My Dog Drank Coffee! Here’s What to Do (Vet Answer)

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For many of us, our morning cup of coffee is an essential ritual to get us through a busy day. But what happens if you’ve fired up the coffee machine, made yourself the perfect cup, only to put it down momentarily, and find your dog helping themselves to a slurp or two? If your dog drank coffee, here’s what you need to know.

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Is coffee toxic to dogs? Will it make my dog sick?

Dogs are much more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than humans are, and so coffee can be highly toxic to dogs when eaten or drunk. Whilst one or two small licks from your mug are unlikely to be poisonous to most dogs, larger amounts of caffeine can cause serious adverse effects including seizures and death.

a corgi sitting beside a coffee table
Image Credit: LoveCorgi, Shutterstock

How much coffee is toxic to dogs?

The toxic effects of coffee on your dog depend on how much caffeine was ingested. Caffeine acts as a stimulant, which is exactly why we drink coffee – to keep us alert and awake! Unfortunately for dogs, these stimulant properties are responsible for the symptoms we see with caffeine toxicity, which affects the nervous system, the heart, and the gut.

Smaller amounts of caffeine might not result in any symptoms at all, or only mild restlessness and agitation. Unfortunately, when larger amounts are consumed, the symptoms become a lot more severe.

These include:
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Increased urination
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Rapid breathing and a fast or irregular heart rate
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Seizures and death at high doses

Given how serious caffeine toxicity can be, it is always best to seek advice from a veterinary professional, who will calculate the estimated amount of caffeine consumed by your pet and what symptoms are likely at this dose. The consequences of drinking coffee will also vary depending on the size of your dog and their overall health. For example, an older dog with a heart condition or liver disease is at higher risk of developing severe symptoms and complications, than a young healthy large breed dog. Small breed dogs are affected more easily and only need to consume a small amount of caffeine to start displaying signs of toxicity.

My dog drank coffee with sweetener – can sweetener make them sick?

Some artificial sweeteners such as Splenda contain xylitol which is also highly toxic to dogs. Xylitol causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels (blood glucose) and can damage the liver. If your dog drank coffee with a xylitol-based sweetener or you aren’t sure if the sweetener has Xylitol in, make sure you pass this information on to your veterinarian.

Think about what else you might add to your coffee. Whilst regular sugar, milk, and cream aren’t poisonous to dogs, high levels of fat or sugar may cause an upset tummy or- in severe cases- pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas and associated illness).

Whilst drinking a cup of coffee is the most obvious source of caffeine, it’s not the only one found in our homes. Other popular foods and drinks that contain caffeine include chocolate (which also contains theobromine, another toxic ingredient to dogs), tea, coffee in all forms (instant coffee, iced coffee, coffee ice cream, coffee liqueur), energy drinks, and caffeine tablets or supplements such as guarana or NoDoz.

a dog sniffing a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Risen20019, Shutterstock

My dog drank coffee – what should I do?

  • Check your dog. What is he/she doing? Are they behaving normally? Have they vomited or had diarrhea? If your dog is showing severe neurological signs such as seizures or severe tremors, make your way immediately to your nearest emergency vet. If your dog is bright and active and doesn’t appear to be in distress, continue to step 2.
  • Prevent access to any more caffeine. Clean up all spilled coffee and ensure none of your pets can reach any coffee or caffeine-containing products. Make sure the trash cans are secure or unable to be accessed by your pets.
  • Work out how much coffee your dog has consumed. Quickly gather as much information as you can, as this will be helpful when speaking to your vet. How much coffee was left in the cup or how much is missing? Was it a double or single shot? Was it freshly ground coffee beans or instant coffee? If you have the packaging and brand – let your vet know. Was it with cream or milk? Did it contain artificial sweeteners, syrups, or chocolate? When did your dog drink the coffee? Let your vet know the size, age, and breed of your dog and how your dog is doing. Your vet will then have the information they need to calculate how much caffeine your dog might have consumed.
  • Call your vet. Give them all the information you’ve put together about your dog. If they are concerned your dog has consumed a potentially toxic dose of caffeine they will advise you to bring your pet straight down to the clinic.
  • Monitor your dog closely. Once your dog is home from the vet, or if your vet advised you simply to monitor your dog, make sure you keep a close eye on them over the next 24 hours. Watch out for any of the symptoms associated with caffeine toxicity (see above) and call your vet if you have any concerns.

What might happen at the vet?

Your vet will start by taking a thorough case history and performing a physical examination of your dog. If your dog drank coffee quite recently and it is safe to do so, your vet may make them vomit. Never try making your dog vomit at home, as this is not a risk-free procedure and could do more harm than good. Many home remedies for making your dog vomit can make your dog worse, as well as limit your vet’s ability to help. Your vet will evaluate your dog first to determine if it is appropriate to make them vomit and if so, give an injection to induce vomiting safely. If your dog is showing neurological signs, which is common with coffee ingestion, making them vomit can result in choking or inhalation of stomach contents (aspiration pneumonia).

siberian husky with an intravenous infusion drip
Image Credit: Konstantin Zaykov, Shutterstock

Depending on the amount of caffeine consumed and the severity of your dog’s symptoms, your vet may place your dog on a drip (intravenous fluid therapy) to correct dehydration and support the kidneys. Your vet may also administer activated charcoal which helps with the elimination of toxic substances from the body. If your dog’s heartbeat is abnormal or they are tremoring or having seizures, the vet will administer sedatives and other medications to control these effects. Blood and urine testing are also quite commonly performed, and your pet may need to stay in the hospital until stabilized.

When it comes to treating caffeine poisoning in dogs, time is of the essence. The sooner you notify your vet, the more quickly they can act to help your pet and minimize the toxic effects of caffeine.

How can I prevent caffeine toxicity and keep my dog safe?

Preventing access to any food, drink, or medicinal product containing caffeine is vital to keeping your dog safe. Avoid leaving cups of coffee on low tables where your dog might reach them, or food items on the kitchen counter. Ensure your trashcan is pet-secure or out of reach, as any discarded chocolate or the dregs of a coffee in a takeaway cup could be accessed this way. All supplements or medicinal products containing caffeine should be stored safely in a medicine cabinet.


Featured Image: VectorCreation, Shutterstock