My Dog Ate Detergent and Seems Fine – What Should I Do?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Certain types of detergents are extremely dangerous for dogs because they cause chemical burns.
  • If your dog ingests detergent, you should determine the type and amount of cleaner and call your veterinarian.
  • There’s no antidote for detergent toxicity, so treatment is supportive and based on the symptoms.

Dogs can have a reputation for eating anything in sight. Unfortunately, their indiscriminate behavior can get them in trouble. Like toddlers, your pooch may see a detergent pod or capsule and think it looks like a treat or toy. When they mouth the detergent, they may ingest some of it. 

As with children, detergent is harmful to dogs. If you think or know your pooch ingested any detergent, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

In this article, we’ll discuss why detergent is dangerous for dogs, how much is a toxic dose, and what you should do if your pup eats detergent. We’ll explain the signs of poisoning and what happens to dogs that ingest the chemicals. To help you prepare for a veterinary visit, we’ll share how the doctor will treat detergent poisoning and how long it takes dogs to recover. 

Let’s get started.

How Much Detergent Is Toxic to Dogs?

Whether your dog ingests a laundry pod, liquid, or powder detergent, it can be toxic to your dog. Even a small amount of soap may make your dog sick. However, the severity of the poison’s effect depends on the type and concentration of detergent as well as your dog’s size and the amount of chemical she ate.

  • Soap – If your laundry detergent is a true soap, it’s usually not toxic. Ingesting the material can still cause dogs to vomit and have diarrhea, and some homemade formulas can leave burns in the mouth or esophagus.
  • Non-ionic detergents – Many dishwashing liquids and shampoos are non-ionic. These solutions may be mildly irritating, but they’re less harmful than other detergents.
  • Anionic detergents – Many commercial laundry detergents and electric dishwasher detergents fall in the anionic category. These chemicals are irritating to your dog’s soft tissues. They can cause vomiting and diarrhea and may burn the mouth or esophagus.

Regardless of the type or amount your dog ingested, contact your veterinarian when your dog ingests these types of chemicals.

Small quantities of detergents or soaps can make a dog sick, but they’re usually not as harmful as larger doses. However, the level of toxicity also depends on the type of cleanser your dog ingests and your dog’s size. True soaps and non-ionic formulas are generally less harmful than anionic detergents.

What Should I Do if My Dog Ate Detergent?

If you catch your dog eating detergent or find the evidence, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Report the type and amount of cleanser your dog ingested and any symptoms he’s showing. To prevent or reduce the severity of chemical burns, flush your dog’s mouth with water for 20-30 minutes to remove any detergent residue. Do not try to induce vomiting because the chemicals can damage the soft tissues on the way back up the esophagus and mouth.

If your pooch isn’t vomiting, the vet may advise you to give him a little water or milk. These fluids can help to dilute the detergent and reduce harmful effects. Depending on how much your pooch ingested and the symptoms you report to your veterinarian, he may instruct you to bring your dog in or to observe him for signs of problems.

If your dog ate detergent, contact your veterinarian. At home, you can flush your dog’s mouth with water. If your dog isn’t vomiting or in distress, your vet may have you give him some milk or water and observe him. 

What You Should Do Immediately If You Suspect Your Dog Has Been Poisoned by Detergent

If you find evidence that your dog ate some detergent, you should try to determine how much he ingested. Call your vet immediately and report the type and amount of cleanser your dog may have swallowed. Be sure to share any symptoms that you notice such as salivating or vomiting.

If your dog has any symptoms of toxicity, your vet will probably tell you to bring him in for evaluation and treatment. The sooner your dog gets veterinary care, the greater potential for a smooth recovery and favorable prognosis. 

Vets may instruct owners of dogs that ingest a small quantity of detergent and aren’t vomiting to give their pups some water or milk. Many times, this helps dilute the poison and can prevent toxic effects. They’ll also instruct owners to observe their dogs for any signs of trouble. 

The first thing to do if you suspect detergent poisoning is to figure out how much your dog swallowed and call your vet. If your pup is showing symptoms, you’ll probably need to take your dog in for an exam. Asymptomatic dogs can have some water or milk and be under observation for several hours.

What if My Dog Ate a Lot of Detergent But Is Acting Normal?

Even if your dog is acting normal, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. The main toxic effect of detergent is chemical burns to the soft tissues of the mouth and esophagus. With this type of damage, it may take several hours before you notice any symptoms

Dogs that ingest large quantities of detergent need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. The doctor may want to run bloodwork and a urinalysis to determine whether the detergent has caused organ damage or other problems. 

Any time your dog eats detergent, you should contact your veterinarian. It doesn’t matter whether he’s showing any poisoning symptoms. It can take several hours for the caustic chemical effects to surface. If your dog ate a lot of cleanser, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Signs of Detergent Poisoning

Symptoms of detergent toxicity can vary depending on the type of cleanser and other ingredients. However, signs may include a combination of:

  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Chemical burns in mouth/esophagus
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lesions in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Collapse
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

The symptoms of detergent poisoning vary somewhat between dogs based on the type of chemical they ingest. They may include signs of gastrointestinal upset, soft tissue burns, and effects on the neuromuscular system. 

What Happens to Dogs When They Eat Detergent?

Detergent contains chemicals that are irritating or caustic to the lining of the digestive tract. As a result, the substances cause burns and lesions in the mouth and esophagus. If your dog ingests enough detergent, it may also cause lesions in the stomach and intestines.

There’s another way detergent can affect dogs. When the chemicals contact the stomach’s liquid contents, they may start to foam. If your dog vomits up foam and inhales some into the trachea and lungs, the froth interferes with oxygen exchange. It can cause difficulty breathing or, in the worst case, suffocation.

The chemicals in detergent are caustic and cause burns and lesions in the soft tissues of the gastrointestinal tract. They can also start to foam when they come in contact with the liquid contents in the stomach. If a dog vomits and inhales foam, it can cause difficulty breathing or suffocation.

Why Is Detergent Toxic to Dogs?

The toxic effects of detergents vary depending on the type of cleanser.

  • Soaps are usually not poisonous, but they can cause digestive upset, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Some homemade soaps may contain other ingredients that are caustic and can burn the mouth or esophagus.
  • Non-ionic detergents are mildly irritating to the lining of the digestive tract. They may cause upsets and minor burns, but they tend to be less damaging than anionic cleansers. 
  • Anionic detergents are the most caustic of common household detergents. These chemicals can cause burns to the soft tissue of the digestive tract, particularly if they’re in a concentrated form. Milder formulas can still cause vomiting and diarrhea in your dog.

Chemical burns in dogs may take hours to appear. When they occur, they trigger:

  • Hypersalivation
  • Swollen tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Continual swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

The effects of the detergent depend on the type of cleanser your dog eats. Soaps may cause mild upsets, and non-ionic detergents are slightly irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. Anionic formulas are the most caustic and can cause chemical burns to the soft tissues of the gastrointestinal tract.

How Will My Vet Treat Detergent Poisoning?

Unfortunately, there’s no antidote for detergent toxicity. Treatment is supportive and will depend on the symptoms and the amount and type of detergent. 

 When you take your dog to the vet, he’ll start with a thorough physical examination. The doctor may also take blood and urine samples to check on your pooch’s organ function. Dogs that are showing signs of toxicity may require hospitalization and observation.

If your pup is vomiting, he’ll administer antiemetics to reduce the risk of aspiration and additional chemical burns to the esophagus or mouth. Other potential supportive care includes:

  • Antibiotics 
  • Gastro-protecting drugs
  • IV fluids
  • Respiratory assistance

How your vet treats your dog will depend on the type and amount of detergent he swallowed along with the severity of symptoms. Vomiting dogs will get anti-emetic drugs. Other supportive care may include gastro protectants, antibiotics, and IV fluids. Symptomatic animals may require hospitalization and observation.

How Long Will it Take for My Dog to Recover from Detergent Poisoning?

The recovery time and prognosis for detergent poisoning depend on: 

  • The type and amount of chemicals ingested
  • The severity of the symptoms
  • How quickly your dog receives treatment

Dogs that receive early care after eating detergent generally have a good prognosis. With treatment, chemical burns in the mouth and esophagus can heal in 1-2 weeks.

Recovery and prognosis of detergent poisoning depend on the type and amount of detergent, the severity of the symptoms, and the timing of the treatment. Early treatment yields the best results.  Chemical burns can heal in a few weeks with treatment.

The Final Woof

Certain types of detergents can be caustic to dogs. If your pup swallows some cleanser, you should determine the type and amount of detergent and call your veterinarian. It may take several hours for signs of toxicity to manifest, so don’t delay contacting the doctor if you don’t notice any symptoms.

When dogs ingest detergent, it can cause signs ranging from digestive upset to caustic burns and suffocation depending on the type of cleanser involved. There is no cure or antidote for detergent poisoning. Veterinarians will use supportive care to treat cases of toxicity. The recovery and prognosis depend on the type and amount of detergent involved along with the rapidity of treatment.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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