Most of us enjoy an alcoholic drink now and again, and we all know about the effects of alcohol on ourselves. However, the effects on our dogs can be more significant, due to their lower body weight.

Alcohol poisoning occurs if a dog drinks between 5 and 8 ml of alcohol per kilo bodyweight. That’s not ml of whiskey or wine, it’s ml of alcohol. We’ll need to do some mathematics here. Whiskey may contain up to 70% alcohol, which means that in a 30ml “nip”, there’s 21 ml of actual alcohol. That’s more than enough to cause severe poisoning in a 3-4 kg Chihuahua. Wine contains around 10% alcohol and beer around 5% alcohol.
Dogs may not voluntarily drink straight spirits, but they may lap them if they’re mixed with soda, however the creamy liqueurs available today would be very palatable to a dog.

A less common cause of alcohol poisoning is bread dough. If a dog eats bread dough, fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract results in the formation of an alcohol. In January 2008, a 40kg Labrador Retriever was hospitalized in Austria with vomiting and staggering, and smelling like a brewery. His blood alcohol level was 1.6mg per 100ml. He hadn’t raided his owner’s bar fridge; he had eaten half a kilogram of fresh yeast dough. The dough had had fermented in his stomach, producing alcohol and resulting in symptoms of poisoning.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning are quite vague, as they can be characteristic of a number of illnesses, however your dog will possibly smell like alcohol. Symptoms develop within an hour, depending on how much food is in the stomach, and aren’t too different to those of a drunk person - wobbly on the feet, sluggish responses, and either excitement or depression. Your dog can remain in this condition for a day or two. However, if your pet has drunk enough, this develops into slow breathing, possibly coma and cardiac arrest, or heart attack.

Treatment is supportive and non specific - activated charcoal can prevent absorption of more alcohol, and an intravenous drip rehydrates your dog and encourages the metabolism and excretion of the alcohol. If your dog is treated early, the outcome is usually good.

This is a totally avoidable illness in dogs. Keep your alcoholic drinks out of reach of your dog, and don’t give your dog alcohol for fun. If you enjoy making breads and doughs, keep your dog out of the kitchen.