Household Substances That Can Poison Your Pet

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

toxicants for pets

Story at-a-glance -

  • Prevention is the best way to keep your pet safe, but oftentimes pet owners don’t realize that everyday substances around their home can be serious risks to pets until it’s too late
  • The European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) lists three foods as being toxins for pets: grapes/raisins, chocolate and onions, but there are many other foods and food additives that can cause serious problems or fatalities for animals
  • Many products in and around your home, including certain human medications, rodenticides and home/garden plants can be dangerous for pets
  • Unexpected sources of accidental toxicosis include marijuana and salt lamps
  • If you know or suspect your pet has ingested a poison or potential toxins, don’t wait for symptoms; seek emergency help immediately

Realizing that your pet has ingested a poisonous or potentially toxic substance is a terrifying situation that too-often turns deadly. Prevention is the best way to keep your pet safe, but oftentimes pet owners don’t realize that everyday substances around their home are toxic to pets until it’s too late.

Recently I did a Facebook live about the topic of “food fears” because so many websites erroneously list many foods as being “toxic” to pets when they’re not toxic at all, but they may pose a risk. Truly toxic foods contain innate substances that pets cannot metabolize or create damage in the body. For instance, many online lists state cherries, peaches and plums are toxic to pets, when in reality their pits pose a choking hazard.

There’s a big difference between a choking hazard and a food being genuinely toxic or poisonous. The European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF) lists three foods pets should not consume due to the true potential for toxicity: grapes/raisins, chocolate and members of the onion family.

All other foods aren’t, by definition, poisonous to pets. But that doesn’t mean they don’t carry risks, including being medically inappropriate (for instance, feeding high fat foods to animals with pancreatitis). Aside from foods, there are many substances around the home that could pose a risk to your pets, either via true toxicity or the potential to be detrimental for other reasons.

It’s a good idea to browse through the items that follow even if you’ve had your pet for a long time, as with changing seasons, new environments and even different visitors to your home, new potential threats may emerge. Further, because animals are typically small, with faster metabolisms, even small doses of risky substances can be dangerous.

Top 10 Toxicants for Pets

Following is a list of the top 10 substances dogs consume that lead to toxicosis, according to the Animal Poison Control Center:1

Chocolate

Mouse and rat poisons (rodenticides)

Anti-inflammatory medications

Xylitol (sugar-free gum and more)

Grapes and raisins

Antidepressant medications

Acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol)

Vitamin D overdose

Stimulant medications (e.g., for ADD/ADHD)

Fertilizers

The top 10 cat toxicants are somewhat different:2

Lilies (Lilium species)

Spot-on flea/tick medication for dogs

Household cleaners

Antidepressant medications

Essential oils

Anti-inflammatory medications

Mouse and rat poisons (rodenticides)

Stimulant medications (i.e., for ADD/ADHD)

Onions

Vitamin D overdose

There are many others, however, that didn’t make the top 10 list but are still important to be aware of, if ingested. These include:3

Coffee

Citrus oil

Fruit pits and seeds

Macadamia nuts

Rhubarb

Nutmeg

Mustard

Chives*

Leeks*

Potato “eyes” (green parts and roots)

*Plants of the genus allium, which includes onions, chives, garlic and leeks, make some pets sick (there have even been fatalities), while others don’t seem affected.

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Bread Dough, Salt and Marijuana Can Turn Deadly

Uncooked bread, pizza or cinnamon roll dough — really any raw dough that includes yeast — may seem like a tasty snack if a dog or cat can manage to snatch it off the counter. However, once in your pet’s warm stomach the fermentation process releases carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The alcohol can be quickly absorbed into your pet’s bloodstream leading to potentially fatal alcohol poisoning.4

Other potential sources of alcohol (ethanol) include paint and varnish, certain medications, perfume/cologne, mouthwash and certain types of antifreeze, as well as alcoholic beverages. Salt poisoning, also known as hypernatremia, is another concern.

In addition to table salt, salt poisoning can occur if your pet ingests homemade play dough or salt dough ornaments, de-icing salts, paint balls, enemas containing sodium phosphate, saltwater or even licks a salt lamp excessively.

THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component in marijuana, can also be a problem for dogs, as they are far more sensitive to its effects. Fortunately, marijuana poisoning in dogs isn’t typically fatal because the drug doesn't cause organ failure. However, it can cause heavy sedation — enough so that dogs may inhale (aspirate) their own vomit, which can be fatal.

Human Medication Dangers to Pets

Pet-proofing your medicine cabinet is essential if you live with animals, as close to 50% of calls to the Pet Poison Helpline involve over-the-counter and prescription medications for humans. The top 10 medication poisons for pets to be aware of include:5

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as Advil, Aleve and Motrin

Acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol)

Antidepressants

ADD/ADHD medications, such as Concerta, Adderall and Ritalin

Benzodiazepines and sleep aids, such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien and Lunesta)

Birth control pills

ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure

Beta-blockers

Thyroid hormones

Cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor

Simply relying on plastic bottles to keep your pets out isn’t enough, as dogs can easily chew through a pill bottle and cats can often remove lids. Instead of storing medications on a nightstand or setting them out on your kitchen counter, keep them in a cabinet out of your pet’s reach and/or one that’s impossible for him to open.

Poisonous Plants to Watch Out For

Outside in the garden, or indoors if you have houseplants, plants pose another potential danger. Plants that can be poisonous to pets include:6

Amaryllis

Autumn crocus

Azalea

Boxwood

Castor Bean

Chrysanthemum

Clematis

Cyclamen

Dieffenbachia (dumb cane)

Daffodil

Elephant’s ear

English Ivy

Foxglove

Hyacinth

Iris

Japanese yew

Lilies

Lily-of-the-Valle

Morning glory

Nightshade

Oleander

Peace lily

Philodendron

Pothos

Rhododendron

Sago palm

Schefflera

Also be aware that in the U.S., more than 100 pet deaths caused by rodenticides are reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each year.7 Part of what makes rodenticides so dangerous is their small size, which are easily chewed up by dogs and cats, and their widespread usage.

Rodenticide pellets, blocks or grain-based products may be spread around residential homes, garages, barns, farms, parks and wildlife areas. Pets, not to mention wildlife, can also be poisoned if they ingest a rodent that has recently consumed the rodenticide.

What to Do if Your Pet Is Poisoned

If you know or suspect your pet has ingested a poison, don’t wait for symptoms before seeking help. Time is of the essence in preventing the poison from being absorbed by your pet’s body. Get him to an emergency veterinarian immediately, giving them as much information as possible about the product ingested.

You can also contact the Pet Poison Helpline 24/7 at 855-764-7661 for information regarding potential poisoning of all animal species. They also have emergency instructions on hand, which include:8

Remove your pet from the area.

Check to make sure your pet is safe: breathing and acting normally.

Do NOT give any home antidotes.

Do NOT induce vomiting without consulting a vet or Pet Poison Helpline.

Call Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.

If veterinary attention is necessary, contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic immediately.