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Common Poison Dangers for Pets and How To Avoid Them

Next week is Poison Prevention Week! This special awareness week is not just about preventing poisonings in humans. Dogs and cats can easily be the victims of accidental poisoning as well, and some of the risks may not be particularly obvious. 

In this blog we’ll discuss some of the most common poison dangers for both dogs and cats, along with measures you can take to avoid them. 

Poison Risks for Dogs & Cats

Human Medications

Both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications are common causes of canine and feline poisonings. 

OTC medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) can be very dangerous and deadly for pets. 

Prescription medications like blood pressure meds, antidepressants, and ADHD meds also pose a great risk to our furry friends. 

Even vitamins and supplements such as Vitamin D3 can lead to harm or death in pets if ingested in the wrong quantities. 

To minimize risk, keep all medications, vitamins, and supplements out of reach of your pets. A child-proof bottle may seem secure, but it’s no match for a pup’s jaws. These products need to be stored away where your pets cannot get to them.

Food & Drink

Avocado, macadamia nuts, grapes/raisins, onions/garlic/chives, and chocolate are some of the top human foods that are toxic to dogs and cats. 

  • Avocados contain a compound called persin, which can cause diarrhea and vomiting. 
  • Macadamia nuts can cause many symptoms including vomiting, weakness, and overheating. 
  • Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure. Until recently scientists weren’t sure why, but we now know that it is due to the tartaric acid they contain. 
  • Onions, garlic, chives and other members of the Allium family can cause gastrointestinal upset and damage to red blood cells.
  • Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, along with caffeine. These compounds are known as methylxanthines, and dogs and cats don’t have the ability to metabolize them. Depending on the amount eaten, size of the pet, and type of chocolate, ingestion can be fatal.

There’s also a commonly used ingredient called xylitol that is toxic to dogs and cats. It is used as a sweetener and can be found in things like candy, gum, peanut butter, and toothpaste. If ingested, it can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar, resulting in weakness, seizures, and liver failure. 

Finally, a common human beverage that can be a poison danger to pets is alcohol. Alcohol poisoning can happen to dogs and cats just as it can to humans. Symptoms may include vomiting, trouble breathing, coma, and even death. 

To avoid accidental poisoning in your pet, make sure these foods are not left out in a place where your dog or cat can access them. Always check ingredient labels before offering foods to your pet and try to refrain from giving them scraps. Making sure visitors know not to feed your furry friend table food is also helpful. 

Recreational Drugs & Tobacco

Things like cigarettes, vape products, nicotine patches, and other tobacco products can be very dangerous for pets. If ingested, they can cause a wide variety of problems including vomiting, heart problems, nervous system issues, and even death.

Recreational drugs, such as marijuana and other products containing THC, are also common causes of toxicity in pets. When ingested, they can cause problems with multiple organ systems including the respiratory system, nervous system, and cardiac system. 

Other recreational and illegal drugs are a poison risk as well. The severity of the toxicity will vary depending on the type of drug, how much is ingested, and the size of the animal.

Veterinary Products

While vet products like flea and tick treatments, dewormers, and pain medications can be hugely beneficial when used properly, they can also be poison risks if the wrong dose is given or if left where your dog or cat can get into them. 

When purchasing and using treatments and medications for your pet, it is always best to get advice from your veterinarian on proper dosing and course of treatment.

Ensure that these products are kept out of reach of your pet to avoid accidental ingestion and do not share medications and treatments between pets. Some products that are safe for dogs can be very dangerous for cats, and vice versa. 

Household Products

There are a wide variety of things that are toxic to dogs and cats that are often kept in people’s homes. It is important to be aware of these dangers and make sure pets cannot access them.

  • Cleaning products, including bleach, deodorizers like Febreze, and other products such as toilet bowl tablets, can all act as poisons for your pet. Keep cleaning supplies and chemicals up high and out of reach of your pets, or store in a locked cabinet to avoid your pet accidentally getting into them.
  • Rodenticides and insecticides are also a common source of accidental poisonings. Rodenticides are meant to look and smell tasty to attract rodents, and may do the same for your dog or cat. There is also the risk of your pet ingesting a poisoned rodent themselves. Insecticides can seem useful when we want to get rid of invaders in our home like ants or spiders, but they are easy for pets to get into. These poisons can cause severe problems quickly, even resulting in death. Avoid using these products in areas of your home and property that your pet has access to, always watch your dog carefully when out walking, and keep your cat indoors if possible. 
  • Essential oils may smell nice and can be useful at times, but they can be toxic to pets. They can cause GI upset, issues with the nervous system, respiratory problems, and organ damage. Oils that pets are particularly sensitive to include tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, clove oil, wintergreen oil, pennyroyal oil, and sweet birch oil. Cats are also very sensitive to citrus oil, pine oils, Ylang Ylang oil, peppermint oil, and cinnamon oil. Keep oils out of reach of pets and avoid using them in areas of your home that are shared with your dog or cat. 
  • Other chemicals, such as pool treatments and antifreeze are a common cause of pet poisonings. They can cause respiratory problems, stomach issues, kidney failure, and even death. 

Plants

Whether we’re talking houseplants, landscaping, or plants in nature, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks certain plants carry for our canine and feline friends.

Sago palms, tulips, daffodils, azaleas, rhododendrons, oleander, philodendron, aloe, and foxglove are some of the common plants that are toxic to dogs.

These plants can cause a range of symptoms in your pet depending on which they consume, ranging from GI troubles like vomiting and diarrhea, to liver failure, respiratory problems, seizures, and even death. It is best to avoid having these plants in your home or on your property. 

Wild mushrooms, while not plants, can also be poisonous to dogs (and humans!) and should be avoided when out and about with your pup.

The most toxic plants to cats are lilies. Even ingesting a small amount can cause kidney failure. In fact, two different species of lilies have shown up in the top 5 causes of cat poisonings over the years. These are the Lilium species (including stargazer lilies, Easter lilies, tiger lilies, and more) and the Hemerocallis species (also known as daylilies). 

As with other plants that are toxic to pets, it is best not to bring these flowers into your home (or grow them on your property if your cat goes outdoors). Even ingesting a small amount can cause kidney failure. 

What To Do If Poisoning Is Suspected

If you believe your pet may have ingested a toxic substance, it is best to contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline (24/7 animal poison control center, at 1-800-213-6680) right away. If you know your pet has ingested a toxic item, save the packaging or remnants of the item so it can be evaluated by the vet.

Time is of the essence in many cases of accidental poisoning. The care received in the first hours and days after ingesting a toxin can be the difference between life and death. 

In some cases you may need to seek immediate emergency veterinary treatment. It is a good idea to make yourself aware of the closest 24-hour emergency vet clinic before you have a need for it. 

If you suspect anything is off with your pet or notice unusual symptoms or behaviors, a trip to the veterinarian (or at minimum a call to your veterinarian) is always the safest option. 

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