Ethanol Poisoning in Dogs

Ethanol is a type of alcohol.  Dogs can get ethanol poisoning by consuming anything with alcohol in it, from perfume to mouthwash, gasoline or alcoholic beverages.  Giving your dog some of your drink is a common cause of ethanol poisoning.  Beer and other alcoholic drinks can kill your dog.  Even bread dough contains enough ethanol to poison a dog.  So do rotting apples, which ferment and create ethanol.

The symptoms of ethanol poisoning occur ten to fifteen minutes after ingesting the ethanol if the dog’s stomach is empty, and up to two hours later if the dog’s stomach was full.  The major symptom is central nervous system depression.  The dog may act drunk — uncoordinated, drowsy, or pass out.  The ethanol can damage brain cells and other cells in the body.  This is an emergency and the dog should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.

Other symptoms may be incontinence, slowed heart beat, and even heart attack. Higher doses of ethanol can lead to behavior changes, just as a human who is drunk changes behavior.  The dog may act depressed or excited, have decreased body temperature, slow reflexes, and flatulence (especially if the poisoning was from bread dough or rotten apples).  Advanced ethanol poisoning includes depression, slowed breathing and heart rate, an increase in total body acids, and heart attack.  Left untreated, this will kill your dog.

In addition to consuming alcohol in drinks, dogs can consume fermenting bread, rotten apples, or any other product with ethanol in it.  They can even absorb enough through their skin if it is spilled on them to get poisoned.  If your dog has ethanol spilled on him, immediately wash it off with soap and water to keep the dog’s skin from absorbing the product.

The veterinarian will run blood tests and a blood-ethanol level to determine if the dog is suffering from ethanol poisoning or not.  Low blood sugar and high acid levels also point to ethanol poisoning.

Dogs with ethanol poisoning will be given intravenous fluid for dehydration, medication to inhibit the metabolism of alcohol, and medication to treat the depression of the central nervous system.  If the dog is having problems breathing, oxygen will be administered.  If the dog has had a heart attack, that will have to be treated immediately before the ethanol poisoning can be addressed.

The initial symptoms should wear off after eight to twelve hours.  Any additional damage, such as a heart attack, will take longer to recover from.

Prevention consists of locking up anything that has alcohol in it in cabinets or other places your dog cannot reach.  Keep fermenting bread, rotten apples, and other sources of ethanol in a secure place the dog cannot reach.  If you have an apple tree in the yard your dog frequents, make sure to pick up all of the fallen apples before they rot and ferment.  Berries that are rotting should also be picked up, as they can produce ethanol and poison your dog.