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Understanding Caffeine Toxicity in Pets

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If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ingested a caffeine source, this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital ahead of your arrival.

As much as we all love to start our mornings with a warm cup of coffee, our pets don’t share our need for a caffeine boost. In fact, like chocolate, caffeine contains theobromine which is toxic to both dogs and cats. So, what do you do if your pet does accidentally get into your caffeine sources? Here’s what all the caffeinated pet parents need to know!  

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Caffeine Sources 

There are many sources of caffeine that our pets may get into, including: 

  • Coffee and coffee grounds (Always check that the trash lid is on tight!)  
  • Tea 
  • Sports drinks 
  • Soda 
  • Energy boosting supplements and products 
  • Caffeine tablets 
  • Diet pills with caffeine additives 

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Common Symptoms 

Caffeine is a direct central nervous system stimulant, and our pets are much more sensitive to the effects than we are. The severity of these signs depend on how much caffeine was consumed. Symptoms typically start 30-60 minutes after ingestion and can last for 12-48 hours. 

Symptoms in dogs and cats include:  

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Hyperactivity and spastic movements 
  • Increased heartbeat that can lead to arrythmias and high blood pressure 
  • In high doses: seizures and uncontrolled muscle tremoring which can raise body temperature into a dangerous fever 
  • Death (if high dose is ingested)   

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Poison Control Line 

Since caffeine products can have drastically different concentrations of caffeine, we recommend calling an animal poison control helpline (such as ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline) whenever your pet ingests something with caffeine. The helpline can evaluate the product and will ask you important questions like:  

  • How much of the product was ingested by your pet? 
  • What is your pet’s approximate weight? 
  • Does your pet have any known medical conditions? 

With this information, the animal poison control helpline can calculate if your pet consumed a toxic dose and if emergency veterinary care is needed. After speaking with them, they will provide you with a case number to share with the emergency veterinary team so they can relay important dosage information and treatment protocols.  

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If your pet gets into a large amount of caffeine, seek immediate treatment at your local animal emergency hospital to avoid life-threatening consequences. Symptoms can rapidly worsen, so it’s important to act quickly. While you drive your pet to the animal ER, we recommend having another person call the pet poison helpline.  

Your emergency veterinarian will determine a treatment plan based on how much caffeine your pet consumed and how long ago the product was consumed.   

  • Depending on your pet’s symptoms and ingestion timeline, your emergency veterinary team will:
    • Induce vomiting to avoid absorption of the caffeine into the body (if ingested recently)
    • Listen for your pet’s heart rate and rhythm 
    • Determine if emergency cardiac medications are needed
    • If your pet is experiencing tremoring or seizures, medications will be administered to combat these clinical signs
    • Note: There is no direct antidote to caffeine toxicity, but fluid therapy is used to help prevent dehydration and for diuresis of the caffeine out through the kidneys 

Often, pets will stay in-hospital for 1-2 days until the symptoms are gone and they are back to their happy, healthy selves.

Although caffeine toxicity is a serious and life-threatening emergency, pets that have consumed a mild to moderate amount of caffeine often have an excellent prognosis with early treatment. If your pet gets into any caffeine source, contact ASPCA Animal Poison Control, Pet Poison Helpline, your family veterinarian, or local animal emergency hospital for guidance. 

Nikki Scherrer, DVM, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota   

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