Most pet owners already know that exposure to things like antifreeze, rat poison, and pesticide can be dangerous for our animal companions. But what about other lesser-known toxins?
There are common household items you may currently have in your home, but you might not know that they could be harmful to your furry family members. In honor of Pet Poison Prevention week (March 16–27), we are highlighting lesser-known household items you may not be aware of, such as dangerous medications, foods, and plants.
Medications account for 37% of calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs that are safe for humans are unsafe for pets. Toxicity can develop from well-intentioned pet owners self-medicating their pets or from accidental exposure. Medications that can be toxic include:
Pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are widely used to treat fever, inflammation and pain in people such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin can lead to stomach and intestinal ulcers and in extremely high doses, kidney failure can occur.
Another human medication often used to treat pain and inflammation in dogs is acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Acetaminophen poisoning in dogs causes injury to the liver and, in high enough dosages, even liver failure. Cats are even more sensitive than dogs to acetaminophen—clinical signs can result from ingesting a single tablet.
Medications used for attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity contain amphetamine, a potent stimulant. Ingestion of these medications by dogs can lead to life-threatening tremors, seizures, elevated body temperature, and even cardiac and respiratory arrest.
Blood pressure medications, like ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, can cause weakness, stumbling, and dangerously low blood pressure.
Medications designed to aid with sleep, like Xanax®, Ambien®, and Valium®, can cause dogs to become lethargic, seem intoxicated and, in some cases, have dangerously slowed breathing rates. Some dogs become severely agitated after ingesting these drugs.
There are several food items you have in your home that can be extremely toxic to your pet. Even small quantities of some of these foods can cause life threatening illness.
Chewing gum, candies, and other foods containing a sugar substitute called xylitol™ can be extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol™ is gaining popularity and can be found in several other products including peanut butter, gummy vitamins and supplements, toothpaste, and sugar free baked goods. Xylitol™ is extremely toxic to dogs. Even just a few pieces of gum can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, or even death.
Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. The exact substance is still unknown but even very small amounts can cause life threatening injury to the kidneys. Dogs of any age, breed, or gender may be affected. Interestingly, kidney failure is not seen in all dogs after ingestion of grapes or raisins and the reason why some dogs are affected excessively, while others are not, is still being studied.
While rarely fatal, chocolate ingestion can result in significant illness. Chocolate is toxic because it contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine. Dogs cannot metabolize theobromine and caffeine as well as people can. The amount of toxic theobromine varies with the type of chocolate. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to dogs, while milk and white chocolate require a larger amount before clinical signs develop. A medium-sized dog weighing 50 pounds would only need to eat one ounce of baking chocolate, or nine ounces of milk chocolate, to potentially show signs of poisoning. For many dogs, ingesting small amounts of milk chocolate is not harmful.
The most common clinical signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting and diarrhea, increased thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination, and a racing heart rate. In severe cases, muscle tremors, seizures, and heart failure can be seen.
Garlic is classified as a species of the Allium family. Other species in the Allium family include onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. This also includes garlic and onion powder, which can be a more concentrated source. The ingestion of garlic and onions causes damage to red blood cells and can lead to severe anemia in both dogs and cats.
Symptoms of this condition can include vomiting and diarrhea, along with symptoms of anemia such as breathlessness, lethargy, pale, yellow, or “muddy” colored gums, rapid breathing, and an elevated heart rate. Your pet also could develop abdominal pain and discolored urine. While vomiting and diarrhea may occur within one day, it may take several days to a week after your pet eats garlic for symptoms of anemia to appear.
Plants including indoor and outdoor plants, as well as bouquets, can all be sources of potential problems for pets.
Lilies in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are very dangerous for cats. This is something to consider if you order a bouquet for someone that has cats at home. The entire lily plant is toxic: the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water in a vase. Eating just a small amount of a leaf or flower petal, licking a few pollen grains off its fur while grooming, or drinking the water from the vase can cause your cat to develop fatal kidney failure in less than three days. The toxin, which only affects cats, has not been identified. Dogs that eat lilies may have minor stomach upset but they don’t develop kidney failure.
Sago Palms are pretty plants but beware—they pack a deadly punch for pets. The popular Sago Palm enhances outdoor landscapes in warmer areas of the U.S. and serves as indoor decor in many colder climates. All parts of the Sago Palm are poisonous, but the seeds (nuts) are the most toxic to pets and are easier for them to eat than the prickly fronds. The Sago Palm toxin, called cycasin, attacks the liver causing a broad range of symptoms.
Cycasin works quickly, causing symptoms as early as 15 minutes post-ingestion, although in some cases signs may not appear for several hours. The key is to seek help when you first suspect your dog or cat consumed Sago Palm. Cycasin irritates the gastrointestinal (GI) tract so drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea may be the first signs of poisoning. Dogs and cats with irritated gastrointestinal tracts may refuse to eat. These GI signs may seem minor, but if left untreated, liver failure is eminent.
There are two types of crocus plants: one that blooms in the spring (Crocus species) and the other in the autumn (Colchicum autumnale). Depending on geographic location, the spring plants are often more commonly found. Spring crocus plants are part of the Iridaceae family. These ingestions can cause general gastrointestinal upset including drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. These should not be mistaken for Autumn Crocus, part of the Liliaceae family, which contains a toxic alkaloid called colchicine. All parts of the Autumn Crocus are poisonous and can cause severe gastrointestinal signs (e.g. drooling, vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, etc.), liver and kidney damage, respiratory failure, central nervous system signs (e.g., seizures), and even death. Signs may be seen immediately but can also be delayed for days.
If your pet happens to ingest any of the above substances, you should contact your family veterinarian immediately. If they’re unavailable or the exposure occurs after hours, consider an emergency veterinary office such as MedVet, as timely intervention can be critically important in your pet’s recovery. If you are unsure as to whether something your pet ingested is toxic, you can call your veterinarian’s office or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435.
Xanax® is a registered trademark of is a registered trademark of Pharmacia & Upjohn Company. Ambien® is a registered trademark of Sanofi. Valium® is a registered trademark of Roche Products, Inc. Tylenol® is a registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson. XYLITOL® is a registered trademark of Epic Industries, Inc.
JENNIFER (JENNY) WELLS, DVM, DIPLOMATE, ACVIM (SAIM) is a board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist at MedVet Cincinnati where she has been part of the medical team since 2011. Dr. Wells attended Texas A&M University where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree graduating Magna Cum Laude. Following her graduation from veterinary school, Dr. Wells completed a yearlong internship in small animal medicine and surgery at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver and a three-year residency in small animal internal medicine at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. During her residency she studied urinary tract infections in dogs and researched why certain infections are resistant to many antibiotics.
Since becoming a board-certified Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Dr. Wells has authored scientific papers in veterinary publications, including the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) and Open Journal of Veterinary Medicine. She is also an active advocate of continued education for veterinary professionals and has lectured on small animal internal medicine topics including pericardial effusion, canine lymphoma, feline hepatic lipidosis, respiratory physiology, calcium homeostasis, and diabetes mellitus.
Dr. Wells maintains an interest in all aspects of small animal internal medicine with particular interests in liver disease, minimally invasive liver biopsy, feline ureteral obstruction, and critical care. She loves interacting with clients and improving the quality of life for her patients. When not treating patients, Dr. Wells loves the outdoors and traveling, especially when it involves some sort of adventure like bungee jumping, shark diving, glacier climbing and safaris.