All Pets Veterinary Clinic
SEVEN HOUSEHOLD TOXINS
There is no place like home. However, our houses can be a haven for toxic items that can
severely injure or even kill our pets. Some common food items, chemicals, and medications
can all pose special problems if pets are allowed to eat them. The remainder of this article
will look at some common household items that can be toxic to your pet. Some of the items
are well known toxins whereas other will be quite a surprise. Regardless, limiting your
pet’s exposure to these items is the first and most important step to preventing accidental
1. Chocolate. The sweets that we crave can be deadly for our pets. Chocolate contains
theobromine and caffeine--both of which are toxic. Bakers chocolate has the highest
concentration of theobromine making it more likely to cause severe illness. However, milk
chocolate and white chocolate can also cause illness.
Signs of ingestion can include excitement/hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures,
increased heart rate, cardiac irregularities, and even death. Limiting exposure to chocolate
and chocolate containing foods is the best way to prevent accidental toxicosis.
2. Tylenol, Aspirin, and other NSAIDs. Over the counter or prescription pain
medications commonly found in the home can cause illness in animals. Signs vary from vomiting
and diarrhea to severe gastric ulceration and hemorrhage. For medications like Tylenol,
liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death can result.
The administration of medications that contain aspirin or similar ingredients, like
Pepto-Bismol and even the newer formulations of Kaopectate can result in similar signs of
toxicity. Always consult with a veterinarian before using human medications at home to
treat your pet. This is the best way to ensure that accidental toxicosis does not occur.
3. Grapes.The National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) has recently identified
acute kidney failure in dogs that had ingested large quantities of grapes. The toxic agent
has not been identified at this time. Raisins have also been show to be toxic to dogs.
Signs of kidney failure can include increased thirst, increased urination or a complete lack
of urination, vomiting, drooling, and lack of appetite. Some of the dogs recovered with
aggressive treatment while other dogs died as a result of eating grapes and/or raisins.
Given the risks involved, these items should not intentionally be fed to pets.
4. Onions. Large quantities of onions have been shown to cause hemolytic anemia and
possibly a secondary renal failure in dogs and cats. Raw, cooked, or dehydrated onions are
all toxic. Cats seem to be more sensitive to the effects of onions than dogs.
Signs of onion toxicity can include pale mucus membranes, weakness, lethargy, vomiting,
diarrhea, increased respirations, and increased heart rates. Ingestion of onions over
several days can be more difficult to treat. Onion toxicity can be fatal.
5. Rat Bait. Cooler fall temperatures will often send small rodents looking for
warmer shelters. To avoid rodent problems, many home owners will place commercial rat
baits inside and outside of the house. Curious pets, especially dogs, can accidentally
become poisoned when they ingest rat bait.
Warfarin based rat baits are the most common on the market. They work by destroying the
body’s ability to clot. Thus, animals that have ingested rat bait will typically bleed to
death. Signs typically take a few days to appear and can include lethargy, weakness,
coughing, respiratory distress, bleeding from the nose, bloody urine, and swollen or
painful joints, and death, among others. Fortunately, rat bait is one of the few toxins
that have an “antidote.” Prompt medical attention and supportive care can allow animals
to survive unintentional ingestion of rat bait.
6. Antifreeze. Another item that is more common when the weather becomes cooler
is antifreeze. Antifreeze has a sweet taste that will often be very inviting to dogs. If
left unattended with antifreeze, most animals will drink it readily. Antifreeze can cause
acute renal failure. Most animals that ingest antifreeze will die making antifreeze one of
the most threatening pet toxins.
Signs of antifreeze ingestion vary depending on the stage of illness and can include
drunken-like behavior, vomiting, increased urination followed by no urine production,
Delaying treatment by even a few hours can be the difference between life and death.
7. Orgaphosphate (OP) containing pesticides. Many common pesticides contain OPs.
Examples of chemicals within this family include Carbaryl (Sevin), Malathion, Diazinon,
Terbufos, and Dichlorvos, among others. Some over the counter flea and tick medications
fall within this category and can cause toxicity. Given the large number of compounds that
fall within this family, OP toxicity is very common.
Signs of toxicity can include increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, tearing, constricted
pupils, decreased heart rate, tremors, seizures, and possibly death. Early intervention and
supportive care can result in a complete recovery.
There are many other household items that can be toxic to pets. However, some are not.
Two newer products, Fabreze Spray and Swiffer Wet Jet have both received a lot
of press with respect to pet toxicity. The rumors involved with these products are false.
Both appear to be safe to use around pets if the directions on the label are followed.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
13 September 2004