10 Common Household Toxins for Pets

10 Common Household Toxins for Pets

Jun 30, 2019

According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2019, 85 million families in the U.S. owned pets. If you own pets or frequently care for them, it’s crucial to know how to protect your animal friends from harm. Your home may pose more dangers to pets than you realize, as many chemicals, substances, and even houseplants can be lethal to pets. Below are some of the most common household toxins for pets, and how to mitigate the risks they pose to your furry friend.

1. Medication

Prescription medication and over-the-counter pills should be kept in an area entirely inaccessible by pets. Even a human-safe dose of ibuprofen can lead to ibuprofen poisoning in both cats and dogs, which can cause stomach ulcers, vomiting, and in extreme cases, renal (kidney) failure.

It’s important to note that childproof or twist-off caps may not be enough to keep your medication safe from your pets, as they can be chewed off, and additionally pose a choking hazard. Keeping your medication sealed in a cabinet or drawer is an easy way to reduce the risk of your pet getting ahold of it. If your pet has ingested any kind of unknown pill, you should call your vet’s emergency line. For after-hours calls, you can reach the 24/7 ASPCA Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

2. Tobacco & Alcohol

You should not give your pets alcohol or nicotine in any circumstance. The size, age, and weight of your pet will influence how much alcohol is harmful to them. The same is true for pets and nicotine exposure.

Alcohol poisoning can cause tremors, central nervous system shut down, difficulty breathing, coma, and death in pets. Nicotine poisoning can cause an elevation in heart and breathing rates, muscle weakness, seizures, and cardiac arrest. If your pet has ingested any type of alcohol or tobacco — including cigarette butts — keenly watch for these symptoms, and call your vet for instructions.

3. Human Food

If you’re going to feed your pet human food, make sure you’re aware of which foods are pet-safe, and which can make them sick. Here are some unsafe foods for pets to avoid:

  • Artificial sweeteners: Many artificial sweeteners contain Xylitol, which is incredibly dangerous to pets. Xylitol raises insulin levels in pets, which can cause liver damage and failure. Symptoms of liver damage in pets include vomiting, lethargy, and loss of coordination.
  • Chocolate: Famously poisonous to dogs, you should also avoid feeding this sweet to your cats and other pets. Chocolate contains methylxanthines which, when ingested, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heartbeat, seizures, and even death. Baking and dark chocolate contain the most methylxanthines, and pose the greatest risk.
  • Coffee/Caffeine: Similar to chocolate, caffeine has high amounts of methylxanthines, which can cause heart and nervous system problems. Additionally, caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks, are much more potent to animals, and often contain artificial sweeteners. Ingested in large quantities, caffeine can cause sudden heart failure in pets.
  • Garlic/Onions/Chives: These vegetables, especially in cats, can cause red blood cell damage, which can lead to anemia, as well as gastrointestinal distress. This type of toxicity can be incredibly hard to observe in pets, as blood samples must be reviewed at the microscopic level to confirm any damage.
  • Nuts: Due to the high amounts of natural oils and fats in nuts, they can cause digestion problems in pets, and potentially lead to pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts are especially harmful to dogs, as they can induce depression, vomiting, tremors, and even hyperthermia. Large nuts can also pose a choking hazard for smaller animals, like birds.
  • Raw Dough: Raw dough that contains yeast can expand in your pet’s stomach,  increasing gas in your pet’s digestive symptom. This can cause bloating, intestinal distress, and can clamp or twist their stomachs, which can be a life-threatening emergency.

Before feeding your pet any new human food, ask your vet about their potential side effects. You should also be sure to introduce the food slowly into their diet to monitor any possible reactions, including potential allergies.

4. Weed Killers & Pesticides

The chemicals in weed killers and pesticides can be especially harmful not just to pets, but to young children. When choosing your weed-killer products, it’s important to be mindful of how your family, pets, and even your neighbors, may come into contact with these chemicals.

There are pet-safe pesticides available for purchase, as well as some home remedies, such as soapy water or chile powder, that can help address insect infestations. Switching to safer pesticides can help keep your pets and family safe, as well as help your yard and garden become more eco-friendly.

5. Household Cleaning Products

Similar to yard products, it’s important to be conscious of the chemicals in household cleaning products. Cleaning products and disinfectants that contain high amounts of alcohol, bleach, and hydrogen peroxide are dangerous to animals, and shouldn’t be used on anything that pets put in their mouth or will breathe in, such as beds or blankets. For a non-toxic home that still shines, you can buy pet-safe cleaning products, or use DIY cleaning solutions made from household items that are pet-safe.

6. Coins

Loose change should be kept out of areas where pets may ingest them, as coins can be dangerous to animals. Coins contain harmful levels of chemicals like zinc and iron that most pets are not equipped to process. Coins can also pose a choking or blockage hazard to your pet, which may result in the need for surgery in some cases.

7. Indoor Plants

Owning and maintaining houseplants can have many health benefits for humans. However, some houseplants can pose health hazards to pets. Some indoor plants that pose a risk to pets include:

  • Aloe Vera: Aloe vera can act as a laxative when ingested by pets, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and result in dehydration.
  • Asparagus Fern: Asparagus fern can induce allergic dermatitis in both cats and dogs, and can cause abdominal pain and vomiting when ingested.
  • Lilies: The flower, leaves, stem, pollen and even vase water of lilies are incredibly toxic to cats. If any part of the lily is ingested, cats can experience total kidney failure within three days. Contact your vet or the Poison Control Center if your cat has ingested any part of a lily.
  • Pothos: The pothos plant contains water-insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, which are released into the mouth and digestive tract when chewed. These crystals can cause severe pain as well as tissue damage in the GI tract.
  • Tulips: The tulip flower poses a small risk to pets, causing excessive drooling or diarrhea if eaten. However, when digested, the tulip bulb can cause heart problems and difficulty breathing in pets, and are especially dangerous to cats as a part of the lily family.

The ASPCA has a directory of toxic and non-toxic plants to pets that you can use as a reference next time you’re bringing plants into your space.

8. Outdoor Plants

Outdoor plants can also pose risks to our pets, whether they were planted by previous tenants of your house, or grew naturally. Here are some outdoor plants to be wary of:

  • Black Walnut: While black walnuts are not toxic to cats, eating moldy hulls can cause seizures in dogs.
  • Boxwood: When ingested, boxwood can cause vomiting and diarrhea in both cats and dogs.
  • Bulb Flowers: Bulb flowers, such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies are especially poisonous to cats, and can cause organ damage in both cats and dogs if the bulbs are eaten.
  • Foxglove: Foxglove is poisonous to cats, dogs, and even humans. This plant when ingested can cause cardiac arrest, arrhythmia, and death. 
  • Ivy: Many types of ivy, if ingested by pets, can cause mouth irritation, difficulty breathing, and even induce coma in extreme cases. Pothos is a part of the ivy family.

If you find these plants on your property and want to get rid of them, there are several non-toxic replacements that you can plant to suit your needs. Privacy trees and shrubs are a great replacement option, as they come in many shapes, sizes, and can provide shade and seclusion to your outdoor area.

9. Anti-Freeze

You may not know it, but antifreeze has a sweet smell and taste to most animals, which can cause them to willfully eat it if it is left out. However, antifreeze is incredibly dangerous to pets, and even a small ingested amount can be lethal. Antifreeze has ethylene glycol in it, which directly affects the kidneys, and can cause total kidney failure.

If your pet has ingested antifreeze, it is crucial to take them to the vet immediately, or call the Poison Control Hotline. To keep your pets safe, make sure you store your antifreeze in a solid container with a lid away from common pet areas. Additionally, refrain from using antifreeze in any common pet areas, as melted or diluted antifreeze can still cause serious problems.

10. Pest Control & Insect Repellent Products

Pest control and insect repellent can be used both inside and outside the house. There are some home remedies for insect control that we’ve mentioned, however, these may not work for everyone. Pets can breathe in aerated pest control products, like sprays, and absorb them through their skin. This can cause skin irritation, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and other adverse side effects. To mitigate this risk, try and use these products when your pet is not in the same room, or buy products that are designed with pet safety in mind.

You don’t have to remove each of these items from your home altogether, but being aware of where and how they’re stored could help save your pet’s life. Sometimes accidents happen, and in the event your pet makes contact with one of these household toxins, you should contact the Pet Poison Control Hotline or your veterinarian.