Poisons out and about

Spaniel sat in forest


These are the UK's only native poisonous snake and are found in a wide range of different habitats. Adders hibernate over winter and emerge in spring; this is the time when the likelihood of being bitten is highest. These snakes often bask in the sun and inquisitive dogs that stumble upon them are most often bitten around the face, muzzle and front paws.

How to tell if your dog has been bitten by an adder

Signs that a dog has been bitten may appear quickly and can include small puncture wounds, swelling, bruising, pain, lameness, salivation, vomiting, increased temperature, bleeding and may also include changes to the heart beat, blood pressure and breathing rate.

Dogs that are bitten should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible and the bite should be left alone. No tourniquets should be applied and owners should not attempt to suck out the poison as this may cause further complications. If you see an adder in your garden, or when out for a walk, it is advisable to leave it alone. The adder is a protected species and it is illegal to harm or kill them.

Blue-green algae

Blue-green algae can be found in many types of waterbody throughout the UK (e.g. ponds, streams, lakes, estuaries etc.) and these can produce toxins which may be harmful to animals and humans. The types of chemicals produced by the algae may vary and can therefore cause a wide range of different clinical effects. These effects can range from vomiting and diarrhoea (both of which may be bloody) to being sleepy, effects on the heart and blood pressure, twitching, problems breathing, liver and kidney impairment or can even cause death shortly after exposure.

Find out more about blue-green algae.

How can I tell if water is contaminated with blue-green algae?

Dogs are most commonly exposed when swimming, playing in or drinking from contaminated water. Water that contains blue-green algae may appear a different colour, or may be recognisable from coloured algal blooms, appearing on the surface of the water, or close to the shore. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know if there are any toxins present in the water without testing.

Is blue-green algae seasonal?

The amount of algae in a body of water may vary throughout the year, but is likely to be at its greatest in, or after, hot and sunny periods (i.e. mid-to-late summer) and will vary depending on the amount of nutrients available in the water. If you come across a body of water that is known to contain blue-green algae, do not let your dog swim in it or drink from it.

Seasonal canine illness

The cause of this particular illness is not known (and may not actually be a poison) but appears to affect a very small proportion of dogs taken for walks in woodlands between August and November. Dogs can appear with a range of clinical effects, but the most common signs are sickness, diarrhoea and lethargy, which most typically appear 72 hours after walking through woodland. Seasonal canine illness (SCI) was first identified in 2009 after similar cases of an unknown illness were seen in Norfolk (the Sandringham Estate and Thetford Forest), Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park) and Suffolk (Rendlesham Forest).

What is Alabama rot?

Alabama rot is a very rare but potentially deadly disease that assaults the blood vessels in a dog’s skin and kidneys. Dogs that are affected by the condition may develop ulcers or sores (often on their legs) and typically then develop kidney failure, which is often fatal.

Find out more about Alabama rot.

What to do if you think your dog is poisoned

If you think that your dog may have eaten, touched or inhaled something that it shouldn't have, speak to your vet straight away.

Never try to make your dog sick. Trying to do this can cause other complications, which may harm your dog.

Things to tell your vet

In an emergency you can help your veterinary practice make an informed decision as to whether your dog needs to be treated by them and, if so, what the best treatment would be. Where possible you should provide your veterinary practice with the following information:

  • What poison you think your dog has been exposed to (i.e. chocolate, ibuprofen etc.). Include any product names, or lists of ingredients if relevant
  • How much they may have been exposed to (i.e. 500mg, 500ml, one tablet etc, even approximations may help)
  • When your dog was exposed to the poison (i.e. five minutes, five hours or five days ago)
  • If your dog has been unwell and, if so, what clinical effects have been seen

It is easier for a vet to care for a poisoned dog if it is treated sooner rather than later. If you are in any doubt, don't wait for your dog to become unwell before calling for advice.

What to take to your vet

If you do need to take your dog to your veterinary practice, make sure that you take along any relevant packaging, or a sample of the poison, e.g. parts of plant or fungi. Always make sure that you yourself are protected and cannot be poisoned in turn.

How to use this information

The information is intended to be used to prevent poisoning by raising awareness of certain poisons, rather than as a document to be used in an emergency. If you think that your dog has been poisoned, or has come into contact with potentially poisonous substances, contact your local veterinary practice immediately.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.

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