vomiting blood, pale gums

If your pet is unconscious, having difficulty breathing, bleeding excessively, or having seizures, please seek veterinary care immediately.

After assessing your pet, gather any remaining packaging or medications to help identify what, and how much your pet may have ingested. Even if your pet is acting normal, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as soon as possible. Many toxins can have delayed effects and may be harder to decontaminate or treat once symptoms are present. Consulting with a veterinarian or pet poison expert can help determine if the product ingested was concerning, if inducing vomiting is warranted, and if there is an antidote available. At times, poisonings can be managed at home, but it is important to always speak with a poison control specialist prior to initiating any at home therapies. Never administer hydrogen peroxide in cats. Dogs should not be given hydrogen peroxide without talking to a veterinary professional first, as it is not always safe or appropriate to induce vomiting.

When you are worried about your pet and a potential exposure, it is important to remain calm and not panic! Remember, the internet may be misleading and uninformed decisions could be detrimental.


Written by Katie Nethercott, Pet Poison Helpline DVM student extern, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Class of 2024

Samantha Koch, CVT, Pet Poison Helpline Representative II