Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is an organic compound formed as the result of sugar fermentation and is toxic to dogs. 

• Common sources of ethanol include alcoholic beverages, rising raw bread dough, fermenting or rotting fruits, and household cleaning products

• Ethanol is rapidly absorbed by the GI tract and causes loss of coordination, vomiting, excessive thirst and urination, low body temperature, and lethargy

Significantly high doses lead to loss of consciousness and are potentially lethal

• Diagnosis is based on history of exposure, clinical presentation, and blood tests

• There is no antidote for ethanol poisoning, so treatment involves stabilization and supportive care

• With prompt treatment, prognosis for ethanol poisoning is generally good with most dogs recovering within 8 to 12 hours

• If medical attention is delayed and the ingested dose is sufficiently high, severe intoxication may lead to death

A Closer Look: What is Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs?

Ethanol is widely available and consumed by humans in many forms, including wine, spirits, beer, and liquor. The intoxicating and potentially hazardous effects of ethanol impact humans similarly to dogs, but humans often do not experience symptoms of poisoning due to tolerance and higher average body weight.

Ingestion of raw bread dough is one of the most significant sources for potential ethanol toxicosis for several reasons: 

• Ease of access when dough is set out to rise

• Dogs are likely to consume the entire batch if they are interested in eating it

• The activity of yeast in rising dough produces a large amount of ethanol and can easily provide a lethal dose

If ingestion of ethanol is suspected, even if the animal is not showing symptoms, prompt medical attention is warranted. In severe cases, ethanol ingestion in dogs can be life-threatening, and must be treated as an emergency. 

Early treatment and decontamination is the best way to prevent poisoning in cases of canine ingestion of ethanol.Other serious medical conditions have similar symptoms to ethanol toxicosis and warrant prompt veterinary attention even when there is no history of exposure to a toxin. 

In severe cases, dogs can develop health complications due to ethanol poisoning such as:

• Blindness • TremorsDifficulty breathing 

• Coma • Seizures • Circulatory disturbances

• Liver disease

High doses of ethanol lead to: 

• Loss of consciousness • Death

Risk Factors

Ethanol is routinely consumed by humans in beverages. Any dog living in a household where ethanol is stored is at risk of ethanol poisoning. The severity of poisoning depends on the dosage (concentration of alcohol) consumed and body weight. For example, liquor from a fresh bottle is more concentrated than beer or wine and is more toxic in smaller volumes.

Additional sources of ethanol that dogs may have access to include raw bread dough, rotting fruit, and cleaning products. 

Smaller dogs and dogs with pre-existing metabolic, liver, or kidney conditions are more susceptible to ethanol toxicity.

Prevention is the best way to reduce the risk of ethanol poisoning.

Possible Causes

Ethanol poisoning is caused by the absorption of a toxic dose of ethyl alcohol. A number of substances contain ethanol:

• Alcoholic beverages 

• Mouthwash 

• Rotting or fermenting fruit 

• Raw yeast-containing bread dough 

• Some household cleaners

Main Symptoms

Early symptoms of inebriation are similar to those demonstrated by intoxicated humans: 

Incoordination (ataxia)

• Nausea

Vomiting 

• Disorientation

As the condition progresses, more serious symptoms include: 

Excessive urination 

Excessive thirst

Lethargy

• Low body temperature (hypothermia)

Testing and Diagnosis

Symptoms of ethanol poisoning are associated with many other conditions, so diagnosis in the absence of known exposure is difficult.

If ingestion of ethanol-containing substances is witnessed, the diagnosis is self-evident and immediate medical care is warranted. 

If ingestion is not witnessed, a dog showing symptoms associated with ethanol poisoning typically undergoes the following diagnostics: 

• Complete blood work 

• Urinalysis

Steps to Recovery

Early treatment is focused on decontamination and supportive care. Decontamination efforts are more effective when performed as soon as possible after ingestion.  Treatment options include: 

• Inducing vomiting (emesis)

• IV fluid therapy 

• Anti-nausea medication 

• Feeding ice chips or cooling the stomach with ice water lavage to suppress yeast activity

• Protection from self-injury (e.g. falls) 

Note: induction of vomiting should only be performed with veterinary guidance. There is no safe way to induce vomiting at home.

If treated before the appearance of symptoms, most dogs recover within 12 hours of treatment. 

If treatment is delayed, prognosis is guarded and serious health complications can develop. 

Death as a result of alcohol intoxication in dogs is rare. With adequate supportive care, recovery usually occurs within 8-12 hours in most cases. Severe intoxications may experience complications and recovery time is longer.

Prevention

Ethanol poisoning is prevented by eliminating the possibility of exposure to ethyl alcohol. Strategies include:

• Proper storage of alcoholic beverages

• Careful placement of rising raw bread dough

• Not feeding raw dough to pets

• Proper disposal of garbage and organic materials

Is Ethanol Poisoning Common in Dogs?

Dogs tend to be indiscriminate eaters, as such they may ingest a number of toxic and harmful substances. 

Typical Treatment

• Inducing vomiting (emesis)

• IV fluid therapy 

• Anti-nausea medication 

• Gastric cooling

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