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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

General Treatment of Poisoning

By Barry R. Blakley, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan ; Rob Bildfell, DVM, MSc, DACVP, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University ; William D. Black, MSc, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph ; Herman J. Boermans, DVM, MSc, PhD, Professor of Toxicology, Director Toxicology Program, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph ; Cecil F. Brownie, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABFE, DABFM, FACFEI, Emeritus Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University ; Raymond Cahill-Morasco, MS, DVM, New, SeaPort Veterinary Hospital, Gloucester, MA ; Keith A. Clark, DVM, PhD, Retired Director, Zoonosis Control Division, Texas Department of Health ; Gregory F. Grauer, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Professor and Jarvis Chair of Small Animal Internal Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT, Toxicology Consultant, Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and Adjunct Faculty, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois ; Larry G. Hansen, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Illinois ; Safdar A. Khan, DVM, MS, PhD, DABVT, Director of Toxicology Research, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Urbana, Illinois ; Garrick C. M. Latch, MASc, PhD, Consultant ; Gavin L. Meerdink, DVM, DABVT, Clinical Professor, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois ; Lisa A. Murphy, VMD, Veterinary Poison Information Specialist, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center ; Frederick W. Oehme, DVM, PhD, Professor of Toxicology, Pathobiology, Medicine and Physiology, Comparative Toxicology Laboratories, Kansas State University ; Gary D. Osweiler, DVM, MS, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University ; Mary M. Schell, DVM, DABVT, DABT, Senior Toxicologist, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Urbana, Illinois ; David G. Schmitz, DVM, MS, DACVIM (LA), Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University ; Norman R. Schneider, DVM, MSc, DABVT, Veterinary Toxicologist, University of Nebraska ; Cheryl L. Waldner, DVM, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

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Immediate, life-saving measures may be needed initially. Beyond this, treatment consists of preventing further absorption of the poison, providing supportive treatment, and administering specific antidotes, if available.

Thorough washing with soap and water can usually prevent further absorption of poisons on the skin. If the animal has a long or dense coat, the hair may need to be clipped. For some poisons that have been ingested, vomiting may be induced in dogs and cats. However, vomiting is not recommended if the suspected poison could damage the stomach or esophagus on its way up, if more than a few hours have passed, if the swallowing reflex is absent, if the animal is convulsing, or if there is a risk of aspiration pneumonia (vomited material being inhaled into the lungs). If the animal is unconscious, the stomach may be flushed with a stomach tube, or surgery on the stomach may be needed. Laxatives and medications used to empty the bowels may be recommended in some instances to help remove the poison from the gastrointestinal tract.

If the poison cannot be physically removed, sometimes activated charcoal can be administered by mouth to prevent further absorption from the gastrointestinal tract.

Supportive treatment is often necessary until the poison can be metabolized and eliminated. The type of support required depends on the animal’s condition and may include controlling seizures, maintaining breathing, treating shock, controlling heart problems (for example, irregular heart beats), and treating pain.

In some cases, there is a known antidote for a specific poison.