Monday, November 23, 2009

Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs

By Linda Cole

Along with all the heaping dishes of good food and fantastic desserts at family gatherings this holiday season, alcohol will probably be included. There's nothing wrong with humans having a glass or two, but alcohol is dangerous for dogs and cats. Alcohol poisoning in pet is preventable, however, provided we as responsible pet owners take some precautions during our upcoming holiday celebrations.

I've grown up with dogs and cats, and am still amazed at how they try to manipulate us into giving them what we have. My mom had a dog (Heidi) years ago who had a persistent cough, and Mom took her to the vet. Heidi had bronchitis and the vet put her on antibiotics and suggested giving her a teaspoon of Sloe Gin to help ease her coughing. This was many years ago, before much was known about alcohol poisoning in dogs. Following the vet's instructions, Mom gave Heidi a teaspoon of gin when her coughing became excessive. Heidi's coughing subsided as she recovered from the bronchitis, and Mom stopped giving her the gin. However, Heidi liked the gin and wasn't ready to give it up. Her coughing returned a week later – only this time, it was obvious she was faking in order to get some gin!

Dogs don't know if something is bad for them or not. They only know they want what we have. Mom would never have given Heidi the gin for any reason had she known alcohol poisoning was possible, and I'm sure our vet would never have suggested it had he known. Thankfully, continuing research has educated us and our vets as to what is harmful and potentially toxic to our pets.

Alcohol poisoning is more common in dogs than cats, although felines are at risk too. Dogs are more likely to sample someone's unattended drink or be given one on purpose, and the amount of alcohol that is too much depends on the weight of the dog. The alcohol we drink contains a lot of ethanol. A bottle of liquor that is 80 proof is 40% alcohol, so just a taste could be toxic to a small dog or cat. Beer, wine, creamy liqueurs and hard liquor all contain enough alcohol to cause serious health problems in dogs and cats. Beer contains the smallest amount at around 3 to 5%, wine is next with alcohol levels at 9 to 12%, and hard liquor contains the most at 40 to 90%. Even food containing alcohol could potentially poison your pet. Never allow anyone to give a puppy or kitten alcohol for any reason.

Some medications can also cause alcohol poisoning in dogs, since ethanol is often used as a solvent. Bread dough and other fermented products can cause problems, but it's not as common. If the dog eats uncooked bread dough, the yeast will ferment in his gastrointestinal tract and turn into alcohol which can then poison him. Whenever baking or working with yeast dough, it's best to make sure your pets stay out of the kitchen to avoid any innocent snitching while your back is turned.

Ironically, some of the symptoms we associate with people who've had too much to drink are the same for dogs – such as, staggering, behavior changes, being disoriented or slow to respond to you. If your dog needs to go outside more than usual, is overly excited or depressed, and smells like alcohol or you suspect alcohol poisoning, he needs to be seen by a vet as soon as possible. Treatment can vary depending on the amount of alcohol in their system, but in most cases with early treatment, they will recover just fine. Left untreated, the result may not be as positive. Activated charcoal is usually given to help absorb the alcohol and an intravenous drip may be needed to rehydrate the dog.

As responsible pet owners, it's up to us to make sure our dogs are away from celebrations that include alcohol and not allowed in the kitchen when making bread dough. The holidays should be fun for all members of the family and by keeping an eye on your pet when company arrives, you can make sure they stay safe. When it comes to alcohol and pets, it's best to “just say no” and make sure everyone understands that no means no.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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