Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs

As an emergency critical care veterinary specialist, I’ve seen it all … from animal abuse to dogs poisoned by illicit drugs (like marijuana and cocaine) to dogs poisoned by alcohol. While most are (thankfully) unintentional poisonings, the rare poisoning is intentional.

So, today’s topic? Drunk dogs. Believe it or not, alcohol poisoning does occur in dogs, but thankfully, it’s usually from atypical sources.

While I’ve met lots of chocolate Labradors named Guinness, and yellow Labradors named Molson, not all dogs are smart enough to avoid alcohol. (Some pet owners — dare we say fraternity boys — intentionally let their dogs lap alcohol. See "Should pet owners have to pass a test to own a pet?"). Remember, dogs eat their own crap and drink out of toilets, so they may not always be discriminating enough to determine the best source of liquid to hydrate themselves with. To be on the safe side, never leave your hard liquor or alcohol in an area where a pet can ingest it.

Unbeknownst to most owners, the typical sources of alcohol poisoning are actually from bakers (no, not the marijuana type!). That is, from people who like to bake. The first severe alcohol poisoning case I ever saw as a resident was a Beagle that had ingested a rum-soaked fruit cake. This is unusual for several reasons. First of all, who still makes fruit cake nowadays, and secondly, who eats fruit cake? The other culprit for alcohol poisoning: unbaked bread dough, which contains yeast. Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control, fields dozens of calls about dogs poisoned by bread dough. This is particularly prevalent during the holidays, when people tend to bake more.

So why is unbaked bread dough poisonous to your dog? When ingested, the warm, moist environment of your dog’s stomach acts as an artificial oven, making the uncooked bread dough rise due to the fermentation process; this results in the production of carbon dioxide (hence, why the bread rises) and alcohol. This becomes a double whammy for dogs — not only does it cause bloat due to the bread expanding (and potentially gastric dilatation volvulus, which is a life-threatening surgical emergency), but it also simultaneously causes alcohol poisoning.

Potential treatment includes induced vomiting (never do this without consulting a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline first, as it can be detrimental at times!), or even pumping the stomach (e.g., gastric lavage) with cold water to stop the fermentation process. Rarely, surgery is necessary to get the dough out. Finally, treatment for alcohol poisoning includes careful monitoring of the blood glucose (sugar), monitoring the heart rate and blood pressure, and supportive care (like intravenous fluids, anti-vomiting medications, etc.).

So yes, dogs can get drunk, and they may even like the taste, but without the hope of getting laid or even being able to talk to others of their own species, I can’t imagine it’s very fun. Be a good pet owner and keep your baked foods and hard liquor away!

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: Mat Hayward / via Shutterstock

You Might Also Like