Common Household Toxins

There are many dangerous substances in our homes and on our properties that can be poisonous to our pets. Here at Ward Animal Hospital, we frequently receive calls from clients regarding potential poisonings of their pets. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center receives over 150,000 calls a year relating to small animal toxin ingestion. They released a list of the most common small animal poisonings in 2010. That list includes human medications, insecticides, rodenticides (rat poison), human food, veterinary medications, chocolate, household toxins, plants, herbicides, and outdoor toxins.

Human Medications: Humans are prescribed medications by their physicians on a daily basis. Some of these medications are extremely harmful to pets if they are ingested, even in small amounts. The most common scenario is dropping a small pill on the floor, where the dog immediately laps it up as if it is a treat!

Of special concern are certain over-the-counter medications. Ibuprofen (Aleve), naproxen, Tylenol, and aspirin can all be extremely toxic to your pet. Please remember that just because a medication is safe for you, does not mean it is safe for your pet. If you have questions about the safety of an over-the-counter medication, or if you accidentally drop a pill or medication vial that your pet ingests, please call us for advice. It is always a good idea to keep human medications locked away in a medicine cabinet, far out of your pets reach.

Insecticides: The most common insecticide poisonings occur when flea preventative medications are applied to small pets (especially to cats) without reading the label instructions. Many of these over-the-counter products have warnings against their use on cats – please heed these warnings! Always read the labels of products you are using, and follow the instructions completely. Store the packages out of the reach of your pet.

Rodenticides: Rat poisons are commonly used around the house, yard, farm, and barn for obvious reasons. These products are designed to kill rodents, and they can be deadly to your pet as well! They are usually grain-based products to attract rodents, and the grain will attract your pet, too. There are many different products available and they cause a range of symptoms from seizures to internal bleeding. The safest situation is to never use these products around your home. However, if you must use them, place them in areas that your pet has absolutely no access. If your pet should accidentally ingest such a product, call us immediately! Though these products can be deadly, prompt treatment of your pet can usually prevent death.

If you have outdoor cats that catch rodents around your property, and you place rat poison to kill the rodents, remember this – if your cat catches a rodent that has ingested rat poison, the rat poison can transfer to your own cat’s system and cause toxicity.

Human Foods: Many foods safe for human consumption are not safe for your pet. Onions (and onion powder), garlic (and garlic powder), chocolate, avocados, grapes, raisins, and xylitol (a sweetener often found in chewing gum and some frostings) can be very dangerous to your pet. If your pet ingests any of these substances, please call us right away.

Chocolate causes toxic effects due to the methylxanthines (like caffeine) it contains. Chocolate toxicity usually leads to agitation, high heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and in extreme cases, death. The darker the chocolate, the more severe the toxicity.

Also remember that just because a human food is not specifically toxic, it can still harm your pet. Fatty foods can lead to pancreatitis, bones can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, blockages, and perforation, and raw foods can cause illness from bacteria such as salmonella.

Veterinary Medications: When your pet is ill or in pain, it is often necessary for our doctors to prescribe medications to treat the condition. Some of these medications are now designed by veterinary pharmaceutical companies to be flavored and chewable for ease of administration. This sometimes causes our pets to want to take more of their medication than necessary! Please remember to always keep your pet’s medication locked away in a medicine cabinet, far from their reach. Should your pet get a hold of their own medication package and ingest more than their usual dose, call us right away for assistance.

Household Toxins: Items such as bleach, ammonia, and other cleaners should always be kept out of reach of pets. Also keep in mind batteries, essential oils, and liquid potpourri can be very dangerous to your pet if ingested. And though not a toxin, lit candles can be a fire hazard, especially if a rambunctious puppy or kitten should knock one over.

Plants: Plants, both indoors and out, can be quite toxic to your pet. Sago palms are becoming more popular as decorative plants inside and outside the house. If your dog or cat should ingest any part of a sago palm, liver failure may develop. In addition, any type of lily is extremely toxic to cats, and just chewing a leaf or petal may cause kidney failure. Around the holidays, remember that poinsettias can cause gastrointestinal upset if ingested by your pet. Keep all bouquets and potted plants out of reach.

Herbicides: Many of us spray our gardens and lawns with herbicides to keep those pesky weeds at bay. Remember to keep these bottled products out of reach of your pets. After their use, allow them to dry completely before you allow your pet into the area that has been sprayed.

Outdoor Toxins: Antifreeze, fertilizers, and ice melts are all toxic to your pet. The most concerning of these is antifreeze. Just one lick of antifreeze can cause severe, irreversible kidney damage in both dogs and cats, which may take 2 to 3 days to occur. Pets will readily lap up antifreeze as the active ingredient, ethylene glycol, is a sugar and makes the product taste sweet. Clean up spills of antifreeze immediately. Should your pet ingest any antifreeze (even a tiny amount) do not wait for help – call immediately. Many cases of antifreeze toxicity can be treated successfully, but success requires immediate treatment.

What should I do? Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation that your pet has ingested a toxin, please call us AND the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline at 1-(888) 426-4435. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and have the largest database of animal poisoning information in the world. There are veterinarians there 24 hours a day 7 days a week to give you live saving information for your pet. In addition, should the poisoning be serious, they can provide us (your regular veterinarian!) with the information we need to effectively treat and monitor your pet.

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