Pet owners are often alarmed to learn that common pet toxins are hiding in plain sight throughout their home and yard. Unfortunately, these seemingly innocent everyday items can result in serious injury or death when curious pets taste, sip, or sniff their harmful ingredients. Could you identify potential pet poisons in your home? Check out Town and Country Animal Hospital’s helpful guide that will help you identify domestic dangers, and to learn how to recognize and respond to a pet poison emergency. 

Common household pet toxins

Like children, pets are naturally curious, and they learn about their world through sensory experiences. This tendency also makes kids and pets more likely to suffer from dangerous toxin exposures. Fortunately, prevention doesn’t require you to throw away every potential hazard. Instead, by learning to recognize the everyday risks to your pet’s safety, you can practice careful use and storage techniques to prevent accidental encounters.

While countless potential toxins exist, here are the most common ones your pets are likely to encounter in a typical home.

  • Pet toxic medication and supplements — Human prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can cause serious harm to pets. In some cases, a single pill or capsule can send pets into emergency distress—however, most pets consume multiple doses, and large dogs have been known to consume a bottle’s entire contents. Common examples of pharmaceuticals that are toxic include blood pressure, heart, and behavioral medications, as well as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, supplements, vitamins, pain relievers (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen), and cold and flu medications. 

Always contact Town and Country Animal Hospital if you believe your pet needs medication—never give an OTC or prescription medication without your veterinarian’s specific instructions. 

  • Pet toxic foods and candy — While chocolate is commonly understood to be bad for dogs, owners may not realize that the most dangerous forms are unsweet, bitter, and dark blends, rather than traditional milk chocolate. These chocolates contain high levels of theobromine, a chemical stimulant that triggers cardiovascular and nervous system signs. 

Xylitol is another sweet ingredient that must be kept away from pets. Also known as birch sugar, xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is popular in sugar-free gum, candy, and mints, as well as many snack foods. Dogs who consume xylitol suffer a rapid and severe drop in blood glucose, and can experience acute liver failure. 

Additional human foods that are toxic for pets include grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, garlic, onion, leeks, alcohol, and yeast dough.

  • Pet toxic pesticide products — As a general rule, a product made to kill another living organism is going to be harmful or deadly to your pet. Insecticides, snail or slug bait, and rodenticide products are incredibly appealing, and incredibly dangerous, for dogs and cats. Rat and mouse bait is commonly used around garages, barns, and basements, as well as unsuspected areas such as park pavilions. Rodenticides lead to bleeding disorders, kidney failure, seizures, and death when left untreated. As the active ingredient in pesticides can vary, always take any product information or packaging with you to the veterinary hospital should your pet consume any of these items.

  • Pet toxic veterinary products — Flavored tablets and chews are great for dosing your pet, but pets may be unable to resist their smell or taste, leading to an accidental overdose. This is especially dangerous with veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which can permanently damage the kidneys and liver.

Using dog flea and tick products on a cat is another common toxicity. Cats are sensitive to pyrethroids and organophosphates, which are two common ingredients in topical flea and tick preparations. For the safest preventive products, always consult your Town and Country Animal Hospital veterinarian. 

  • Pet toxic flowers and plants — Live plants and flower arrangements add beauty to a home, but many popular varieties can make grazing cats and dogs ill. Lilies are exceptionally dangerous to cats—ingesting any part can lead to severe illness and acute kidney failure. Other harmful plants include amaryllis, belladonna, cyclamen, and sago palm. For a full searchable list, visit the ASPCA’s Poisonous Plant Guide.

  • Household chemicals and cleaners — Antifreeze, coolant, and windshield wiper fluid contain ethylene glycol, which causes acute kidney failure and death. Most commercial cleaning products can irritate your pet’s eyes and nasal passages, and are harmful if ingested.

Toxicity signs in pets

Using common sense and good storage practices with potential pet toxins can reduce your pet’s exposure risks. However, accidents will happen, and knowing how to recognize toxin-related illness in pets is important. Signs and onset will vary depending on the exposure, but general signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Loss of coordination
  • Pale or abnormally colored gums
  • Rapid heart or respiratory rate
  • Drooling
  • Seizures or tremors

Preventing pet toxicity

Do not be frightened thinking that you’re surrounded by potential pet hazards—remember, prevention is relatively simple. Best practices for poison prevention include:

  • Storing toxic products out of reach
  • Immediately cleaning up spills and disposing of rags or towels
  • Keeping trash cans lidded and out of reach
  • Never leaving medication bottles, packaging, or individual doses on a countertop or nightstand 
  • Replacing products with pet-safe options, whenever possible
  • Never giving your pet medication without veterinary approval
  • Inspecting floral arrangements for lilies or other toxic plants before bringing them home

If your pet has ingested a toxin or is exhibiting toxicity signs, call or immediately transport them to Town and Country Animal Hospital. For after-hours care, contact the nearest emergency veterinary hospital, or call the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Center.