Two Common Household Objects That Can Poison Your Pet

Toxic Food Chemicals

Story at-a-glance

  • In 2012, over 180,000 pets were exposed to potentially toxic substances in and around their homes. And for the fifth year in a row, prescription human medications topped the list.
  • Other items in the top 10 pet poisons list include insecticides, over-the-counter human medications, veterinary drugs, household products, people food (including chocolate), plants, rodent bait, and lawn/garden products.
  • A lesser-known item also toxic to pets is the penny. Pennies produced after 1982 contain zinc, and a pet’s stomach acid can quickly erode an ingested penny, releasing the zinc into the bloodstream. Zinc damages red blood cells and the results can be fatal.
  • Another potentially deadly situation can occur if your pet eats a piece of your clothing. Worn socks are a particular favorite. Ingested cloth doesn’t show up on x-rays, and it takes about 48 hours for the average pet to start showing symptoms like vomiting or loss of appetite. If the item is found and removed quickly, most pets fully recover. But the longer ingested cloth remains inside an animal, the greater the risk of a fatal side effect.

By Dr. Becker

According to the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, more than 180,000 pets were exposed to potentially toxic substances in 2012. And for the fifth year running, topping the list are prescription human medications.

Top 10 Pet Poisons in 2012

  • Prescription medications (for humans). The Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) fielded 25,000 human prescription drug poisoning calls in 2012. The top three culprits were blood pressure pills, antidepressants, and painkillers (opioids and prescription NSAIDs). The most common scenario: a pet owner drops a pill on the floor and the dog grabs it right up.
  • Insecticides. While only 11 percent of calls to the APCC were for insecticide poisoning, over half of all calls involving cats are related to insecticides. The APCC advises pet owners to always read the label before applying any insecticide directly on your pet, in your home, or in your yard.
  • Over-the-counter medications (for humans). These drugs accounted for more than 18,000 calls to the APCC in 2012. Medications included acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen, as well as herbal and other types of supplements (for example, fish oil). Many of these products smell or taste yummy to pets.
  • Veterinary products and medications. These products accounted for about six percent of poisoning calls in 2012. Flavored pills and liquids make it easier to give supplements and medications, but it also makes them more enticing to pets.
  • Household products. This category includes everything from logs for the fireplace to cleaning agents, and accounted for more than 10,000 calls to the APCC last year.
  • People food. Over five percent of 2012 cases reported to the APCC concerned pets ingesting people food. One particularly problematic substance is xylitol, a sugar substitute that is highly toxic to dogs.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate remains the number one toxic people food pets ingest – the APCC received over 8,500 calls last year for just this one substance.
  • Plants. The APCC received over 7,000 calls about animals eating potentially toxic plants. Cats lead dogs in this category. You can refer to this excellent ASPCA resource for more information.
  • Rodenticides. About four percent of calls to the APCC last year were related to rodent bait poisoning. You can learn more about the dangers of rodent bait here, here and here.
  • Lawn and garden products. Fertilizers and other lawn and garden products accounted for about 3,600 calls to the APCC in 2012.

Dog Dies After Ingesting a Penny

In a very sad story out of Colorado, a little dog lost her life after eating a very common household item – a penny. Pennies produced after 1982 contain zinc, which is toxic to dogs and cats.

Sierra, a West Highland White Terrier, was always attracted to coins, according to her owner, Maryann Goldstein, in an interview with CBS Denver. In fact, as a puppy, Sierra ate 32 cents and underwent surgery to remove the coins.

This past March, Sierra became very ill and Goldstein took her to the vet. X-rays showed a quarter and a penny in her stomach. The penny, though smaller than the quarter, was the bigger problem because of its zinc content.

The reason pennies are so dangerous is because gastric acid in the stomach eats into the penny very quickly, releasing the zinc and causing it to be absorbed by the body. Zinc inhibits the production of red blood cells and the longer the exposure to the zinc, the greater the damage to red blood cells.

Zinc toxicity symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, jaundice, and red-tinged urine.

According to Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a staff veterinarian at Petplan pet insurance:

"Zinc toxicosis is more commonly seen in dogs, but cats can get sick from eating pennies, too," warned Jackson. "Be sure to bank your spare change before curious pets can get their paws on it -- and if they do, get them to the emergency vet immediately."

Smelly Socks and Shoulder Pads

According to Dr. Karen Halligan, director of veterinary services for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles, hundreds of pets require surgery every year to remove articles of clothing and similar items from their stomachs and intestines.

There was the toy Poodle that swallowed a tube sock. Dr. Halligan made the dog vomit and removed a foot-long sock from the tiny dog. Dirty socks are among the most commonly ingested items of clothing. Your pet really loves your socks because they smell like you.

There was also the Great Dane who required multiple surgeries after eating shoulder pads.

While these stories may seem funny, the fact is non-food items such as these can be very dangerous if ingested by a pet. Fabric items don't appear on x-rays, and within about 48 hours, a pet who has swallowed a piece of clothing will have symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy.

If ingested cloth is removed early, normally the pet has a full recovery. But if your dog (or much less commonly, your cat) eats something you aren't aware of and time passes, the intestines will begin to die from lack of a blood supply. Sometimes the only option to save the pet is to remove the intestines. Surgeries to deal with odd things pets swallow are costly – at least $2,500 to $5,000 according to Dr. Halligan.

Left untreated, an ingested cloth item can result in a fatal case of dehydration or peritonitis caused by bacteria invading the stomach.

If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center's 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.