Pet Poison: How to Keep Your Pet Safe
Pet poison prevention is a necessary and critical part of pet care. National Animal Poison Prevention Week was established to raise awareness of one of the biggest killers of pets – poisoning. While it might seem a remote possibility, cases of pet poisoning are far more common than you think. Each year, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) issues a report on the Top Ten Pet Toxins. The most recent data from 2019 showed the APCC handled 232,000 pet poison cases, reflecting more than 18,000 additional cases than the previous year. A little knowledge and prevention can help keep everyone safer.
While the curious nature of pets is a given, there are a few specific items you should keep a close eye on. Here you will find some of the most common pet poison culprits along with some recommended actions pet owners can take to ensure pets don’t paw their way into serious trouble.
Top Pet Poison Hazards
- Medications: OTC & Prescription Medications – 46.2% of APCC calls
Most households have prescription medications for humans and pets as well as over-the-counter drugs on hand, so it’s no surprise that these top the charts as the most common pet toxins. Medications like ibuprofen, cold medicines, antidepressants, and ADHD medications were most commonly ingested by pets, followed by heart medications. Pets have also become casualties of the opioid crisis.
Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are particularly hazardous for dogs and cats. Acetaminophen can cause red blood cell (RBC) injury, difficulty breathing, lethargy, swelling and vomiting in cats, and liver failure, dry eye, and RBC injury in dogs. While ibuprofen may be prescribed for your pet to help manage pain and inflammation, it must be administered precisely to your veterinarian’s recommendation. Even small overdoses can have drastic consequences, including ulcers, anemia, lethargy, kidney failure, liver failure, and seizures. Chewable pet medications are also a temptation for pets. Keep all medications stored safely away from pets and children.
- Foods: 12.1% of APCC calls
Certain foods that sit well with humans won’t sit as well with your pet. Chocolate is just one of the widely-known foods you shouldn’t feed your pet. This is why chocolate is dangerous to pets and other foods that you should keep away from your four-legged friends:
- Chocolate – It might be one of the most popular foods in the world, but not for pets! Chocolate remains high on the list of pet poison cases, accounting for 10.7% of calls to APCC. Chocolate contains two deadly ingredients for dogs: caffeine and theobromine. These two substances, known as methylxanthines, can lead to medical complications and even death. The three main categories of chocolate to be aware of are milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and baking chocolate. Baking chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine and is the most toxic, even in small quantities. If you suspect your dog has ingested chocolate, contact your veterinarian for help.
- Grapes & Raisins – Believe it or not, chocolate isn’t the only food harmful to your dog. Grapes, raisins, and currants can be toxic to your dog, leading to potential kidney failure, anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea. Keep all foods in that family, including grape juice, raisin bagels, and similar foods out of your pet’s reach.
- Xylitol (sweeteners) – This sugar-free natural sweetener is popping up in all sorts of products, from sugar-free gum and mints to toothpaste, vitamins, food, and candy. While it might make a great sugar substitute for humans, it can be devastating to your dog, with symptoms ranging from weakness and collapse to coma and even death. Xylitol, even in very small amounts can cause immediate hypoglycemia, liver necrosis and liver failure, and requires immediate treatment.
- Raw Meat
Many of these foods have severe consequences for pets, including liver damage, hyperthermia, seizures, and central nervous system depression. Even if your animal is looking at you with their big, begging eyes, it’s best to stick to pet-approved foods only.
- Household Cleaners/Personal Care Products – 7.7% of APCC calls
Household items are tricky because they are often things we keep lying around—items like pest control products, cleaning products, and personal care products. Oven cleaners, lime-removal products, concentrated toilet cleaners, pool chemicals, drain cleaners, and dishwashing chemicals are all highly corrosive. These products can cause severe injuries and burns to a pet’s fur and skin upon contact. Contact your veterinarian immediately with the details of what chemical they’ve come into contact with, assuming you know.
Ethylene glycol, found in antifreeze, motor oil, brake fluid, paint solvents, and windshield de-icers, is extremely toxic to pets. Unfortunately, its sweet smell and taste can lure unsuspecting pets to taste it, often leading to deadly results. If you suspect ethylene glycol poisoning, it’s imperative you seek treatment immediately as the antidote needs to be administered within hours for your pet to survive. Without treatment, ethylene glycol is almost 100% fatal.
- Rodenticide Exposure – 6.8% of APCC calls
Rodenticide is just as harmful to your pet as it is to a rat or mouse. Even when using rodenticides in an area you believe your pet can’t access, rodents can still inadvertently transfer the toxic substances to other locations. This invisible transfer means your animal is more likely to come in contact with the product without you knowing it. We recommend you avoid using this product in your home altogether.
- Plants & Garden Products – 8.5 % of APCC calls
Although houseplants have many benefits, you should think twice before bringing certain kinds into your home. Lilies, azaleas, autumn crocus, tulips, hyacinths, lily of the valley, daffodils, cyclamen, kalanchoe, oleander, dieffenbachia, and sago palms are all highly toxic to pets. Many garden products can be poison hazards too. Play it safe and keep hazardous houseplants and garden products away from your home.
- Insecticide Exposure – 5.1% of APCC calls
Watch out for carbamates and organophosphates (OP). Found most frequently in rose and flower herbicides and fertilizers, these chemicals can cause symptoms from nausea, tearing, and drooling to hypothermia, seizures, and even death. While the EPA is regulating the use of these chemicals, both cats and dogs can still fall prey to the harmful side-effects these products cause. If you’re a flower gardener, pay close attention to product labels to ensure proper pet poison control.
Signs & Symptoms of Pet Poisoning
For pets, many symptoms of poisoning will look similar to other illnesses and may include signs like:
- Black/bloody stools
In Case of an Emergency
Be prepared. In case of a pet poisoning or other emergency, family members should all have the number of a preferred vet clinic or another emergency veterinary contact. Post these emergency numbers in a visible spot for everyone to reference.
If you think your pet may have ingested or come into contact with a poison, call your veterinary clinic immediately. When known, bring the packaging, wrapper, dose, chemical name, etc. with you to the vet. It can help your veterinarian to know exactly what they have ingested.
Outside of your vet, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435. A consultation fee may apply.
Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.