The next time you open your home to family and friends, close the door to a pet emergency. Ensure your pet cannot access guests’ items that could poison them. Ask your visitors to help prevent your pet from nosing into the room where they keep their suitcases, purses, and pockets that might hold pet-toxic medications, candies, and other items. Check out our Town and Country Animal Hospital team’s guide on how to identify toxins and protect your pet from common poisoning emergencies.

It’s in the bag—medications and pets

More than 60% of U.S. adults take daily prescription medication, and 9 of 10 adults regularly use over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Not surprisingly, prescription and OTC medication ingestion is the most commonly reported reason for pet poisonings—and the effects are anything but therapeutic.

After consuming as few as one or two doses of human medications, a dog or cat can suffer life-threatening side effects. Pets’ small body size and rapid metabolism can cause quick and often irreversible heart, nervous system, kidney, liver, and gastrointestinal (GI) tract damage.

Curious pets have easy access to medications when unassuming visitors leave open luggage, purses, or bags on the floor or bed, or leave loose medications on the nightstand, dresser, or countertop. Take proactive measures to protect your pet from medication toxicity by doing the following:

  • Instruct guests to keep bedroom doors closed.
  • Ask them to keep all pills and tablets in lockable pet-proof containers or organizers.
  • Provide your guests with safe and accessible luggage and purse storage (e.g., space in a closet on a high shelf).

Dishing out disaster—toxic foods and pets

Sharing a meal is one of the most powerful ways to bond with friends and reconnect with family, creating warm memories together. Although potluck-style meals are convenient, guests’ dishes often come with a dash of mystery—keeping everyone guessing about ingredients within the prepared sides and desserts. Unfortunately for pets, many of those dishes and party drinks contain harmful ingredients, such as:

  • Onions, chives, garlic, and leeks
  • Grapes, raisins, and currants
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol 
  • Unbaked bread dough
  • Chocolate, especially bitter, dark, and baking chocolate, including cocoa powder, and semisweet and bittersweet chocolate chips.

Asking guests who have contributed dishes to provide an ingredient list may seem rude or impractical. However, we recommend the following—less conspicuous—strategies for protecting your pet:

  • Instruct guests to refrain from feeding your pet foods intended for people.
  • Confine pets to a crate or spare room while food is being served.
  • Promptly clear the table of all finished plates and glasses.
  • Restrict food and drinks to one room.
  • Keep trash cans behind a secure barrier to prevent your pet from dumpster diving.

Bouquet of trouble—toxic plants and pets

Flowers and potted plants are a timeless way to express gratitude and affection, but when your curious pet nibbles or ingests such gifts, they can cause a disaster. The most toxic plants for pets include:

  • Amaryllis
  • Autumn crocus
  • Azalea (i.e., rhododendron)
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Cyclamen
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Oleander
  • Philodendron
  • Sago palm
  • Yew
  • Lily species—extremely poisonous to cats, and if they ingest any part of a lily plant, your cat can experience acute kidney failure. 

When your visitors come bearing gifts of greenery, consult the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List. If you’re unsure about a plant’s proper name, you can use a plant identification app. For the greatest peace of mind, display plants and floral arrangements in areas that are out of your pet’s reach.

Bittersweet treats—xylitol and pets

Sugar alternatives are numerous and seemingly everywhere, but one is especially critical, and you should steer clear of xylitol (i.e., birch sugar), a naturally derived sweetener that is frequently used in sugar-free candies, gums, snack foods, and baked goods. If a pet consumes xylitol, they can develop hypoglycemia and in some cases, liver damage.

If your guests abstain from real sugar, keep sugar-free treats and candies out of your pet’s reach. Xylitol’s ubiquitous nature is another important reason to recommend your guests keep purses, luggage, and toiletry bags out of your pet’s reach.

Confinement calamity—basement and garage toxins and pets

Although we strongly recommend that pet owners use crates and other safe options when necessary to confine their pets at home, we recognize that these items may not always be readily available—especially if your guests are unexpected. In some circumstances, owners may confine their pet to a garage or basement. Unfortunately, these less-used home locations house some of the most devastating pet toxins. such as:

  • Antifreeze — Antifreeze and other automotive products, such as windshield deicer, brake fluid, and some motor oils, contain ethylene glycol—an extremely toxic chemical that is lethal in small doses (e.g., a few laps from a puddle on the floor). 
  • Rat and mouse bait — Rodent baits are as poisonous to dogs and cats as they are to the pests they target. Sadly, pets’ rodenticide toxicity signs may take several days to appear, and you may not realize your pet has been poisoned until it’s too late for treatment.
  • Slug and snail bait —These gardening products contain metaldehyde, a toxic compound that can cause a pet to experience lethal hyperthermia (i.e., high body temperature), seizures, muscle tremors, and irreversible organ damage. 

Pet owners can help prevent these unnecessary pet tragedies by replacing these dangerous toxins with pet-safe alternatives. In addition, all pet owners should ideally have a foldable crate or carrier to confine their pet safely during unexpected events (e.g., surprise guests, home repairs, travel, or emergencies).

The next time you open your home to guests, ensure you close the door to a pet emergency. For additional pet safety tips or if you suspect your pet has ingested a harmful substance, immediately contact Town and Country Animal Hospital. For after-hours care, contact Columbia Pike Animal Hospital and Emergency Center.