March is here already! The weather is getting sunny, birds are starting to chirp, and we can almost see the colors of Spring headed our way! What most people don’t know is that March is Poison Prevention Month. So in honor of that, I thought I would take some time to talk about common things around the house that are actually poisonous or toxic to your pets! Let’s break them down into categories.
Over the Counter Drugs
We all have medicine laying around the house. Some are common things we use all the time like allergy medicine or pain medicine. Some are more specialized like ADHD medicine or anti-anxiety medication. Let’s take a minute to talk about a few of the most common culprits for our pets.
Human pain medications: Everyone has pain medications sitting around their house. When your pet is hurting for some reason, it can be very tempting to give them some of your medications until you can take them to the vet. This is VERY dangerous. Human pain medications (especially NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, etc) are very dangerous for your pets. Our furry loved ones are much more sensitive to the medications than we are. They can cause gastric ulcers that can perforate and can send them into kidney failure. If you think your pet needs pain control for any reason, always contact your veterinarian for advice.
Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications: The second most common call to animal poison control is questions about pets getting into their owner’s anti-anxiety or depression medications. These can cause your pets to go into something called Serotonin Syndrome. This is a complicated syndrome that can cause symptoms such as depression, ataxia (drunken walking), tremors, vomiting, and fever.
Flea medications: The reason I add this to the list is that many families have both dogs and cats in their homes. Where we get in trouble is when the cat accidentally gets treated with the dog’s topical flea prevention – specifically the ones with a drug called permethrin. This will cause seizures, coma, and even death.
Plants are absolutely wonderful and add pops of color to our home. Most of them are safe and will not be any problem for your pet, but some can be dangerous. Let’s talk about a couple of common ones.
Lilies: There are two families of lilies that are dangerous for our cats – Lilium (true lilies) and Hemerocallis (day lilies). These lilies, while beautiful, can cause kidney failure in your cats. All parts of the plants are toxic, but the flower is the most toxic.
Sago Palm: These plants are commonly used in landscape and are now available in bonsai form to be used as an indoor decoration. While these are nice to look at, they are very dangerous for your dogs. All parts of the plant can cause acute liver failure (the seed, again, is the most toxic), and even death.
We all know that we aren’t supposed to feed our pet’s human foods. I promise that veterinarians are not just saying this to be mean. All foods can cause gastric upset or worse things like pancreatitis, but there are some foods that are truly toxic.
Grapes and raisins: The toxic substance in grapes and raisins is still unknown, but what we do know is that they do not play nice with our dogs and cats. These fruits can cause acute kidney failure and death. These are common snacks for kids, so be sure your children know not to share their treats!
Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine: All of these products contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in the cacao seed. Methylxanthines can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive drinking and urination, abnormal heartbeats, tremors, seizures, and even death. A quick note on chocolate is the realization that different types of chocolate have different levels of toxicity. The darker it is (baking chocolate being the worst, white chocolate being the least dangerous), the more toxic it is. The smaller the pet, the more damage these substances do.
Onions, garlic, and cloves: These vegetables and herbs may taste delicious, but can cause gastrointestinal irritation and can even lead to red blood cell damage and rupture! Cats tend to be more sensitive to these effects, but dogs can be as well. An extra note on these – if you look at certain blogs or social media posts, you will see people say to use onions and garlic as a homeopathic way to prevent fleas and ticks. This is dangerous. Please talk to your veterinarian about safer ways to prevent those pesky bugs!
Xylitol: This is used as a sweetener in many products such as gum, candy, baked goods, peanut butter, and toothpaste. This sweetener causes massive insulin (the substance that helps regulate your blood sugar) release which can lead to liver failure. This also leads to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Initial signs of toxicity include vomiting, lethargy, and seizures. Liver failure can be seen within just a few days. Always be sure to read the ingredient list of anything your pet gets into so you will be able to tell your veterinarian.
There are so many chemicals laying around the house that we never think about. Many of them can be dangerous to our pets, but there are two that are the most common culprits for our pet emergencies.
Mouse or rat poison: We all hate having rodents around the house, so having poison for them is not uncommon. When your pet (usually your dogs) eat that poison, it is an emergency! There are now three types of poison commonly used: long-acting anticoagulants (these prevent the blood from being able to clot, leading to potentially massive internal bleeding), cholecalciferol or vitamin D3 (these lead to very high calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood, leading to kidney failure), and bromethalin (this causes brain swelling and damage). All of these are very dangerous and require different emergency treatments. It is very helpful to your veterinarian if you know what type of poison it is when you bring in your pet.
Anti-freeze: This can be a potential problem at any time of the year. Cold weather causes engines to need antifreeze. Summer causes radiators to boil over. Because of this, anti-freeze should always be a concern. There are three common types of anti-freeze: methanol, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol. All of these are toxic, but propylene glycol is the most toxic. Anti-freeze causes severe kidney damage leading to acute kidney failure within 24-36 hours. Cats tend to be more sensitive, but dogs are vulnerable too.
It can be a little scary when you start thinking about all the things your pets like to get into. It’s even scarier when you think about all of the potential outcomes of our pets getting into these things. The good news is that your veterinarian is only a phone call away, and we are trained to deal with all of these emergencies. If there is ever a doubt in your mind if something may be harmful that your pet got into, just call. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the safety and health of your furry loved one.
About the Author
Dr. Heritage Enevoldsen