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Help, My Dog Ate Coffee Grounds!

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Coffee grounds are toxic to dogs

Coffee grounds are toxic to dogs

If your dog ate coffee grounds, you are right to be concerned. Despite the bitter taste, dogs aren't deterred from consuming coffee grounds, and they are toxic to dogs.

Whether your dog will be impacted will depend on several important factors such as your dog's size, how much was ingested and how long ago.

Because of the many variables, your best course of action is to contact your vet or a poison control helpline. If you suspect your dog has ingested a substantial amount of coffee grounds, consider that every second counts! Caffeine works its way quickly into a dog's body.

For immediate assistance, call your vet or take your dog to the closest veterinary clinic. There are emergency animal hospitals that are always open 24/7, even on holidays and with veterinarians always on call.

Keep These Numbers Handy

If you live in a remote area or don't have means for transportation, there are also poison control centers that you can reach by phone 24/7, 365 days a year. There are fees to be paid, so have your credit card ready.

  • The Pet Poison Helpline can be reached at 855-764-7661. A $75 incident fee applies, so have your credit card handy.
  • The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 888- 426-4435. A consultation fee may apply as well.

Whether you call or see the vet, make sure to have handy your dog's weight, amount of coffee grounds suspected to have been ingested and packaging to provide detailed info.

In this article, veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec, a practicing veterinarian graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, will cover the following:

  • How bad are coffee grounds for dogs?
  • How does caffeine impact dogs?
  • The toxic dose of coffee grounds in dogs
  • Signs of caffeine poisoning in dogs
  • What to do if your dog ate coffee grounds
  • How do vets treat caffeine toxicity in dogs
  • Prognosis of dogs who ingest coffee grounds
  • Tips to prevent dogs from eating coffee grounds

How Bad are Coffee Grounds for Dogs?

Coffee grounds are extremely dangerous to dogs. In fact, coffee grounds contain caffeine which has strong stimulating properties and it is toxic to dogs.

Caffeine is a naturally-occurring chemical that belongs to the methylxanthine family. Other members of the methylxanthine family are theobromine and theophylline and they have similar effects.

Methylxanthine substances are found not only in coffee but also in many other everyday foods and drinks such as sodas, colas, energy drinks, tea, chocolate, candies, and weight loss supplements.

How Does Caffeine Impact Them?

To understand how caffeine impacts dogs, think about how you would feel after drinking two or three large coffee cups at once. The reason we drink coffee is to experience a much-needed energy kick.

Well, that same energy kick occurs in dogs. However, dogs and their organism cannot handle the sudden energy surge the same way the human body can. In simpler words, dogs are more sensitive to caffeine than people.

As explained, coffee grounds contain caffeine which is a powerful stimulant from the methylxanthine family. Caffeine has a stimulating effect on the dog’s heart and brain.

According to VCA Hospitals “caffeine can damage major organs like the liver, heart, kidneys, lungs, and central nervous system.”

What's the Toxic Dose of Coffee Grounds for Dogs?

The American College of Veterinary Pharmacists states that the toxic dose of caffeine in dogs is 63 mg per pound (140 mg per kilo).

In practical terms, this means that a lick or two from the coffee cup is harmless (sigh of relief!).

Coffee grounds though contain a significant amount of caffeine and are likely to cause toxicity when eaten in a toxic amount.

For example, according to VCA Animal Hospital, a 15-pound dog can experience mild poisoning if she consumes three teaspoons of coffee grounds and severe poisoning if she ingests 10 teaspoons.

The type of coffee is a determining factor as well. Namely, espresso contains more caffeine than regular coffee, meaning that a small dog will experience severe signs with a lower quantity.

On top of this, consider that used coffee grounds that were used to make coffee are less toxic compared to fresh, unused coffee grounds. This is because, in used coffee grounds, some caffeine has been leached out, however, there can still be substantial amounts to cause harm.

When it comes to coffee toxicity to dogs, there are additional factors to consider, such as the dog’s age, size, breed, and overall health.

For example, puppies and senior dogs are more sensitive to the toxic effects than adult dogs in their health peak.

Also, the risk of intoxication is higher in smaller breeds as a large dog would need to eat a significant amount to experience adverse effects. For example, two tablespoons of coffee grounds are a relatively small amount for a large 90-pound dog.

Brachycephalic dog breeds like pugs and bulldogs are also at higher risk of developing complications because of already present breathing difficulties.

Finally, a dog with already compromised health is more likely to develop issues after eating coffee grounds.

While 1-2 laps of coffee, tea or soda will not contain enough caffeine to cause poisoning in most pets, the ingestion of moderate amounts of coffee grounds, tea bags or 1-2 diet pills can easily cause death in small dogs or cats.

— Pet Poison Helpline

Don't think that the bitter taste of coffee grounds will deter your dog from eating them, especially if mixed with other foods in the trash

Don't think that the bitter taste of coffee grounds will deter your dog from eating them, especially if mixed with other foods in the trash

Signs of Caffeine Poisoning

Dogs experiencing caffeine poisoning show gastrointestinal, behavioral, neurological, and cardiovascular symptoms. They usually start after 30 minutes and can last for up to12 hours or even more.

Gastrointestinal and behavioral signs are the first to manifest and are usually indicative of milder intoxications. However, if they progress and are accompanied by neurological and cardiovascular signs it means the intoxication is severe.

Gastrointestinal signs of caffeine poisoning in dogs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

Behavioral signs of caffeine poisoning:

  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Vocalization

Neurological signs of caffeine poisoning:

  • Ataxia
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Cardiovascular signs of caffeine poisoning:

  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate) or bradycardia (decreased heart rate) based on the stage and severity
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure) followed by hypotension (decreased blood pressure)
  • Death (arrhythmias followed by respiratory failure)

Other signs and symptoms indicating caffeine poisoning in dogs include:

  • Polydipsia (increased water intake)
  • Polyuria (increased urination)
  • Lethargy and low energy levels
  • Hyperthermia (increased body temperature)
There is no antidote to treat caffeine toxicity, treatment is for the most part supportive. If you act fast, your vet can  instruct you to induce vomiting or suggest to do so in his office.

There is no antidote to treat caffeine toxicity, treatment is for the most part supportive. If you act fast, your vet can instruct you to induce vomiting or suggest to do so in his office.

Help, My Dog Ate Coffee Grounds!

If your dog ate coffee grounds, you need to stay calm and call your vet, emergency clinic, or the Pet Poison Help Center. Then, you will explain the situation while providing as much information as possible.

Based on the information you give, the vet will be able to give clear instructions on what to do. In case the ingestion occurred within the last two hours you may be instructed to induce vomiting.

However, many vets find this to be a tricky scenario and prefer to do it once you arrive at the clinic. Regardless, after calling the vet, your main tasks are to stay calm and follow the given instructions.

What Happens at the Vet's Office?

Once at the vet’s office, the treatment will vary based on whether or not the dog is already showing signs of caffeine poisoning. There is no antidote to caffeine.

Here is a general overview of the treatment for asymptomatic patients:

  • Initial Decontamination: includes vomiting (emesis) induction and administration of activated charcoal to absorb any remaining toxins.
  • Gastric Lavage: performed when vomiting induction is not indicated or simply unsuccessful.
  • Anti-Nausea Treatment: metoclopramide or maropitant to stop nausea and vomiting after the decontamination is completed.
  • Intravenous Fluids: to flush the toxins out, help with rehydration, and support faster delivery of I.V. medications.
  • Urinary Catheterization: to support urination and prevent reabsorption through the bladder mucosa.

Here is a general overview of the treatment for symptomatic patients:

  • Everything that is above stated with the exception of vomiting induction. This is because vomiting induction is contraindicated in affected patients (due to seizures and high risk of aspiration pneumonia or simply because the window frame in which vomiting would be helpful has closed).
  • Gastroprotectants: usually esomeprazole to protect the gastric lining.
  • Cardiac Management: lidocaine, metoprolol, atropine, or dobutamine depending on the exact scenario.
  • Neurological Management: anti-tremor and anti-seizure medication or in severe cases intubation and IV anesthesia for as long as the symptoms are expected to persist.

What Is the Prognosis?

The prognosis for a dog with caffeine poisoning depends on the intoxication severity and promptness of treatment.

The prognosis is excellent for dogs with mild intoxication signs (slightly elevated heart rates and mild restlessness). However, the prognosis is poor if a dog shows severe poisoning signs such as seizures or collapse.

How to Prevent a Dog From Eating Coffee Grounds

Luckily, there are things you can do to decrease your dog’s risk of getting its paws and mouth into coffee and coffee grounds. Although there is no way of reducing the risk to zero, these tips will keep your dog safe.

1: Do Not Leave Your Coffee Unattended

Never, leave your cup of coffee and your dog alone in the same room. Dogs are curious by nature and can get intrigued by the coffee cup. Even if repelled by the strong scent, your dog can sustain burns in case it accidentally trips the cup and spills hot coffee on itself.

2: Keep the Coffee Jar out of Reach

Obviously, you need to keep all not-dog-friendly kitchen items out of your dog’s reach. At this point, we must note that dogs are very creative and can easily get to places you believe are out of reach. To avoid accidents, put the coffee jar on an elevated shelf or use locking cupboards.

3: Use Dog-Proof Trash Cans

Dog-proof trash cans are a must-have if you have an indoor pet. Dogs are not immune to occasional garbage digging and on such endeavors, they can easily stumble upon coffee grounds.

Even if there are no coffee grounds inside the trash, digging will create a mess or in case your dog eats table scraps, it can experience stomach upset.

4: Avoid Other Foodstuff With Caffeine

Finally, remember to read the ingredient list of a product before sharing it with your dog. This is because caffeine is a hidden ingredient in many everyday foods and drinks. For example, caffeine is found in:

  • Energy and sports drinks
  • Tea and used tea bags
  • Most cola/soda-type drinks
  • Chocolate and candy bars
  • Diet pills, drinks & powders

The Bottom Line

All in all, coffee grounds are toxic to dogs due to their caffeine content. Therefore, raw coffee grounds, coffee, and other caffeine-containing products must be kept out of reach.

In case of accidental ingestion, it is vital to seek immediate veterinary help. Depending on the coffee grounds’ type and amount as well as the dog’s size and overall health, the consequences can vary from mild to potentially life-threatening.

It is important to remember that coffee grounds ingestion in dogs classifies as a medical emergency and can be lethal. Stay calm and call your trusted vet or nearest emergency clinic if you suspect or saw your dog eating coffee grounds.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli