During the festive period, mischievous dogs may help themselves to alcoholic drinks when left unattended. Alcohol may also be given intentionally to pets by owners wishing to see what effect the alcohol may have. Following oral exposure, alcohol is very rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract where it acts as a CNS depressant. The signs of ethanol intoxication are like those in humans but occur at much lower doses. Dogs can develop behavioural changes, vomiting, ataxia, drowsiness, stupor, and, in severe cases respiratory depression, hypothermia and collapse.
Treatment of ethanol toxicosis is largely supportive. The induction of emesis and activated charcoal is generally not recommended as there is a possible risk of aspiration, and onset of clinical effects is usually rapid. Maintenance of hydration, body temperature and, ventilation are all important measures in treating an intoxicated dog.
Dogs appear to drink many different forms of alcohol (e.g. beer, wines, spirits), but seem to have a particular fondness for the expensive Irish whisky and cream based liqueurs. Among the cases reported to the VPIS, nearly 50% of canine cases involved these types of drinks. Dogs may be attracted to the sweet, creamy taste of these products resulting in the ingestion of large quantities.
Most animals do make a full recovery within 12-24 hours with supportive care. They may be depressed and lethargic (or ‘hungover’) during recovery