No matter how protective a pet parent you are, chances are there are still some things in your home that can be toxic to pets. Veterinary practices see thousands of cases each year of pets accidentally poisoned by everyday household items. With Pet Poison Awareness Month right around the corner, it’s smart to arm yourself with some information that could potentially save your pet’s life.
When you think about “accidental toxin ingestion,” fruit is probably not the first thing that springs to mind, but something as simple as a handful of grapes can sour a situation in a matter of seconds. Small breeds, like the Chihuahua or Maltese, show signs of distress pretty soon after ingestion, but even larger animals are at risk – dogs can go into acute renal failure within 48 hours after eating grapes (or raisins!).
Wondering what other everyday household items that can spell trouble for our furry friends? Here’s a list of some of the most common culprits:
Prescription or Over-the-Counter Medication
Human medicines, whether prescription-strength or not, are dangerous in the wrong paws. In fact, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including aspirin and ibuprofen, can present big problems for pets. I’ve seen dogs sickened from snacking on a bottle of aspirin, but I’ve also seen patients come in because their pet parents administered the drug thinking it would work for their dog the way it does for them. While there are some medications that work for both species, always, always check with your vet before giving your pet any type of human medicine. In the meantime, keep pill bottles behind closed cabinet doors.
Kitchen staples like chocolate, onions, alcohol, coffee grounds and sugar substitutes (or foods containing sugar substitutes) are all a recipe for catastrophe. I see dogs come into the clinic who have eaten an entire pack of sugar-free gum from an unattended purse. Trust me; the minty-fresh breath is NOT worth the trip to the vet. Keep all food and drink meant for human consumption under lock and key – especially fatty foods. Even a single incident of eating high fat food can trigger pet pancreatitis, a potentially fatal disease from fatty foods that causes inflammation of the pancreas and requires prompt medical attention.
Nicotine poisoning is also a danger to our pets. If you are a smoker, you pet’s health may already be compromised by secondhand smoke, but if he gets his paws on a pack of cigarettes and eats them, he can really get burned. The toxic level of nicotine in dogs is 5 milligrams of nicotine per pound of body weight. Just one cigarette contains 15 to 25 milligrams of nicotine – if your pet tears into half a pack, the overdose can be deadly.
Every spring veterinarians see an increase in pets poisoned by lilies, and during the holiday season poinsettias pop up on our radar. Azaleas, tulips and autumn crocus are other threats, and in in regions that have sandy soils in tropical climates (Florida, California, and Texas, I’m looking at you!), sago palms are both common and extremely toxic if ingested. It’s worth a mention for our friends in Colorado and Washington (and maybe a few other states) that marijuana is toxic to pets, too. Keep all leafy greens planted firmly out of reach.
If you have a baby in the house, watch out for diaper rash creams containing zinc. Also be sure to keep coins, screws, bolts and other galvanized metals out of reach, too, as they all contain dangerous levels of the element. Pennies are particularly toxic, so be sure your rainy day savings is safely stowed away.
These are some everyday items to look out for, but there’s plenty more around the house and garden that can make a pet sick. For a more complete list, check out a resource like Pet Poison Helpline for more information. Once a pet has snacked on something unsavory, time is of the essence. Get him to the vet immediately for the best chance of saving him from danger.
Dr. Jules Benson, BVSC, MRCVS, is a graduate of the University of Liverpool Vet School. Since arriving in the U.S. eight years ago, Dr. Benson has worked in a small animal practice near Philadelphia and is currently on the Board of Trustees for the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association and the Board of Directors for Second Chance Rescue. Now serving as the VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance, Dr. Benson continues to practice veterinary medicine part time — both in the practice where he once spent all of his days, and at home, where he is both dad and vet to four cats, two rats, one rabbit and a gecko. He contributes regularly to Petplan’s Vets for Pets blog.