Dogs and cats metabolize drugs and other substances differently than people, which means many products and foods safe for humans are toxic to our pets. Many of these items are likely strewn about your home, and could lead to pet poisoning if you don’t take care. March is National Pet Poison Prevention Month—a great time to assess your home for potential dangers. The Neighborhood Vet shares the most common pet toxins, how to prevent poisoning, and what to do if your pet encounters a dangerous product.

Common pet toxins

Many everyday household items pose potential danger to your pet. Data from the two main veterinary poison control services over the past few years consistently rank these items at the top of their pet toxicities list:

  • Toxic foods or ingredients— Chocolate, xylitol, grapes, and raisins are common food toxins for pets. Chocolate and coffee contain methylxanthines that stimulate your pet’s nervous system, xylitol is a sweetener that causes an extreme blood sugar crash and liver damage, and grapes or raisins can induce acute kidney failure. Garlic, onions, and related plants are also on the list.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications — While pets can safely consume some human medications, most are toxic or available in dosages that are too high for our smaller pets. Toxic OTC medications that well-meaning owners commonly give to pets include ibuprofen, naproxen, tylenol, and cold medications.
  • Prescription medications — Prescription medications can be accidentally dropped or the container left out where pets can find them. The most common toxicities in this category coincide with medications most commonly prescribed to people, and include ADHD, cardiac, and psychiatric drugs.
  • Marijuana — Marijuana’s newly legal and medical uses, as well as edible formulations, make the substance easy for dogs to come by. While CBD is safe, THC causes extreme intoxication.
  • Rodent poisons — Rodent poisons work in a variety of ways to effectively kill rodents, and they can effectively kill your pet, too. Rodenticide poisoning is extremely serious and requires immediate veterinary care.
  • Flavored pet medications — Some pets will consume entire bottles of flavored, chewable pet medications, which can lead to liver, kidney, or neurological problems.
  • Toxic plants — Lilies are extremely toxic to cats, who require only a small nibble or contact with pollen to experience serious kidney damage or death. Many other plants are irritants or true toxins—you can determine which plants are safe for pets here.
  • Household and garden chemicals — Paint, glue, insecticides, household cleaners, and fertilizers are all dangerous to pets in various ways.

Keeping your pet safe from toxins

Walk around and view your home and yard from your pet’s perspective. Are toxic foods left on the countertops or in low, accessible cabinets? Are medications properly stored out of reach? Do children leave their book bags on the floor? Does your home or yard contain toxic plants? 

Do not assume that pets will avoid toxic items, because you never know what they will find appealing in the moment. Instead, ensure all potentially toxic items are properly stored and inaccessible to pets. Avoid using rodenticides—try traps or other alternatives. Don’t leave food unattended, and keep pets out of the kitchen while you’re cooking or eating. Teach children—and adults—to hang their bags and coats on hooks, out of your pet’s reach. Contact us if your pet is feeling unwell—never administer OTC or prescription human medications to your pet without first consulting your veterinary team. 

What to do if your pet is poisoned

If you think your pet contacted or ingested something toxic, whether or not you are sure, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or the Pet Poison Helpline for advice and instructions. These hotlines are staffed by veterinary toxicology specialists, who will ask you questions to determine if your pet is in danger, and how urgently you should seek veterinary care. 

Know nearby veterinary emergency hospital locations, and keep their phone numbers handy. The emergency facilities in our area require that you open a case with one of the poison control lines prior to coming for treatment, and you must be prepared to share your case number with the emergency facility when you call. A small fee is assessed each time you call, but this saves valuable time and ensures the emergency team is fully prepared for your pet’s arrival to provide the best possible outcome.

The Neighborhood Vet can sometimes handle toxin emergencies during our normal business hours. If poison control instructs you to seek veterinary care for your pet, contact us to determine if we can accommodate your pet’s needs. If we are unavailable, or our team believes your pet requires more extensive care, head to your local emergency veterinary facility.