Common Items Poisonous to Your Pets & What To Do If Ingested

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There’s a unique joy in caring for pets. Whether it’s the wag of a tail when you come home, or the purr you receive as thanks for a good belly rub, taking care of a pet has its own rewards. Many great pet owners treat their animal companions as full-fledged members of the family. It’s no wonder that many pet owners call their dogs and cats “fur-babies.” But just as human children should be kept away from dangerous items, so should your furry loved ones.

sick pets & ingested poisonous materials

Ingesting the wrong item can cause your pet severe pain, sickness, or even death. Besides the cost to your pet’s physical well-being, you both may suffer emotional distress as a result of an accidental poisoning. And you could also incur monetary costs as well in the form of vet bills.

Unfortunately, even the most responsible pet parents can find that their dog or cat has ingested something that they shouldn’t have. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) received more than 400,000 phone calls to their Poison Control Center in 2021.

Knowing what can be harmful to your pets is the first step to ensuring their safety within your home. Help protect your pets by learning about common household items that are the most harmful to them.

Household Items that are Poisonous to Pets

There are five categories of items that can be harmful to your cat or dog:

  • Human Food
  • Human Medications
  • Plants
  • Chemicals
  • Pet Medications

Human Food

We’ve all been there. You’re eating your lunch and your pet looks up to you with those sad eyes, asking you for a bite. It’s tempting, but some foods that are healthy for humans just aren’t safe for your dog or cat. Domesticated animals may have similar organs to humans, but their digestive systems can work very differently. Before sharing some of your plate, make sure the food doesn’t fall into one of these categories.

  • Alcohol

While alcohol in moderation is fine for most adult humans to drink, alcohol of any volume is dangerous for animals. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include “vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death,” according to the ASPCA.

  • Avocado

For pet owners of rabbits, birds, horses, sheep, and goats, avocados pose a threat to their furry and feathered loved ones. Birds and rabbits can die or develop cardiovascular damage if they ingest avocado, and horses, sheep, and goats can suffer from severe swelling of the neck and head.

  • Chocolate

In any form, chocolate is dangerous to pets, but some are more harmful than others. This is due to the varying level of substances called methylxanthines found in each type of chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest levels of methylxanthines and therefore poses the least amount of threat. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate have the highest and so are the most dangerous to animals.

Methylxanthines can cause several distressing symptoms for pets, from vomiting and excessive thirst to seizures and death.

  • Coffee or Caffeine

Like chocolate, coffee and caffeinated beverages contain methylxanthines and are dangerous to pets.

  • Citrus

If ingested in large amounts, citric acid can cause irregular or slowed heartbeat and lung function for pets due to central nervous system (CNS) depression. This can result in coma or death. Smaller amounts are less worrisome but can still cause digestive issues.

  • Coconut

There are two concerns with coconuts: coconut oil and coconut water. Like citric acid, coconut oil can cause diarrhea and other digestive problems. Coconut water poses a risk to your pet because it contains high amounts of potassium. Potassium is an essential mineral for pets, but if your pet ingests too much, it can cause serious health issues including hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia, or high concentrations of potassium in an animal’s blood can turn it acidic and lead to heart failure.

  • Dairy

Despite popular belief, giving your new kitten or puppy a bowl of milk isn’t recommended. Our pets do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to properly digest the lactose found in cow’s milk and byproducts like cheese and yogurt. If your pet does drink spilt milk, be prepared for an even bigger mess from loose stools and diarrhea.

  • Grapes or Raisins

Grapes in any form are toxic for dogs. Even one grape can cause kidney failure. Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, lethargy, abdominal pain, increased thirst, increased or significantly decreased urination, and dehydration. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends testing for dehydration by gently pulling “up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. It should spring back immediately.” If it doesn’t, then your pet is likely experiencing dehydration.

  • Fats and Oils

Too much fat for anyone is a bad thing, but especially for pets. Butter, cooking oils, and cuts of fat from meat can cause vomiting and even pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can occur in dogs quickly and from just one over-ingestion of fatty foods.

  • Nuts

While peanut butter is a favorite treat for dogs, other nuts should be avoided. Nuts contain high amounts of fats and oils, which can cause serious and life-threatening digestive problems (see above). Some nuts, like macadamias, can also cause tremors and hypothermia.

 

  • Onions, Garlic, Shallots, or Chives

Vegetables that belong to the allium family contain a compound called N-propyl disulphide which in pets can break down red blood cells and cause anemia. PetMD says “with anemia, the body’s organs are no longer getting enough oxygen. In severe cases, this can result in organ failure and death.”

All forms of these vegetables should be avoided, whether cooked or raw, as even a low amount can cause toxic poisoning.

  • Raw Meat or Eggs

For the same reasons that humans should avoid eating raw meat and eggs, so should your pets. Eating undercooked proteins can cause bacterial infections from E. coli and Salmonella.

  • Salt

Giving cats, dogs or birds salty foods like bacon, chips, French fries, and pretzels are never a good idea. Excessive salt can cause “sodium ion poisoning, leading to depression, diarrhea, high fever, excessive thirst, kidney damage, seizures, and vomiting,” according to Consumer Reports.

  • Stone Fruits

Pits from peaches, cherries, apricots, and other fruits pose both a choking hazard and a poisoning danger to cats, dogs, and horses. This is because these pits contain the deadly poison cyanide.

  • Sugar Substitutes

Sugar-free candy or baked goods can be great for diabetic pet owners, but less so for animals. Most sugar substitutes can either be tolerated well by pets or at worst causing diarrhea. However, Xylitol, which can be commonly found in ice cream, yogurt, chewing gum, and fruit juice, is highly toxic to pets. Unlike other sweeteners, Xylitol causes an increased release of insulin in animals, which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This can result in liver failure, seizures, and death.

  • Vinegar

Because of the acidity in vinegar, it can cause digestive issues for animals including vomiting, diarrhea, pain, and irritation.

  • Yeast Products

When your cat or dog eats raw dough containing yeast, the dough can continue to rise while in your pet’s stomach. The rising process produces excess gas that can expand and even twist your pet’s stomach causing a serious condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GVD). During GVD, the expansion and twisting of the stomach can restrict blood flow throughout the body.

Pet deaths caused from eating raw yeast dough can also occur because of the ethanol produced from the rising process. Ethanol, a type of alcohol, is extremely dangerous for animals (see above).

 

 

Human Medications

There’s a reason why your family doctor isn’t also your family veterinarian. Humans and animals are built differently. Their bodies react differently to compounds, chemicals, and substances. So, it makes sense that the same medications you might use to settle your stomach or relieve your pain can have disastrous results if given to your cat or dog. Here are some human medications that can poison your pets.

Over-the-counter Medications

  • Aspirin

In low doses, aspirin may help treat a pet’s joint pain. However, it’s not recommended to give aspirin to your pet without consulting with your vet first. This is because overdoses can easily cause liver damage and even failure.

  • Acetaminophen

The active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, is extremely dangerous to cats and can be harmful to dogs as well. Like aspirin, it can cause organ failure and should be kept away from your pets.

  • Bismuth Compounds

You may more easily recognize this medication as the popular brand Pepto Bismol. Cats should never ingest these medications. Dogs can safely ingest low amounts of bismuth compounds, but like aspirin, the wrong dose can have serious side effects. Your dog may experience ulcers, internal bleeding, seizures, or even death. It’s best to consult with your vet before giving Pepto Bismol or a similar product to your pooch.

  • Ibuprofen and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatories

While humans can easily swap aspirin and Ibuprofen without too much worry, animals cannot. Even small amounts of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) like Ibuprofen can lead to serious health concerns for pets.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some prescription NSAIDS for dogs and cats but warns that “any NSAID marketed for dogs or cats online or in a pet store without the need for a prescription from a veterinarian is an unapproved animal drug.”

  • Petroleum Jelly and Topical Creams

Be careful when applying lotions and creams around your pets. If your cat or dog licks your skin with the newly-applied lotion or Vaseline, they could inadvertently ingest chemicals that are toxic to them. Petroleum jelly acts as a laxative, while other chemicals like baclofen, flurbiprofen, diclofenac, ketamine, lidocaine, dibucaine, 5-fluorouracil, calcipotriene can be fatal to pets.

  • Nasal Decongestants

Many over-the-counter cold medicines contain pseudoephedrine which acts as a stimulant and is toxic to animals. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “a dose as small as three 30-mg tablets in [a 20-pound] dog can be lethal.”

However, pseudoephedrine is not the only nasal decongestant that pet owners need to worry about. While saline nasal sprays usually do not contain drugs, they may contain xylitol, a sweetener that can cause digestive issues in cats and dogs.

Antihistamines also pose a threat to pets. Some antihistamines can cause high blood pressure and elevated heart rates in animals.

Prescription Medications

  • ADD/ADHD Medications

Prescriptions like Adderall and other ADD/ADHD medications contain amphetamines, which are highly toxic to animals. If a pet ingests amphetamines, they risk seizures, cardiac arrest, coma, and death.

  • Antidepressants

Antidepressants can be safely administered to cats and dogs, but only if your vet has prescribed them. Pets can overdose on these medications, so keep these in a safe place away from your dog or cat.

  • Birth Control

If your pet accidentally ingests hormone-based birth control, they are unlikely to suffer serious side effects, but can experience vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Marijuana

“The psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes people high, THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), is toxic to pets,” according to Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. While pet deaths from THC are rare, they can occur due to complications from exposure to the drug.

  • Sleep Aids

Prescription sleep medications like Xanax, Ambien, and Klonopin can cause drops in blood pressure and irregular heartbeats in cats and dogs if ingested.

sick dog at vet

Chemicals and Other Household Products

Indoor

  • Health and Beauty Products

Health and beauty products can contain chemicals and essential oils that are harmful to your pet’s health. Likewise, if your dog eats beauty sponges or makeup applicators, these can create a blockage within their digestive tract. Be sure to keep the following products out of reach when it comes to your pets:

  • Deodorants and antiperspirants
  • Lotions and creams
  • Makeup and makeup tools
  • Mouthwash
  • Nail polish and remover
  • Shampoos, conditioners, and hair products
  • Soap, bodywashes, and facial cleansers
  • Sunscreens and tanning lotion
  • Toothpaste
  • Cleaning Supplies

Just as most cleaning supplies are toxic to humans, they can also be lethal for pets. Even products that claim to be natural and plant-based can be harmful to your cat or dog if ingested. Keep the following away from your pets:

  • Air fresheners
  • Bathroom and toilet bowl cleaners
  • Bleach
  • Carpet and floor cleaners
  • Fabric softener sheets
  • Pest Control Products

Rat poison, mothballs, roach baits, and insecticides help keep unwanted pests from your home but can be dangerous to the animals you love. Use these products with care and place them in locations not easily accessible to your pets.

Outdoor

  • Lawn Care Products

Backyards are great for dogs and their owners but be wary of the products that you use to keep your grass lush and green. Even natural or organic lawn products can contain ingredients like bone meal that are not suitable for pets to eat. Fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides can all be harmful to pets so it’s best to follow the directions of these products carefully.

  • Home and Auto Maintenance Products

Several products that you may use for home upkeep and car maintenance need to be stored away from your pets for their safety. These can include:

  • Antifreeze
  • Caulk
  • Gasoline
  • Glue
  • Grout
  • Paint and paint thinner
  • Rock salt and ice-melt
  • Swimming Pool Chemicals

The primary danger in swimming pool cleaners and maintenance products is chlorine. Chlorine is extremely corrosive and can cause life-threatening ulcers in animals.

Plants

Whether or not you are a plant parent in addition to being a pet parent, learning which plants pose a threat to your furry loved ones is important. Below we outline the most common plants poisonous to pets, but for a more complete list, please refer to the ASPCA’s website.

House Plants

Bringing the outdoors in can add beauty to your home, but be careful about what plants you choose, and where you choose to place them. Cats are especially prone to nibbling at house plants and because they love to climb, simply putting your potted plants on a shelf does not guarantee their, or your cat’s, safety.

  • Aloe
  • Amaryllis
  • Caladium
  • Caster bean
  • Chrysanthemums/mums
  • Ferns
  • Ivies
  • Lilies
  • Orchids
  • Mistletoe
  • Poinsettias
  • Philodendron
  • Palms
  • Rubber plants
  • Spider plant
  • Succulents

Outdoor Plants

It’s important to always watch your pets carefully when they are outside. Even if your dog doesn’t dig up your garden, she could still encounter and eat other toxic plants. Keep your pooch and other pets away from these plants:

  • Azaleas
  • Begonias
  • Boxwood
  • Carnations
  • Chrysanthemums/mums
  • Daffodils
  • Daisies
  • Elephant ears
  • Foxglove
  • Gardenias
  • Geraniums
  • Hollies
  • Hyacinth
  • Hydrangeas
  • Ivies
  • Laurels
  • Lavender
  • Leeks
  • Lemongrass
  • Lilies
  • Mint
  • Morning glories
  • Narcissus
  • Nightshade
  • Oregano
  • Ornamental peppers
  • Peonies
  • Tomato plants
  • Tulips
  • Yews

 

 

Pet Medications

It’s true. There can be too much of a good thing. Giving your pet too much of their medication can be more harmful than beneficial. Likewise, you should never give a prescribed medication to the wrong pet. Always follow the directions given to you by your vet, or found on the medication’s label.

Signs and Symptoms of Toxic Poisoning in Pets

Sometimes pets can ingest harmful items without their owners immediately knowing when or what they’ve gotten into. Your pet may be experiencing toxic poisoning if they show these symptoms:

Physical Symptoms

Watch for the following signs of toxic poisoning in your cat or dog:

  • Bloody or pale gums
  • Bloody or unusually colored stools or urine
  • Collapse or muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive panting
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Slow or rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting

Behavioral Symptoms

Along with physical signs, you may also notice that your pet has been acting strangely. Here are some behavioral symptoms of toxic poisoning in pets:

  • Irritable
  • Sensitive to touch, especially in the abdominal area
  • Lethargy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of coordination when walking

What to Do if Your Pet Has Ingested a Poisonous Product

If you suspect that your pet has eaten something harmful, knowing what to do next is critical to their health and survival. Luckily there are only four key steps you need to follow.

sick cat at vet

Step 1: Stay Calm

Don’t panic! Animals often pick up when we are nervous or afraid, which can make them anxious. You can help them to stay calm by remaining calm yourself. Also, when we panic, we are more likely to make mistakes or make rash decisions that could cause more harm than good.

Step 2: Isolate Your Pet from the Source and Other Animals

If you know the source of your pet’s potential poisoning, immediately remove the substance from the area. This will prevent them from ingesting even more of the harmful product.

You will also want to separate your sick pet from any other dogs or cats in the home. Other animals may want to lick or groom the sick pet in attempts to comfort them, but if the substance is on their skin or fur this can lead to poisoning multiple pets.

Step 3: Call Your Vet

As soon as possible, call your vet. They can help you determine the severity of the poisoning and whether medical treatment is needed.

Step 4: Call Poison Control

While on your way to the vet, call Poison Control. This is a timesaving and potentially lifesaving step. Reaching Poison Control and relaying all the pertinent information can take a while, so it’s best to get this process started as soon as possible. Call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 1-888-426-4435 and stay on the line.

What Not to Do

  • Induce Vomiting

Depending on the substances swallowed, inducing vomiting may not work for your pet, or it could be even more dangerous. Unless your vet instructs you to, do not try to coax your pet into throwing up.

  • Allow Your Pet to Groom Itself

If your pet’s fur has been exposed to the poisonous substance, then grooming can cause your cat or dog to ingest more of the product. If you have an Elizabethan collar (aka the ‘cone of shame’) it might be a good idea to slip it onto your pet.

 

Not all veterinary care facilities can readily respond to a pet poisoning. Fortunately, Furdunkin provides emergency and urgent care services for pets in the Lancaster area. If you find your pet needing emergency veterinary care, please call us at 717-844-0097. We can help you to evaluate the situation, and if need be, schedule a same-day appointment with one of our skilled emergency veterinarians.

Posted on December 14, 2022