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Common Pet Toxins and What To Do When They're Ingested

Posted by Dr. Roth on July 26, 2022

Wellness Care
What to do if?
Advice Blog Featured Image Common Pet Toxins and What To Do When They're Ingested

The natural curiosity of cats and dogs is one of their most endearing qualities. However, that same curiosity can get them into trouble if they get into things they shouldn't. In some cases, it can even be harmful to their health. 

Common Pet Toxins Often Found in the Home

Whether they know it or not, many items people keep in their homes are toxic to cats and dogs. In 2021, the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) assisted 401,550 animals of all shapes and sizes across the U.S. Cases ranged from cleaning products to unsafe human foods and everything in-between.

A pet's health and safety are likely among any pet parent’s top priorities. However, not all pet parents know what potential dangers exist within their homes or how to keep these common pet toxins out of their pet's reach. 

Here are some of the most common toxic products for pets and what pet parents can do to prevent accidental ingestion: 

1. Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) human medications are a staple of many homes. They include anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen), cold and allergy medications, and herbal supplements. Many people tend to keep these items in easily accessible locations, such as a drawer, backpack, or purse. 

While generally safe for human consumption, many OTC medications can be highly toxic for animals. Ingestion of these pet poisons can cause gastrointestinal upset, organ damage, and death. 

Even in their original packaging, OTC medications aren't always safe from pets, particularly those that chew. Store all OTC (and prescription) medications in a bathroom medicine cabinet or high kitchen cupboard where cats and dogs can't reach them. Do the same with pet medications, which can cause pet toxicity in high enough doses. 

2. Household Cleaners

A clean home is a safe home for humans and pets alike. However, many popular cleaning products contain toxic ingredients that can cause severe issues when inhaled or ingested, including:

  • Bleach 

  • Ammonia

  • Benzalkonium chloride 

  • Phthalates

Depending on the pet's exposure, these ingredients can irritate the eyes and nose, cause respiratory problems, harm the esophagus and digestive tract, or pose life-threatening health issues. 

Avoid household cleaners with these ingredients if at all possible. There are plenty of more natural, organic products available that offer safer alternatives. Consider storing all items in an inaccessible location, such as a locked cabinet, no matter what cleaning products they are.

3. Human Food Like Chocolate and Macadamia Nuts

Pet parents can be tempted to share food with their pets, especially when the cat or dog looks up from underneath the table with such adorably large eyes. However, many of the foods that humans enjoy regularly are poisonous to animals, such as:

  • Chocolate

  • Macadamia nuts

  • Onions

  • Garlic

  • Grapes and raisins

  • Raw bread dough with yeast

  • Alcohol

  • ‘Sugar-free’ products (specifically containing xylitol) such as chewing gums, peanut butter, or candies

These pet food toxins can cause a range of issues for pets. For example, chocolate ingestion can lead to digestive upset (vomiting and diarrhea), heart arrhythmia (disturbances in their normal heartbeat), and seizures. Macadamia nuts can cause ataxia (a lack of coordination due to a problem with the nervous system), fever, and muscle tremors for dogs. 

Even small amounts of these potential toxins can have severe effects. In concentrated amounts, ingestion of sugar free sweeteners, grapes and raisins, or other foods unsafe for pets can cause death within a couple hours if untreated. Keep cats and dogs out of the kitchen while cooking or baking to avoid accidental ingestion, and store all foods in the fridge or other safe locations. 

Note: There are plenty of human foods that are safe and healthy for cats and dogs, such as cooked sweet potato, carrots, and blueberries. If a person isn’t sure about the safety of a particular food, consult with a vet for advice. It is also valuable to tell children and guests that they should always ask before sharing any food with a pet. 

4. Garden Products

If a person gardens, they may use products such as fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides to help plants grow and to keep them safe from weeds or pests. However, these same products can pose significant threats to animals. 

Fertilizers, particularly organic products containing bone or blood meal, might not be poisonous, but they can cause an obstruction in the intestines or lead to pancreatitis. Herbicides and insecticides may contain harmful chemicals that can be lethal if ingested, as do products people might apply to themselves while working outside, like bug sprays and sunscreen.

Several common plants, both outdoor and indoor plants, are also toxic to animals when ingested, including:

  • Lilies

  • Daffodils

  • Hyacinths

  • Tulips

  • Chrysanthemums

  • Cyclamen

Fortunately, there are still plenty of pet-safe plants. Gardeners can incorporate snapdragons, pansies, and garden marigolds into their outdoor garden and decorate the home with African violets, spider plants, and orchids. If unsure whether or not a particular plant is safe, consult with a vet for information and recommendations. 

What To Do If Your Pet Ingests a Toxic Substance

Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Pet parents need to act quickly if they suspect their cat or dog has ingested a poisonous substance. Even if a pet isn't showing signs of acute toxicity at the time, issues may develop after the substance absorbs into their system. Taking immediate action can help increase the chances of a positive outcome. 

1. Identify the Toxic Food or Substance

If a pet isn't showing any signs of immediate danger, try to identify the food or substance the animal ingested. Bits of packaging, a chewed-up bottle, plant leaves with teeth marks, or pieces of food around the house are good indicators. Knowing what the pet may have eaten will be handy in the next step.

2. Seek Out Professional Help Such as the Animal Poison Control Center

Even if a pet seems fine, pet parents might want to err on the side of caution if they suspect the animal ate something potentially poisonous and seek professional help. If possible, contact a primary vet for an immediate appointment. If the office is closed, however, pet parents can consult with a licensed online vet for advice 24/7 with their Fuzzy membership. They can also contact one of the pet-specific poison control centers:

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435 (pet parents may be subject to a consultation fee)

  • Pet Poison Helpline: (855) 764-7661 (there is a $75 incident fee that includes all follow-up consultations)

If a cat or dog exhibits animal poisoning or toxicity symptoms, seek emergency veterinary care immediately. 

Protect Pets From Exposure to Toxins

By nature, cats and dogs are curious creatures. Unfortunately, they don't always know what's safe and what could be harmful to their health. It's up to their pet parents to keep them safe by keeping dangerous items and poisonous substances out of their reach. If someone suspects their pet did get into something they shouldn't, seek care as soon as possible to prevent potentially life-threatening issues. 

A knowledgeable resource by a pet parent’s side (or in their pocket) 24/7 can also be beneficial. With Fuzzy, pet parents get just that. Membership offers unlimited access to live licensed vets any time, day or night, along with a host of other benefits. Sign up to become a Fuzzy member today!

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