Dog Poisoning: Don’t Panic. Don’t Panic … Too Late—Our Call To Pet Poison Helpline

When your dog gets ill, it is stressful enough. But what if you suspect poisoning?

Unfortunately, dogs can get poisoned by many things. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the top 10 most frequently reported poisonings are:

  • foods (chocolate, xylitol, grapes/raisins)
  • insecticides
  • rodenticides
  • human NSAIDs
  • household cleaners
  • human antidepressants
  • fertilizers
  • acetaminophen
  • amphetamines
  • veterinary pain meds

The above list was published in 2011 but I doubt much has changed since. Though marijuana and e-cigarettes poisoning are on the rise.

Dog Poisoning: Don't Panic. Don't Panic ... Too Late—Our Call To Pet Poison Helpline

Cookie’s story

Everything was as usual. Cookie ate her dinner, then later we went for a second little walk, played and did some training games as we always do. Cookie was eager to work for her treats. 

Then I called it a night and Cookie went to lay down to sleep while I was still working. Before I go to bed I prepare Cookie’s breakfast and she always comes over to see if she could score some more treats.

This time she didn’t come.

Cookie turns down treats

Already finding that suspicious, I went to offer her some.–diagnostic tactic. She didn’t want any. And she had that look on her face that was telling me she isn’t feeling good. Even the way she was laying there had me worried.

What is going on?

Why is her belly upset? The first thing I got worried about was another event of pancreatitis. But why? In my head, I was going over what she’s eaten and there was nothing out of the ordinary. She didn’t snatch anything on our walks and didn’t manage to eat anything inedible in the house either. So what upset her belly? She was perfectly fine a couple of hours ago?

Cookie doesn’t feel well

When I got up she got up also and wanted to go outside. There she just sat down on the ramp, looking pitiful. After a while just sitting there, I invited her back to the house.

Her abdomen wasn’t distended or sore to the touch, she wasn’t trying to throw up, so I was quite sure it wasn’t bloat. She looked like she was thinking about throwing up it was remaining at the thinking stage.


Worried as I was, I kept trying to think what could be behind this.

Then I remembered that after we finished our activities she went potty and when I was letting her back in she stood there and it looked as if she was chewing something. I didn’t give it too much thought at the time, because there wasn’t anything out there she could have been eating.

Or was there?

I grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate the spot. There was evidence of digging and a couple of disturbed roots were sticking out of the ground. It was hard to tell whether they were just broken up or chewed off.

Considering that Cookie wasn’t feeling well, I wondered how significant that finding was. And what plant would those roots belong to? Figuring that I should consider the worst-case scenario, the roots might have been from the binding weed type of plant growing through the fence.

What is that plant?

Not knowing whether it was toxic or not, we removed the plants themselves, but not the roots. Perhaps I should find out what the heck that plant was.

Armed with a bit of it I went online.

Trying to identify a random plant in a hurry is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I could be there until Christmas. Perhaps I could reverse-identify it by checking plants poisonous to dogs.

Obviously, I was hoping I wouldn’t find anything even remotely resembling the plant.

Nightshade Belladonna?

But I did. The source I was using lists of Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, one of the most poisonous plants in the Western hemisphere. It looks kind of similar to the plant making its way to our yard but, fortunately, not quite. Particularly, the berries are black and our plant has red berries in the fall.

Heart attack potentially on hold.

With some more search, I found Bittersweet Nightshade, which does seem to look identical to the plant in question. And has red berries. How poisonous is that one? The berries are poisonous but there are no berries out there right now. But what about the plant itself or its roots? With Belladonna, apparently, the whole plant is poisonous, particularly the roots!

Bittersweet Nightshade. Photo Phil
Belladonna/Deadly Nightshade. Photo Herb Museum Vancouver

Calling Pet Poison Helpline

The Pet Poison Helpline only lists Belladonna, the Deadly Nightshade. Being a similar species, what about our case?

In order to know what I might be facing, I decided to call them.

First I was greeted with what seemed like an hour-long recording. I understand why it’s there, but trust me, when you’re worried about your dog, you don’t want to listen to any recordings. Then a very nice veterinarian picked up, asking me questions about my phone number, address and so on. I don’t know about you but when I’m freaking out, I have no idea what my phone number is or how to spell my street address …

Finally, we got to talking about Cookie and the situation.

“Is she vomiting or having diarrhea? Drooling? Licking her lips … ?” the vet asked. No, she wasn’t. “So how do you know she’s not well?” How does one explain that it is the look on her face, I don’t know if he believed me but he had to take my word for it that she’s not well.

He confirmed that the berries are poisonous and the plant or roots may or may not cause a reaction. He said that given Cookie’s size, she would have to eat a whole lot of it to make her really sick.

OK, she definitely didn’t eat a whole lot of it. The worst panic was over but I still didn’t know for sure what caused it and where it was going to go.

The resolution

And then, a couple of hours later, just like that, Cookie was fine again.

Go figure. She ate her breakfast and seems fine since. I am not sure what caused the upset. Perhaps it had nothing to do with the nightshade roots. The important thing is that Cookie was okay.

Related articles:
Fireworks Poisoning in Dogs: Zoe Dies after Chewing up Used Sparklers
Cyanotoxin Poisoning in Dogs: What Happens in a Dog’s Body with Cyanotoxin?
Sago Palm Poisoning in Dogs: Piper’s Brush with Death
Xylitol Poisoning in Dogs: What Happens In The Dog’s Body with Xylitol Poisoning
Count Your Change: Penny’s Zinc Poisoning
Antifreeze Poisoning in Dogs: What Happens in the Dog’s Body with Antifreeze Poisoning?

Further resources:
Pet Poison Helpline

Categories: ConditionsPoisoningReal-life Stories

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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