Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

General Treatment of Poisoning


Steve M. Ensley

, DVM, PhD, Department of Anatomy and Physiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2020 | Modified Nov 2022

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 by 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.

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