The naturally inquisitive nature of pets leads them to eat or come into contact with a variety of household items that can be harmful. Here, we address 10 common pet toxins, but many others exist. For a more extensive list of toxic substances, check out the ASPCA’s poison control website.
Although most people are aware of its toxic potential, chocolate toxicity is one of the most common emergencies seen by veterinary hospitals. Different varieties of chocolate contain the toxins caffeine and theobromine in varying amounts. Dark chocolate contains the highest concentration of toxins, while milk chocolate contains a lesser amount, and white chocolate— which is actually not chocolate at all, but a confection—is not a danger. Chocolate ingestion can cause severe gastrointestinal irritation, excitability, seizures, and life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms.
- Grapes and raisins
Grapes and raisins can be highly toxic to dogs, cats, and ferrets. There is not a predictable toxic dose; while some animals seem unaffected by consuming grapes, as few as two or three can be deadly to others. Shortly after ingestion, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting begin. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, irreversible kidney failure rapidly progresses to death.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free foods, including candy, gum, cookies, and even peanut butter. When ingested, xylitol causes a surge of insulin release, which leads to a rapid drop in blood sugar, causing severe hypoglycemia. The hypoglycemia and potential liver failure can be deadly. Xylitol is added to many food items, so read labels carefully to avoid accidentally feeding foods that contain this deadly toxin.
- Raw yeast dough
Yeast is the ingredient in bread dough that makes it rise. If raw dough is ingested, the warm stomach environment speeds up proliferation of the yeast cells, causing the dough to expand to several times its original size. The mass of bread dough can cause abdominal distension and/or a gastrointestinal blockage. Fermentation by the yeast cells also creates ethanol, which is absorbed into the bloodstream, causing alcohol toxicity. Affected animals appear inebriated and can become ill quickly.
- Onions and garlic
Onions, garlic, and other members of the Allium family (leeks, chives, shallots, etc.) are staples in savory dishes. In raw, cooked, and dried forms, they can all be dangerous to pets. Ingestion can cause destruction of red blood cells, leading to life-threatening anemia. You should be cautious about sharing leftovers with your pet, as many family favorites include this group of ingredients.
During the cold winter months, antifreeze keeps your car motor running smoothly. Unfortunately, its sweet, syrupy taste also makes it a tempting toxin for pets. Typically a green-colored liquid, antifreeze can often be found stored in the garage or may puddle under your car from a leak. Antifreeze containing ethylene glycol causes rapid kidney failure and death if not treated shortly after ingestion. All antifreeze products should be stored safely out of reach of pets and children, and spills and leaks should be cleaned up immediately.
Many plant varieties are poisonous to pets, including:
- Sago palm
- Autumn crocus
Cats, in particular, like to gnaw on greenery and can quickly ingest a toxic dose. Flowers, leaves, and stems of plants can all be toxic. Some plants simply cause local irritation to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract while others can cause organ failure and death. If you see your pet chewing on a plant, call our office immediately.
- Anti-inflammatory medications
Many people assume that human over-the-counter medications are also safe for pets. This can be a deadly mistake. Common anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, and aspirin, can be dangerous to pets. Animals cannot metabolize many of these drugs, and organ failure can result. Call our office at 615-444-4422 if you think your pet may have ingested a human medication.
- Flea and tick medications
Flea and tick preventives contain drugs that target the nervous system of the pests they are trying to kill. If used improperly, these medications can cause life-threatening neurologic problems in pets as well. Flea and tick products should only be purchased from a veterinary hospital, where trained staff can ensure you are educated about their proper use. Many over-the-counter and prescription products are misused by owners who mistakenly apply too much, apply them improperly, or use them on the wrong species.
Marijuana toxicity can result from inhalation of smoke or ingestion of dried leaves or food products containing marijuana. Affected pets may experience incoordination, dilated pupils, vomiting, hyperexcitability, agitation, and temporary urinary incontinence. If you think your pet may have been exposed to marijuana, seek veterinary care immediately and be upfront about possible marijuana toxicity. We are most concerned with knowing exactly what your pet was exposed to so we can treat quickly and appropriately.