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A dog in distress after ingesting medication meant for humans

My dog ate something it shouldn't have

Mary Van DorenVerified

Senior Editor

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Depending on what your dog ate, you'll either take your dog to the vet, induce vomiting, or let the dog pass whatever it ate.

All dog owners have experienced it: the unwelcome discovery of evidence that a beloved dog got into something they shouldn’t have. From book binders to shoes, their appetites for things to chew is boundless. JustAnswer, the largest professional question and answer platform on the internet, released the findings of an exhaustive analysis of the harmful things your dog can eat. We've also compiled tips for what you can do if you and your dog find yourself in this position.

JustAnswer analysts reviewed keyword data to identify trends since January 2015. The study found of thousands of pet-related questions asked through the platform. From January 2015 to August 2017, the number of questions about dogs eating potentially harmful items as a percentage of JustAnswer's Pet category grew from about 25% to over 30%. Put another way, every third question asked in the Pet category is about dogs eating something harmful.

A graph explaining the percentage of "my dog ate" question making up the Pet category at JustAnswer
In 2016, every fourth questions in the Pet category was about dogs eating harmful objects. In 2017, every third question in the category was about "my dog ate."

Some of the more peculiar items included questions about dogs eating contact lenses, spiders, birth control, and diet pills. There was even a case of a dog managing to eat a tube of rectal cream. Outside of these anomalies, our research uncovered some interesting trends:

A pie chart detailing various things my dog ate
Medication and chocolate make up the top things dogs swallow, but animal bones, onions, and marijuana round out the list of surprising items dogs like to ingest.
  • Between 2015 and 2016, there was a 21 percent increase in “my dog ate” questions
  • Compared to 2016, 2017 saw a 42 percent increase in “my dog ate” questions
  • Questions about dogs swallowing pharmaceuticals outnumbered the questions about dogs swallowing items in the other 11 categories combined
  • The second largest category included questions about dogs eating bones and dead animals
  • Onions, chocolate, grapes, and raisins accounted for 18 percent of all questions in the "my dog ate" category

Individual states also showed some interesting trends. California, New York, and Illinois had the most questions about dogs eating marijuana. Texas and California, unsurprisingly, led the list of states in which dogs ate avocados. Finally, dogs in Texas, California, and New York seem to have a palate for the unmentionables—they seem to enjoy eating underwear.

An infographic showing what states have the highest volume of "my dog ate chocolate" questions
A majority of questions about dogs eating chocolate comes from populous California, but states in the Midwest (MI, MN, and MO) and those along the Eastern Seaboard (VA, NC) account for plenty of questions on JustAnswer.

My dog ate my medication. What do I do?

If they can get their jaws around it, dogs will eat it. Underwear, onion, chocolate, even drain cleaner. But one of the most dangerous things a dog can eat is human medication. As our study shows, "My dog ate my medication" is a major concern for dog owners.

Even veterinary medicines can become toxic if not administered according to instructions. Veterinary pills are easily over-consumed by dogs, since they are usually flavored to make them more appealing and easier to swallow. If these pills are kept in an accessible place, a dog will quickly and easily consume them.

Even as little as two tablets of an acetaminophen pain reliever can cause severe organ damage in a medium-sized dog. Because animals do not have the natural enzymes necessary for detoxifying and eliminating drugs, medications like acetaminophen and NSAIDs are a major cause of drug poisoning in dogs.

A dog lying sullenly on her tummy after accidentally eating acetaminophen
Dogs that eat human-grade pain killers, such as NSAIDs or acetaminophen, are in serious danger and should be rushed to the vet.

One JustAnswer customer wrote, “My dog ate a bottle of ibuprofen and has been vomiting and urinating on the floor for over a day now. What is wrong with her and what should we do?” The answer from Expert Tammy F:

“You need to call your vet right away. Ibuprofen is toxic even when they eat just one pill. It can cause kidney and liver failure and this might be why you are seeing the urination problems.”

Here are the top 5 medications that are toxic to dogs, according to the Pet Poison Helpline:

NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve, Motrin)

Topping our list is the common household medication called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), which is sold under common brands such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and some types of Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). While these medications are safe for people, even one or two pills can cause serious harm to a pet. Dogs may develop serious stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Even though this drug is very safe, even for children, it's not true for pets. In dogs, acetaminophen leads to liver failure and, in large doses, red blood cell damage.

Antidepressants (Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, etc.)

While these antidepressant drugs are occasionally used in pets, overdoses can lead to serious neurological problems such as sedation, incoordination, tremors and seizures. Some antidepressants also have a stimulant effect leading to a dangerously elevated heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.

ADD/ADHD medications (Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin etc.)

Medications used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder contain potent stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Even minimal ingestions of these medications by pets can cause life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems.

Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, etc.)

These medications are designed to reduce anxiety and help people sleep better. However, in pets, they may have the opposite effect. About half of the dogs who ingest sleep aids become agitated instead of sedate. In addition, these drugs may cause severe lethargy, incoordination (including walking “drunk”), and slowed breathing in pets.

A dog being administered an emetic by a vet after ingesting prescription medication
Dogs that ingest human-grade medications should be brought to a vet as soon as possible.

Some tips for preventing accidental drug poisoning:

  • Never leave loose pills in a plastic Ziploc bag, because the bags are too easy to chew into. Make sure visiting house guests do the same, keeping their medications high up or out of reach.
  • If you place your medication in a weekly pill container, make sure to store the container in a cabinet out of reach of your pets. Unfortunately, some pets might consider the pill container a plastic chew toy.
  • Never store your medications near your pet’s medications. Pet owners sometimes inadvertently give their own medication to their pet.
  • Hang up your purse. Inquisitive pets will explore the contents of your bag and simply placing your purse up and out of reach can help to avoid exposure to any potentially dangerous medication(s).

If your dog has eaten medication, do not attempt to induce vomiting at home. These efforts often fail and cause significant stress to your pet, and most importantly, precious time is lost by allowing the medications to be absorbed from the stomach. Instead, call your nearest veterinary emergency center for advice and directions.

The Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) is available 24/7 to help answer dog owners' questions.

My dog ate chocolate. How bad is it?

In the JustAnswer survey, people food was a huge concern for owners. The biggest problems came from chocolate, grapes and raisins, and onions (or cooked food that contains onions, such as pizza).

A dog eating chocolate on top of a kitchen countertop
Chocolate contains substances called methylxanthines. Dogs cannot metabolize methylxanthines, and so their system shuts down when they ingest too much chocolate.

Can dogs eat chocolate? Definitely not. While a very small amount eaten by a large dog can be harmless, veterinarians agree: Don’t offer chocolate to any dog.

Why is chocolate bad for dogs? Chocolate, along with coffee and caffeine, all contain substances called methylxanthines. Dogs cannot metabolize methylxanthines as well as people can.

When ingested by dogs or other pets, methylxanthines can cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased body temperature
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Advanced signs (cardiac failure, weakness, and coma)

As the ASPCA notes, the darker chocolate, the more dangerous it is. A medium-sized dog weighing 50 pounds would only need to eat 1 ounce of baker's chocolate, or 9 ounces of milk chocolate, to potentially show signs of poisoning. Very young and very old dogs, as well as dogs with heart conditions or other underlying diseases, are especially at risk after ingesting chocolate.

The amount of chocolate eaten and the size of the dog will impact the dog’s reaction. JustAnswer Expert Tammy F says, “The killer serving is approximately one ounce of milk chocolate, one third ounce of semi-sweet chocolate or one-tenth ounce of baker's chocolate per pound of dog.” That means if your dog is 20 pounds, a potentially lethal serving would be 20 ounces of milk chocolate. Tammy F. continues:

“If your dog ate more than [the acceptable ratio], you need to induce vomiting by giving 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide by mouth immediately. If it was less, based on his weight, you will see some stomach upset but it won't kill him.”

Because of the fat and milk content in many chocolates, dogs may also develop secondary symptoms such as inflammation of the pancreas or upset stomach after eating chocolate.

Finally, it’s important to remember that it’s not just chocolate candy or baker’s chocolate that’s dangerous. The list also includes cocoa powder, hot chocolate mix, baked chocolate goods, and chocolate-covered espresso beans, among others.

Other toxic foods to keep away from your dog

Grapes and raisins (dried grapes) give dogs adverse reactions, although the exact reason why is still being studied. Not all dogs are affected after eating grapes or raisins, but according to JustAnswer expert Dr. Michael Salkin, dogs can experience symptoms, including acute kidney failure, after eating more than 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight.

Dr. Salkin also notes, "Grape toxicity is idiosyncratic as well; in other words, most dogs can ingest grapes to their heart's content without harm."

The ASPCA offers a comprehensive list of foods to keep away from dogs, including alcohol, nuts, onions (including food such as pizza that includes cooked onions), eggs, and salty snacks.

What to do if your dog eats chocolate, grapes, or other toxic food

Don’t wait for symptoms to develop if you have reason to think your dog ate a toxic food. Symptoms can take 3 to 12 hours to show up.

If you suspect that your pet has ingested alcohol, contact your veterinarian or a pet poison help line immediately.

For grape ingestion, induce vomiting immediately, followed by a trip to the vet.

For chocolate, based on your dog’s size and the amount and type of the toxin consumed, your veterinarian may recommend that you simply monitor him for the clinical signs listed above and call back if his condition worsens.

A sick dog resting on a couch
Depending on the size of your dog, it may be best to simply monitor him. If you don't know how much chocolate your dog has eaten, the best course is to bring him to the vet.

Dogs will normally vomit on their own. If not, your vet might want you to induce vomiting using these steps:

  1. If the dog has not eaten within the last two hours, offer him a small meal. This makes it more likely that the dog will vomit but is not essential if the dog is uninterested in food.
  2. Measure 1 tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide for every 20 pounds of the dog’s weight. Always use fresh, non-expired, bubbly hydrogen peroxide as directed by your veterinarian. Do not use syrup of ipecac, salt, or any home remedies, as these can make your dog's condition worse. Do not administer activated charcoal products that you have at home.
  3. Squirt the hydrogen peroxide into the back of the dog’s mouth using a syringe (no needle) or turkey baster
  4. If your dog does not vomit within fifteen minutes the first time, try again using the same amount. This method should not be used more than two times, spaced apart by 15 minutes.
  5. Alternately, try putting peanut butter in a bowl and the hydrogen peroxide around the rim, as most dogs will lick the rim in order to get at the peanut butter

If your dog has not vomited after the second dose of hydrogen peroxide, do not use it, or anything further, in order to induce vomiting. Do not use anything stronger than hydrogen peroxide without first talking to your veterinarian.

Once your dog vomits, don’t give him any food or water. In the case of chocolate, theobromine may be reabsorbed across the bladder wall, so vets recommend a urinary catheter or frequent walks to keep the bladder empty.

However, do not induce vomiting in the first place if your dog:

  • is unconscious
  • is having trouble breathing
  • is exhibiting signs of serious distress or shock
  • has eaten something you can’t identify
  • has eaten something with bones in it, as vomiting might shatter the bone and cause shards to lodge in or puncture the intestine

My dog ate marijuana. What should I do?

Marijuana deserves a special mention as a plant (or medication) that is poisonous to dogs because of the increased number of states where the drug is now legal. According to certain research, a Labrador retriever weighing 66 pounds would begin showing signs of marijuana poisoning after ingesting just 0.09 ounces of marijuana.

Nevertheless, the pet market is on fire with cannibis products made specifically for dogs, many made from hemp. Hemp contains only minute traces of THC, the substance in marijuana that gets the user high. These are pitched as helpful in treating some pet ailments because they contain CBD, or cannabidiol, a cannabis compound that doesn’t include any of the intoxicating qualities.

JustAnswer Expert Dr. Roy Cruzen says there is anecdotal evidence that CBD might be a benefit to animals and humans alike in treating conditions such as pain from arthritis and for anxiety. Consumers can’t be certain of what they are buying, however, because of a lack of testing and no industry standards.

Dr. Roy Cruzen with his dog, PJ
Dr. Roy Cruzen, a JustAnswer Expert pictured with his dog, PJ, says it's still too early to say whether cannibis products made specifically for dogs are safe in the long run.

Common signs of ingestion are similar to those in humans: dilated eyes, appearing drunk, stumbling, anxiety, depression, low heart rate and lethargy. Your pet may also vomit, become agitated or exhibit urinary incontinence or urine dribbling. More severe signs include seizures and coma. Signs of marijuana poisoning typically become apparent within 30 minutes to 3 hours of ingestion.

Note: Some dog owners are reluctant to tell a veterinarian about a dog’s marijuana ingestion because they fear being reported to the police. But vets have nothing to do with reporting your use or your pet’s marijuana use to authorities, so don’t hesitate to bring in a pet who has accidentally ingested the drug.

My dog ate household chemicals or personal care items

Finally, most household cleaners and chemicals, including acids, alkalis and petroleum-based hydrocarbons, are dangerous to dogs. Go here to see a list of common culprits.

If your pet is exposed to any of these products:

  1. Contact a veterinarian immediately and tell them you are on your way so they can prepare for your arrival
  2. Move your pet to a safe area, away from the poison, if possible
  3. Check to see if your dog is breathing. If not, perform CPR on the animal.
  4. If your pet begins to tremor or convulse, move her to a safe area where she won’t injure herself (away from stairs or furniture)
  5. Do not administer home remedies and do not induce vomiting without consulting a veterinarian
  6. Instead, flush your pet’s mouth out with tepid water for 15 to 20 minutes by using a showerhead or kitchen sink spray hose. Try not to point the hose to the back of the mouth. The water may go into the lungs, which can complicate the situation. It is better to clean the mouth from different angles.
  7. Follow your veterinarian's advice depending on the size and age of the dog, as well as the chemical or drug ingested
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