Arsenic Poisoning in Dogs

Arsenic is a heavy metal that is used in many compounds around the house.  It is used in pesticides, herbicides, wood preservatives, and in some drug formulas to treat heartworm.  In the cause of heartworm treatments, the arsenic is a sub-lethal level.  However, over dosing the dog on the heartworm tablets can cause arsenic poisoning.

The symptoms of  arsenic poisoning are as follows: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lethargy, staggering, fresh bright red blood in feces, lying down with extreme exhaustion, the body, especially the extremities, is unnaturally cold, loss of consciousness, death.  Chronic exposure causes subtle symptoms like poor appetite and weight loss.

The cause of arsenic poisoning is the ingestion of some substance with arsenic in it.  A dog may chew on treated wood, drink a pesticide or herbicide, or be let out on the lawn after such a substance is applied.  Then it gets on his fur and he licks it off, ingesting the poison.

Background history is very important in the diagnosis of arsenic poisoning and your veterinarian will need to know the names of any arsenic containing compounds you have at your house.  You will need to give a thorough history of the dog’s health, onset of symptoms, possible exposure to arsenic.  Often, owners take their dog to the veterinarian with the complaint of sudden vomiting because they did not see the dog consume the arsenic compound.  It is helpful to bring a sample of the vomit or diarrhea with you to the veterinarian’s office so it can be tested for arsenic poisoning.

Acute arsenic poisoning is an emergency and every moment counts.  Vomiting helps the dog to expel the poison as much as possible.  However, if the dog is not vomiting the doctor will need to pump the dog’s stomach and wash out the stomach contents.  As arsenic severly damages the liver and kidneys, dialysis may be necessary for dogs that are in a state of kidney failure due to the arsenic.  The main objective of the treatment is to rid the body of the arsenic, so fluids are given and drugs promoting excretion of the compound are used.  Some compounds chelate (bind with) arsenic and render it inert, so these may be given as well.  Chelatros work to slow down the arsenic so it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier and by making it more water soluble so it can be flushed out of the dog’s system.  Your dog will probably have to stay in the hospital for a few days to stabilize.

If you actually witness the dog consume arsenic, quickly act to produce vomiting in the dog.  Call your veterinarian for instructions on how to do that.  Never induce vomiting in an unconscious dog.  Whether the dog vomits or not, you will have to take it to the veterinarian immediately for follow-up care.

After the dog gets home from the hospital, make sure it rests and is protected from stress.  Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for treatment and give the dog easily ingested food for a few days.  Make sure he cannot get to the arsenic compound again.

Unfortunately, few dogs survive arsenic poisoning unless they are caught in the act of consuming the arsenic and treated immediately.