By Rebecca Nye
Rebecca Nye is a licensed Veterinary Technologist (LVT).
If you have reason to believe your pet has ingested a toxin, immediately call pet poison control or go straight to an emergency veterinary clinic.
24/7 ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435 or visit this website for more information.
24/7 Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 764-7661 and website.
You may be surprised about how many common household items are toxic to pets. The type of and quantity of toxin ingested largely depends on the severity of symptoms. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to know how much of a toxin your pet has ingested.
Therefore, it is important to immediately take your pet to the veterinary clinic if you have reason to believe your pet has ingested a toxin. Do not wait for symptoms of toxicity to occur. The faster your pet receives treatment, the better the prognosis.
FYI: Human and Pet Medications
It’s not uncommon for dogs to chew pill bottles and ingest pills. In 2019, the ASPCA received the most phone calls involving prescriptions and OTC drugs, such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements. They received more calls about medication toxicities than those related to foods, plants and household items.
Many people are unaware that OTC painkillers used in humans, such as Tylenol and Advil are toxic to pets in small amounts. If your pet is sick DO NOT attempt to self-treat as it could have life-threatening effects. Take the bottle and any remaining pills to the clinic as this information can really help the veterinarian determine an appropriate treatment plan.
Keep in mind that prescription medications and supplements prescribed to pets can also be toxic if they ingest a higher dose than directed. Some pets find flavored chewable tablets and liquid drugs tasty, so it’s important to keep ALL medications, both human and veterinary drugs, secure and out of reach from all pets at all times.
Possible clinic symptoms of medication toxicity include: vomiting, lack of appetite, increased respiratory rate, abnormal behavior, poor coordination and balance, pale gums, jaundice and black-tarry feces.
What About Plants?
There are hundreds of plants that are toxic to pets. I recommend researching online what plants are toxic and non toxic to cats and dogs. Immediately call pet poison control or your veterinarian for further direction if you know or believe your pet has ingested plant material.
Lilies are a common culprit for causing toxicities in cats. All parts of the plant are toxic. Left untreated, acute kidney failure occurs.
Some clinical symptoms of plant toxicities include: vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, inability to urinate, painful urination, lethargy and abnormal behavior.
Additionally, even non-toxic plants can cause stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. It is best to keep all plants, toxic and non toxic out of reach of both cats and dogs.
A few common household plants that are toxic include: Foxglove, Oleander and Lily of the Valley, Cycad (Sago) Palms, Marijuana, Pothos, Chrysanthemums, Tulips, Kalanchoe, Hyacinth, Azaleas, Daffodils, Hydrangeas, Pothos and Cyclamen.
For a complete list of toxic and non toxic plants, visit ASPCA’s website.
Harmful Chemicals to Pets
Rodenticides (Warfarin, Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone, etc.) and Insecticides (Pyrethrin, Organophosphates, etc.)
Rodenticides and insecticides make up a total of 12 percent of calls made to the ASPCA concerning pet toxicity. Some rodenticides kill rodents by blocking the body’s natural blood clotting mechanism, resulting in bleeding from orifices. Additional clinical symptoms include: increased urination and thirst, neurological/behavior abnormalities and large tissue bruising.
Pyrethrin is an insecticide and cats are sensitive to low exposure doses. Many people are unaware that pyrethrin is found in topical pest prevention medications for dogs. Do not use these types of medications labelled for dogs on cats. Clinical symptoms include: excessive drooling, tremors/shaking, hyperthermia and seizures.
Organophosphates are another type of insecticide that are commonly found in fertilizers and herbicides. They are commonly used to prevent garden pests. Some clinical symptoms include: salivation, lacrimation, urination and defecation. The acronym commonly used to remember these symptoms is “SLUD.”
Keep rodenticides and insecticides securely stored and inaccessible to pets. Immediately seek treatment if your pet is exposed to any of these chemicals.
Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol)
Antifreeze is a common household product that contains ethylene glycol, but it can also be found in brake fluid and industrial solvents. Dogs may be tempted to ingest ethylene glycol because it is an odorless, sweet tasting substance. Without immediate treatment, acute kidney failure and death occurs.
Unsafe Food and Drinks for Pets
Theobromine is the toxic element found in chocolate, the darker the chocolate the higher the content of toxin. White chocolate does not contain theobromine, but it is high in sugar and should not be given to your pets. Clinical symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, cardiac arrhythmias and seizures.
Xylitol is an artificial zero-calorie sweetener typically found in sugar free foods (sugar free gum and gummies), dental products, nasal sprays and liquid medications.
Certain brands of peanut butter contain xylitol. Make sure to check the list of ingredients before feeding it to your dog. Xylitol causes life-threatening low blood glucose (sugar) which can cause a coma and death. Other clinical symptoms include: vomiting, weakness, depression, lethargy, poor coordination and balance, seizures, tremors, blindness, restlessness and liver failure.
Onions, Garlic, Shallots, Leeks and Chives
Clinical symptoms include: stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and red blood cell damage.
Grapes, Raisins and Currants
Clinical symptoms include: increased thirst, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, inability to urinate or only able to produce a small output of urine, seizures, tremors and kidney failure.
Other less common pet food toxicities include: low or high doses of caffeine and alcohol, raw yeast dough (causes a distended, bloated abdomen), macadamia nuts and avocados.
To minimize the risk of pet toxicity, keep all toxic items stored securely in cabinets and out of reach of all pets in the household. Do not feed your pet foods that can cause toxicity, even in small amounts. Keep in mind, toxic foods may be disguised in many food dishes, such as pasta sauce, soup, seasoned chicken and steak, etc. Also make sure to always read food labels before feeding to your pet.
Remember xylitol is often an ingredient in sugar free foods. Just to be safe, keep all plants out of reach of your pets. Remember, if your pet may have ingested a toxin, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Depending on the type of toxic exposure, once symptoms appear it may be too late to effectively treat the toxicity resulting in devastating consequences, including death.
Treatment of toxicities is a TIME SENSITIVE matter! The faster they are treated, the better the prognosis. Immediately call a pet poison helpline or take your pet straight to the emergency veterinary clinic.