As smart as we may think our pets are, they often don’t know enough to avoid sniffing or ingesting foods and other products that are toxic to their delicate systems. Even something that may be harmless to humans – or to other species – can be lethal to your pet.
Cats, dogs and other animals in your household depend on you to look out for their health and safety. Although you may love your four-legged companions as much as your other family members (maybe even more!), you can only protect them from an incident if you know:
- Which items in and around your home may be toxic
- What precautions you should take
- How to recognize the symptoms of poisoning
- Who to call if you suspect that your pet has been exposed
Common Items That Can Lead to Pet Poisoning
We can’t list every harmful item here, but the Pet Poison Helpline maintains a list of items that are poisonous to pets (primarily cats and dogs). Simply enter the name of the food, medication/supplement, plant or herbal/household product to find information in their database. Based on their list and the calls they receive, here are the top 20 toxins. Some may surprise you!
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs, such as aspirin, Advil and Aleve)
- Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol)
- Vitamin D
- Stimulants (such as Ritalin and Adderall)
- Spot-on flea/tick medication for dogs (toxic to cats)
- Xylitol (found in sugar-free candy and gum)
- Grapes and raisins (primarily dogs)
- Onions and garlic
- “True” lilies (Easter Lily, Tiger Lily, Asiatic Lily, Day Lily and Stargazer Lily, among others, are highly toxic to cats)
- Autumn crocus
- Lily of the Valley
- Essential oils (ingestion and skin exposure)
- Mouse/rat poisons (rodenticides)
- Household cleaners
Precautions Against Pet Poisoning
The best way to prevent your pet from being exposed to toxic items is to keep them out of your home. Of course, this may not always be practical, especially when it comes to necessities like food and medications. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to make your home safer.
- Never leave toxic items on the counter. Medications, supplements, household products and unsafe foods should always be kept in cabinets that can be securely locked.
- Keep purses and bags closed and out of reach. Many pets love to rummage through your bags and may be attracted by the smell of sugar-free gum and other dangerous items.
- Take medications and supplements without your pets around. It’s best to take these in a room with the door closed tight or even locked. This will prevent your pet from quickly snapping up a pill that drops to the floor. If you do drop a pill, be sure to retrieve it before leaving the room.
- Eliminate toxic flowers and plants. Sorry, but you may have to rid your home of some of your favorite plants. Remove poisonous flowers from bouquets before putting them out, too.
- Don’t leave pets in the garage. Unless you are willing to remove all household products from your garage or move them to high shelves (which only works for dogs), you should never leave your pets unsupervised in a garage. Even with precautions, remember that antifreeze in particular is highly toxic to pets. These days, antifreeze does contain a bitter-tasting agent meant to make it less appealing to pets, but it’s not worth the gamble.
- Keep the numbers of emergency contacts handy. Have the name, phone number and address of your regular vet and the closest 24-hour vet clinic or hospital available, along with the number of an animal poison center (see below).
Pet Poisoning Symptoms
Different toxins affect various organs, so the signs of poisoning can vary depending on the toxin. Here are some signs to look for:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms – Vomiting, diarrhea, drooling or loss of appetite
- Kidney failure – Excessively bad breath, extreme thirst, decreased or lack of urination, dehydration, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea
- Liver failure – Yellowing of the gums, lethargy, abnormal behavior, black or tarry feces, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, collapsing
- Internal bleeding – Coughing/vomiting blood, pale gums, very fast heartbeat, weakness, lethargy, collapsing
Whom to Call If You’re Worried About Pet Poisoning
Contact the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 immediately, anytime of the day or night, if your pet displays symptoms or if you suspect exposure to or ingestion of a toxin. Both organizations charge a modest fee.
Making sure that you are educated, prepared and ready to act quickly will give your pet a fighting chance in the event of an accidental poisoning. Learn all you can by visiting the Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center websites.