Your pet is a part of your family, but many of the foods your human family members enjoy and the products they use are harmful to your animal family member. Everyday items, such as foods, medications, or flowers, can prove dangerous or deadly to pets who consume them. Read our Palisades Veterinary Hospital team’s answers to frequently asked questions about common pet toxins, and learn to identify household toxins and prevent your pet from being poisoned. We also recommend the steps you should take if your pet ingests something that could harm them.

Question: How many pets are poisoned each year?

Answer: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control center received more than 400,000 calls in 2021. That number increased significantly from the previous year, possibly because of increased pandemic pet adoptions or because people were spending more time with their pets and were better able to observe toxicity signs. Hundreds of possible pet poisonings occur each day. Some of these pets don’t require treatment, but others suffer serious effects, requiring intensive medical care. 

Q: Is chocolate actually toxic for pets?

A: Chocolate contains two methylxanthines, theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic. While these compounds mildly stimulate people, they dangerously overstimulate pets because they cannot appropriately metabolize theobromine or caffeine. 

A pet’s chocolate toxicity signs include vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, fever, coma, or death in severe cases. The severity of a pet’s toxicity depends on their size, the amount of chocolate they consumed, and the specific chocolate type. White and milk chocolates have fewer methylxanthines than dark chocolate, baker’s chocolate, or cocoa powder, which are the most dangerous.

Q: What other foods should I prevent my pet from eating?

A: Many foods safe for human consumption can cause a pet to experience stomach upset. However, a few of these foods have pet-toxic compounds that can be especially harmful to your pet, including:

  • Grapes and raisins contain an unknown toxin, which is believed to be tartaric acid.
  • Onions and garlic contain thiosulfate.
  • Macadamia nuts’ pet toxin has yet to be identified.
  • Sugar-free candies and gums contain xylitol, a sugar substitute.
  • Raw dough contains fermented yeast and alcohol.

Q: Can I give my pet medications intended for people?

A: Veterinarians often prescribe human medications to pets off-label, because these drugs are perfectly safe for pets. However, never give your pet an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication without your veterinarian’s guidance, because many medications intended for humans are not safe for pets. Prevent your pet from ingesting these common OTC products:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) — Ibuprofen, naproxen, and other NSAIDs may cause your pet kidney damage.
  • Acetaminophen — This OTC medication damages cats’ red blood cells.
  • Aspirin — Aspirin may cause your pet to experience bleeding stomach ulcers.
  • Cough and cold medications — These medications can act as stimulants or sedatives, and may elevate your pet’s blood pressure.
  • Supplements — Supplements’ toxic effects depend on various factors.
  • Marijuana Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes pets extreme intoxication.

Prescription medications intended for people can also cause problems for pets who chew on the medication’s container or find pills that have been inadvertently dropped on the floor. The ASPCA Pet Poison Control Center’s most common inquiries regard ingestion of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), heart, and psychiatric medications.

Q: Can my pet suffer harm if they chew a plant?

A: Many plants contain harmful compounds that can cause your pet to drool, or experience mouth irritation or stomach upset. However, other plants can cause serious effects such as seizures or organ failure. Lilies are a common cat toxin that cause rapid kidney failure. Consult the ASPCA’s Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants list to determine which plants are safe to have in your home or yard.

Q: Which yard and garden products are harmful to pets?

A: Rodenticide (i.e., rat poison) is the most common outdoor product that can harm your pet. These poisons are available in many formulations, all of which are intended to swiftly kill the animal ingesting the poison by causing internal bleeding, neurologic damage, or heart failure. If your pet ingests a rodenticide, they require immediate veterinary care to counteract these poisons’ effects. Some pets who consume large amounts of rodenticide may not survive,  despite receiving appropriate care. Other toxic products include fertilizer, cocoa bean mulch, insecticide, and antifreeze. 

Q: How can I protect my pet from being poisoned?

A: To help prevent your pet from ingesting most toxins, keep the poisons out of their reach. In addition, follow these tips:

  • Keep medications and supplements in high cabinets
  • Use child locks on cabinets or drawers in which you store chemicals
  • Do not use rodenticides in your home or out in the yard 
  • Contract with a landscaper to remove toxic plants from your yard
  • Avoid feeding pets table scraps and do not leave tasty food unattended
  • Secure trash cans

Q: What should I do if I suspect my pet has ingested a toxin? 

A: If your pet has ingested a known toxin or an item with unknown poison potential, immediately contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or the Pet Poison Helpline. To provide guidance to pet owners and veterinary professionals treating a patient’s toxic exposures, these services employ veterinary toxicology experts and are staffed 24 hours per day, seven days per week. 

If poison control recommends that your pet receive veterinary care, contact our Palisades Veterinary Hospital team during our normal business hours, and we will get your pet in for care right away. If your pet needs after-hours help, do not wait—contact your nearest veterinary emergency facility for immediate assistance. By acting quickly, you provide your pet with the best chance for recovery if they have ingested a poison.