Case Report: Albuterol Toxicity In a Boxer

Learn About This Common Call to a Veterinary Poison Control Center

Boxer dog portrait
Getty Images/Ryan Murphy

Ahna Brutlag, DVM, Assistant Director of Veterinary Services at the Pet Poison Helpline, shares this case of a common poisoning hazard for pets: human medications. In this case, report, learn about Rooney, a curious Boxer and the dangers of albuterol inhalers for pets.

Human Medications are a Top Cause of Pet Poisoning

Every day, Pet Poison Helpline receives calls about pets getting into their owner’s medications.

One medication that particularly concerns us is something that many of us have in our homes -- albuterol inhalers.

Dogs will chew on the inhaler and, upon puncturing it, receive a very large dose of albuterol all at once. This massive dose causes toxicity by elevating the heart rate to life-threatening levels and causing very low potassium levels in the blood which, in turn, lead to extreme weakness, incoordination, and, potentially, death.

Other signs which are often seen in dogs who puncture albuterol inhalers include vomiting, dilated pupils, severe agitation/hyperactivity, elevated blood pressure and vomiting.

Case Report of Rooney the Boxer

Rooney, a 4-year-old healthy male Boxer, was caught chewing on and puncturing his owner’s albuterol inhaler. Within 10 minutes he had vomited 2 times and seemed very nervous. He then began to have difficulty walking and seemed very weak. When his owners went to pick him up off the floor, they felt his heart racing.

Realizing this was an emergency, they immediately rushed Rooney to his veterinarian.

Emergency Vet Visit

When Rooney arrived at the hospital, he was unable to walk, was panting severely, and had developed an irregular heart rhythm with a very rapid heart rate of over 240 beats per minute (normal is up to 130-150 beats per minute).

The veterinarian performed blood tests and found that Rooney’s blood potassium level was below 2.0 (normal is 3.5-6.0 and any amount below 2.5 is considered life-threatening).

Albuterol Toxicity Management

Because of this low potassium level and high heart rate, Rooney was extremely weak and needed emergency intervention. His veterinarian immediately gave him intravenous potassium and drugs called beta-blockers to slow his heart rate. Within 30 minutes, Rooney had improved dramatically and was able to stand on his own. He was placed on a steady rate of intravenous potassium and given more beta-blockers over the course of the night.

Case Follow-Up

By the next morning, Rooney was doing so well that he no longer needed extra potassium or heart medications and he was able to go home later that day.

Rooney's case is very typical of the albuterol inhaler cases that Pet Poison Helpline is called about. Thankfully, when treated appropriately, many dogs survive albuterol poisoning. However, if left untreated, dogs may die as a result of cardiac arrhythmias and too-low potassium levels.

If Your Pet Ingests Human Medications

If your pet ingests a human medication always call your veterinarian immediately as other common medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can also be very toxic to pets.

The sooner treatment is sought for your pet, the better the prognosis.

Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.