Is my dog sick?

This page addresses emergencies such as tick and cane toad poisoning. See KEEPING YOUR DOG HEALTHY for general health tips.

Tick Poisoning

The paralysis tick injects a toxin into its host dog as it feeds. If left to run its course, a case of tick poisoning goes through 3 stages.

Increased body temperature due to hot weather or exercise exacerbates symptoms.

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Early signs:

  • A change in voice: the bark becomes softer and/or changes pitch.
  • Weakness in the back legs: walking along then sitting down suddenly is a common early sign.
  • Vomiting, especially if it happens several times in a day and you see froth.

Later signs:

  • Wobbliness in the back legs.
  • Excessive salivation and vomiting is not uncommon.
  • Panting, progressing to loud breathing, even grunting noises.
  • Many dogs will exhibit a moist cough and breathing problems before other signs. Particularly common in King Charles spaniels, schnauzers and other short-nosed dogs, it’s a dangerous sign because it may lead to pneumonia.

Worsening signs:

  • As signs of poisoning progress, the animals become unable to stand.
  • Breathing becomes exaggerated and difficult.
  • As breathing becomes more difficult, gums become cold and blue-tinged. Death follows quite quickly.

What to do:

  • Find the tick. They are often on the face (check especially eyelids, lips), head or neck. If you don’t find it there, check between the toes and around the anus.
  • Remove the tick. If you are squeamish, slide the prongs of a fork under it and gently lift.
  • Consult a vet immediately, and keep looking for more ticks.

Cane Toad Poisoning

Cane toads are a common cause of poisoning in dogs. Cane toads secrete toxins, so it usually happens when a dog has picked one up or bitten one.

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  • First signs are profuse salivation, frothing and pawing at the mouth and/or head-shaking, due to the caustic and irritating toxins in the dog’s mouth. It happens straight away.
  • Depending on how much toxin your dog absorbs, muscle trembling and shaking, and weakness may follow. Your dog may wobble, stagger, or droop, have trouble with co-ordination, or difficulty breathing. This stage can follow within minutes of the original incident.
  • Collapse follows soon after.
  • Collapse is followed by convulsions or seizures that are often fatal.
  • If the dog survives the convulsions and seizures, it will soon fall into a coma and die.

It can take less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Smaller dogs are at most risk of succumbing quickly.

What to do:

  • Spend about 10 minutes rinsing the poisons out of the dog’s mouth, washing its gums and cleaning between its teeth. Something that will squirt water, like a garden hose or a running tap, is ideal.
  • When you’re washing your dog’s mouth, tilt your dog’s head so that any water goes forwards and out; don’t squirt it down its throat. Give it time to take breaths too – you’re meant to be rinsing its mouth out, not water-boarding it..
  • Gently wash its face and eyes as well.
  • In some cases, this may be sufficient treatment. You MUST keep an eye on your dog though. Get it to a vet at once if it start staggering or drooping. If you wait until it collapses, it could be too late.