Poisons (Topical) Leave a comment

All sorts of chemicals — from tar and paint remover to gasoline and stinging nettles — can cause skin irritation and burns when they contact a dog’s skin. They can even affect your pet’s mouth if he licks the substance.

What To Watch For

Any substance coating the dog’s fur must be quickly identified, if possible. Some, substances, such as paint or motor oil, are obvious in appearance but others must be recognized by odor or checking the area where the dog has been active.

Primary Cause

Poisons on the skin are usually the result of accidents, such as the dog bumping a container or being too close to a work area. Human carelessness is often a factor as well.

Immediate Care

Identify the nature of the chemical as quickly as possible and refer to the guidelines below.

Motor oil, petroleum products, tar, or paint:

  1. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.

  2. Rub large amounts of mineral or vegetable oil into the contaminated area to loosen the substance.

  3. If a small area is affected — a paw, for example — apply mineral or vegetable oil and rub with a cotton towel to remove the substance. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary to loosen and remove the contaminant.

  4. If the substance has already hardened, it is better to cut the fur away instead.

  5. Once the substance is loosened, use lots of warm, soapy water to bathe the area. Baby shampoo or washing-up liquid are ideal, as they are gentle and do not further irritate the skin, but a safe, non-irritating hand cleanser can also be used.

  6. Rinse the area thoroughly and repeat the process until the contaminant is completely removed.

  7. Never us other chemicals to remove the substance. This includes but is not limited to paint stripper and thinner, paint brush cleaners, turpentine (and its substitutes), mineral spirits, and concentrated biological detergents.

  8. Check the skin for burns and refer to “Burns and Scalding” for treatment information.

  9. If an area is heavily contaminated, you can mix flour or powdered starch with the oil to help absorb some of the poison. This mixture should be brushed out with a wide-tooth comb before bathing the area with warm, soapy water as above.

Other substances (except stinging nettles or jellyfish — see below):

  1. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.

  2. Rinse the area thoroughly by flushing it with large amounts of clean water for at least five minutes, followed by warm, soapy water.

Stinging nettles or jellyfish:

  1. Check for signs of shock. Do not underestimate the pain caused by nettles: dogs can die from shock if they are badly stung.

  2. Give the dog an antihistamine orally (call your vet for the right dose).

  3. Wash the affected areas with soapy water or a mild detergent.

  4. Keep the dog active and alert.

  5. If your dog shows signs of shock or is in extreme pain, see the vet immediately.

Bufo toad venom intoxication (oral):

  1. All pets exposed to bufo toad venom (in Texas and Florida) should see a veterinarian immediately, but only after rinsing the oral cavity thoroughly to reduce irritation and limit toxin absorption. (While cardiotoxicity and neurotoxicity are the life-threatening aspects of this toxin, oral irritation is always a component.)

  2. Immediately flush the animal’s mouth out with water using a hose or spray nozzle.

  3. Do NOT point the nozzle towards the throat. Instead, rinse from the side of the mouth.


Always treat pets like a small children around chemicals and poisons:

  1. Keep pets away from work areas where chemicals are used.

  2. If you can’t keep your pet away, ensure all chemicals are safely contained and stored out of reach of inquisitive paws and noses.

  3. Do not allow your pets to play in areas where chemicals are stored.

  4. Ensure that the floor of a garage or parking space is kept clean of oil and petroleum products.

  5. Watch for nettles and bufo toads before allowing pets outside.


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