Alcohol Poisoning

By Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT; Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT

What is alcohol poisoning?

Ethanol overdose by ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption leads to alcohol poisoning. Ethanol – also called ethyl alcohol - is a colorless, flammable liquid with a mild odor and a burning taste. Ethanol is fermented from sugar cropd or starch crops, including corn, wheat, and potatoes. Common sources of ethanol include alcoholic beverages, liquor-containing candies, hand sanitizer, mouth wash, some liquid medications, rotten fruits, and uncooked rising yeast bread dough. All animals are at risk for alcohol poisoning; however, cats are especially sensitive.

Overdose exposure to isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol), found in rubbing alcohol, perfumes, some pet flea sprays, methanol (methyl alcohol) found in automotive windshield wiper fluid, paint removers, and canned fuel can all cause alcohol poisoning.

What are the clinical signs of alcohol poisoning? 

Excessive sleepiness, stumbling gait, disoriented behavior, nausea/vomiting, low body temperature, low blood sugar, increased thirst and increased urination are common clinical signs of alcohol poisoning. Severe clinical signs include slow respiratory rate, tremor, seizure, coma and death. Clinical signs usually occur rapidly after exposure to a toxic dose of alcohol - likely within 20 to 90 minutes. If your pet has been exposed to any form of alcohol, please call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 animal poison control center, at 1-800-213-6680 right away.

How is alcohol poisoning diagnosed? 

History of recent exposure to an alcohol product coupled with the expected clinical signs are used to diagnose alcohol poisoning. Veterinarians may perform testing to further assist with diagnosis and treatment including checking blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood pH/blood gas. Breathalyzer and blood testing to determine blood alcohol level is not used in veterinary medicine.

How is alcohol poisoning treated? 

Early decontamination of the pet should be performed following exposure to a toxic dose of alcohol as long as the patient is not showing clinical signs. Decontamination may include inducing vomiting (for ingestions) or bathing (for skin exposures). Other therapies include intravenous (IV) fluids, IV dextrose to correct low blood glucose, anti-nausea medication and warming support. Although there is no specific antidote for alcohol poisoning, medications may be used to assist with severe clinicals signs of respiratory depression and coma. Hospitalization for monitoring of cardiovascular and neurological parameters is needed until animals have recovered. Recovery is expected within 24 – 36 hours following treatment.

What is the prognosis for alcohol poisoning? 

Prognosis for recovery from alcohol poisoning is excellent provided the pet receives prompt veterinary treatment.

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, MN is available 24/7 for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s per incident fee includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at

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