Reviewed for accuracy on October 3, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Whether you're having a few friends over for dinner or hosting a large family get-together, it’s hard to plan for every pet-proofing situation.
So what should you do if you catch your dog drinking beer from a cup that’s left within his reach, or you see your cat stealing the last sip of a cocktail? Here’s everything you need to know about pets and alcohol.
Is Alcohol Bad for Cats and Dogs?
Alcohol toxicity in pets is very rare because most pets find the taste unpleasant.
“We don’t see much of this in vet medicine because alcohol tends to be distasteful to most animals,” says Dr. Steven Friedenberg, DVM, PhD, Dip. ACVECC, an assistant professor in the department of veterinary clinical sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. “They don’t regularly seek this out, and most owners don’t deliberately feed their animals alcohol.”
But during a party or social gathering, sometimes things can get out of your (or your pet’s) control. If your pet does get into alcohol, it can affect him in the same way it affects humans—either get him a little buzzed or, in the most extreme cases, cause him to wind up in the veterinary hospital.
Alcohol Content Matters for Pets
Rather than the type of alcohol your pet consumes, what you should really be concerned with is how much they get into.
“We have this mythos in humans like, ‘I can’t drink tequila,’ or, ‘Rum is really bad for me,’” says Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor in the department of small animal clinical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. “You may have a reaction to something specific in that product, but pound for pound, it’s the ethanol that gets you.”
The same can be applied to pets. But since most pets are much smaller than humans, a smaller dose of alcohol can prove more dangerous to them than it would be to us.
“A dog weighs substantially less and is not used to consuming alcohol,” says Dr. Rutter. “So the processes that break down alcohol are not regulated in a dog in the same way as a person who consumes alcohol once in a while.”
Is Alcohol Worse for Pets Than Beer or Wine?
Light beers are the least dangerous since their alcohol content is less, followed by craft beers, wine, hard liquors, and finally, grain alcohols like Everclear.
Although wine does have grapes in it, which can be extremely dangerous to dogs, there’s no research showing that wine is more dangerous to dogs than other types of alcohol, says Dr. Rutter. Rather, it once again all boils down to just how much alcohol your pet got into.
Beware of Mixed Drinks or Alcohol-Based Food
Although an animal won’t be likely to take more than one sip of a glass of wine or a scotch on the rocks, certain mixed drinks or alcohol-based cakes could be sweet enough or have ingredients that appeal to animals.
And sometimes these other ingredients (chocolate, grapes, raisins or macadamia nuts, for example) are dangerous in and of themselves.
You should also be on the lookout for hidden sources of alcohol, like certain flavorings, including vanilla and almond, and for spices that might contain essential oils, like cinnamon. “That can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract,” says Dr. Rutter.
And since ethanol is what’s truly dangerous to animals, also be on the lookout for pets getting into cleaning products, mouthwash or hand sanitizer, some of which have ethanol in them.
Signs of Alcohol Toxicity in Dogs and Cats
“Alcohol poisoning would present similarly as it might present in people,” says Dr. Friedenberg. “So there could be gastrointestinal upset. They might vomit or become nauseated, and they can get wobbly.”
Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, says that other symptoms can include:
In severe cases, you may see:
- Muscle tremors
- Extremely slow and shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
What Will Happen If Your Pet Drank Beer or Alcohol?
In mild cases of alcohol exposure, pets generally recover with time and no other treatment, Dr. Coates says. “Simply let them ‘sleep it off’ in a safe environment.”
However, she says that “if you think that your pet could have ingested a large amount of alcohol or is starting to have worrisome clinical signs, seek out immediate veterinary care.”
The vet can hospitalize your pet if needed while giving him intravenous fluids and any other treatment that might be necessary, although an animal getting alcohol toxicity to the extent of requiring hospitalization is extremely rare.
But holiday stress can cause your pets to act in ways they normally wouldn’t, like table surfing or digging in the trash for leftovers. So, avoid any dangerous run-ins for your pet by keeping any risky food or drinks out of their reach and making your guests aware of the dangers that alcohol, beer, wine and many foods pose for pets.
By: Brielle Gregory
Featured Image: iStock.com/eclipse_images