Q: My dog tries to drink from unattended wineglasses. What happens when pets consume wine?—Terrence, Chattanooga, Tenn.
A: Here at Wine Spectator, we love dogs, especially the canine companions who help in the vineyard, keep us company in tasting rooms and lift our spirits at the end of a long day. Wine Spectator’s own canine-in-residence, Puggsy Bogues, knows she’s not allowed to sip from mom’s cocktails and wineglasses, but not all dogs are so savvy. What’s at risk when curiosity gets the better of our furry friends?
According to Dr. Brian Collins, section chief of small animal community practice at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “unlike with people, no amount of alcohol can be considered safe for dogs … fortunately, most dogs won’t consume large quantities, but they can become inebriated by very small quantities of wine (and other alcohol)—and even larger quantities can result in life-threatening situations. Signs of alcohol intoxication can range from lethargy and vomiting (both common) to more serious problems including staggering and tremors, [which can progress] to seizures and coma.”
Dr. Ashley Navarrette, director of primary care services at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says “alcohol is toxic to pets, and toxicity is based on how much was ingested versus body weight. It can cause neurological depression, hypotension (low blood pressure), hypothermia (low body temperature), seizures and respiratory failure.”
It’s not just the alcohol in wine that could put Rover at risk. Dr. Navarrette says “grapes have been linked to acute kidney failure in dogs. The toxic dose is not currently known, as some dogs have experienced kidney failure by eating one to two grapes, while others have eaten a handful and had no negative repercussions.” Though we don’t know for sure what makes grapes toxic to canines, it may be tartaric acid, the molecule responsible for most of wine’s acidity.
It’s also best to prevent other pets from drinking any alcohol. Dr. Collins says “the adverse effects of alcohol are very similar in cats” as in dogs. Birds, rabbits, ferrets and other animals may be drawn to the taste and color of alcoholic beverages, including wine, but “in general, offering alcohol to all small pets is strongly discouraged.”
Are there any animals that can safely consume alcohol? Dr. Collins says that thanks to high levels of a particular liver enzyme, horses and bats have a very high alcohol tolerance, and “many racehorses in Ireland enjoy a pint of Guinness stout daily.” He adds, “there are reports of reptiles being able to enjoy small amounts of alcohol safely, but I don’t see any reason to encourage doing so!” If you suspect your pet has consumed wine or any other alcoholic beverage—or if you’re planning to indulge your snake’s penchant for Shiraz—talk to your veterinarian to learn more about the risks.—Kenny Martin