March Topic: Pet Poisons

Pet Poisons and Prevention

Common Household Poisons and Toxicities in Pets

March is Poison Prevention Awareness Month.  When a poisoning is suspected, time and knowledge will be the best weapons you have and will give your pet the best chance of a full recovery.

Poisons are defined as any substance that can damage or impede the function of bodily organs, tissues, or body system processesThere are many poisons commonly found in pet homes.  Depending on the type of poison and the level of exposure, the effects of poison exposure can range from minimal, to severe, to even fatal.  Awareness of these hazards and a knowledge of how to handle the situation can sometimes literally save a pet’s life.

Commonly Encountered Pet Poisons

Poisonous Foods:

Chocolate, Coffee, and Caffeine: These products are known to cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, and even death in pets.  Severity depends on quantity ingested vs the weight of the pet, so it is important to have information on your pet’s current weight, how much was ingested and, in the case of chocolate, what type of chocolate was ingested (dark vs light).

Xylitol: Xylitol is a calorie free sweetener found in many gums and toothpastes, as well as some candy, peanut butter, and baked goods.  Even small amounts of xylitol can cause liver failure and dangerously low blood sugar, so ingestion is always a veterinary emergency.  Xylitol can be found under other names on product labels including birch sugar, birch bark extract, wood sugar, sucre de bouleu, and Xylo-pentane.

Grapes and Raisins: Vets remain unsure of why grapes and raisins are toxic, but they are known to cause acute kidney failure, even in small amounts.  Grape/Raisin ingestion should be treated as a veterinary emergency regardless of how many grapes or raisins were ingested and regardless of what type of grapes/raisins were eating (red, gold, or green).

Garlic, Onions, and Chives: These foods can cause gastrointestinal irritation but can also cause red blood cell damage, leading to anemia.  Cats are more susceptible, but dogs can be affected if large quantities are ingested.

Macadamia Nuts: Dogs seem to be the only pets who are sensitive to these nuts. Toxicity symptoms include weakness, ataxia (wobbily gait), depression, vomiting, tremors, and increased body temperature.  Without further ingestion, symptoms can resolve within 48 hours, but a veterinarian should be contacted if ingestion is suspected.

Human Medications:

t is advised that owners never give their pets human medication without consulting their veterinarian. Owners should also keep their medications well out of pets’ reach to prevent accidental ingestion.  Many human medications are metabolized differently by animals, and ingestion can potentially lead to overdoses, toxicities, organ failure, or even death. If your pet ingests a human medication, you should call Pet Poison Control (see below) and/or your veterinarian immediately.

Pet Medications:

Even medications prescribed by your veterinarian should be kept out of your pet’s reach.  When used as prescribed, your pet’s medications should be safe and beneficial; however, most medications and even supplements could potentially cause problems if the incorrect dose is given, if given to the wrong pet, or if the pet accidentally gets into the full bottle of medication.

Alcohol Poisoning:

Pets should never have access to alcohol as ingestion can cause severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system depression, tremors, coma, or even death. If your pet ingests alcohol, it is important to contact your veterinarian or veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

Marijuana Toxicity:

Pets can suffer toxicity after eating any part of the marijuana plant, as well as from smoke inhalation, consuming hashish oil, or from eating edibles containing THC.  Signs of marijuana toxicity include ataxia (wobbily gait), hyperreactivity to stimuli (flinch easily), dribbling urine, decreased responsiveness and, in severe cases, seizures or pet becoming non-responsive. Because pets metabolize marijuana differently than humans, a veterinarian should be contacted if marijuana toxicity is known or suspected.

Household Product Poisoning:

Rodenticides, Snail/Slug Bait, Ant Bait: These baits represent significant dangers to pets as they are commonly placed in public places and are often scented to attract animals.  Symptoms of toxicity vary depending on what was eaten, so knowledge of the brand and/or ingredients can be very helpful to the veterinary team.  If you know or suspect that your pet has ingested pest bait, it should be considered a veterinary emergency.

Essential Oils: These oils have been known to cause GI upset, central nervous system depression, organ damage, and respiratory issues/allergic airway syndrome. Wintergreen, sweet birch, eucalyptus, clove, tea tree, and pennyroyal oils appear to be particularly toxic.

Household Chemicals: Not surprisingly, many common household chemicals and cleaners have potential to cause toxicity or GI upset.  Some of the most common include: Laundry pods, bleach, toilet bowl tablets/cleaner, antifreeze, carpet fresheners, and carpet shampoos.

Plant and Flower Toxicities

A number of plants and flowers can be toxic to pets.  The toxic reactions can range from gastrointestinal upset to organ failure.  Symptoms, severity, and treatment will vary based on the type of plant, portion eaten, and amount eaten, so having this information at hand can be very helpful for your veterinarian. ASPCA Poison Control maintains a comprehensive database of toxic vs non-toxic plants, which owners can easily access from their website (see below).

Common toxic plants include (but are not limited to): Sago Palms, Lilies, Oleander, Aloe, Tulips, Poisonous Mushrooms, Tobacco, Azalea, Foxglove, and Philodendron

If You Suspect Your Pet Has Ingested Poison

Identification of the potential poison can provide crucial information for your veterinarian.  Gather whatever information you can, including boxes/wrappers, ingredient lists, and quantities ingested to bring to your veterinarian.

Contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic immediately.  Additionally, contact an animal poison control center (see below) for important treatment information that can help your veterinary team.  Note that there is usually a charge for these calls, but the information can be extremely valuable when time is of the essence.

What NOT to do: It is not recommended that you attempt to treat toxicities at home. Do NOT induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide, as this has been associated with esophageal irritation or even ulceration.

It is a common occurrence for pets to ingest a potentially dangerous item in their lifetime.  In these cases, early veterinary intervention is crucial for the best outcome for your pets. With fast and appropriate care, most pets recover fully from accidental poisonings.


Important Phone Numbers:

ASPCA Animal Poison Control: (888) 426-4435
Animal Poison Control Center: (855) 764-7661
ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List:
Click Here


If you have any questions about pet poisons, you suspect your pet may have ingested a poison, or you have concerns about your pet’s health, please contact our hospital!


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