Preventing Pet Toxicity

April 14, 2021

We love pets’ inquisitive nature, but it sometimes lands them in trouble—or, the emergency room. Unfortunately, toxins are all around, and pets commonly encounter products that can make them sick. If your pet sniffs out a pet toxin, our NVA Compassion-First emergency hospitals are always fully equipped and ready to jump into action. However, prevention is best, and we would prefer your pet remains safely by your side. Recognizing common pet toxins, and toxicity signs in your pet, can help you keep your furry friend safe.

Common pet toxins

Many pet toxins are likely lurking in and around your home. While some, such as chocolate, may not surprise you, a number of common household items that are completely safe for people can be downright deadly to pets. Also, since pets tend to investigate the environment with their mouths, they often ingest things people would never dream of eating. Common pet toxins include:

  • Medications — Human and veterinary medications accounted for almost half the calls received by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in 2019. Some well-meaning pet owners attempt to treat their pets’ ailments with over-the-counter medications that are toxic, such as ibuprofen (i.e., Advil), naproxen (i.e., Alleve), or acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol). Other times, pets find a bottle of medication and eat a toxic dose. Pet medications, such as heartworm preventives, are often flavored to make them more palatable, which may tempt your dog to wolf down an entire package.
  • Foods — Many foods are toxic to pets, including:
    • Chocolate
    • Onions, garlic, shallots, and chives
    • Grapes and raisins
    • Macadamia nuts
    • Alcohol
    • Caffeine
    • Unbaked yeast dough
  • Xylitol — Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in many sugar-free foods. Unfortunately, xylitol is found in an increasing number of products, including peanut butter, protein bars, most sugar-free gum varieties, and some toothpastes. Dogs who eat only a few pieces of sugar-free gum may experience dangerously low blood sugar levels and potential liver failure.
  • Plants — Many common plant varieties are toxic to pets, so consult the ASPCA’s toxic and non-toxic plant list before adding indoor or outdoor plants to your home. Lilies are particularly toxic to cats, who are more likely to eat plants than their canine counterparts. Ingesting any part of a lily plant, including the pollen, flowers, stems, and leaves, can lead to life-threatening kidney failure in cats.
  • Antifreeze products — Many antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, which is extremely toxic to pets. As little as one teaspoon in cats, or one tablespoon in dogs, can be lethal.
  • Rodenticides — Rat, mouse, and gopher baits are designed to kill small mammals, and can also be lethal to pets who eat the bait, or a poisoned rodent. Toxicity varies according to the type, or generation, of rodenticide a pet eats, but may include kidney failure, brain swelling, internal bleeding, or fluid accumulation in the lungs.
  • Lawn and garden products — Many products used to keep your yard in tip-top shape, such as pesticides, lawn chemicals, garden fertilizers, and cocoa bean mulch, can cause toxicity in pets.

Preventing pet toxicity

Pet toxicity is always easier to prevent than treat, so pet-proof your home to avoid an emergency. Keep all potential toxins stored safely out of paws’ reach, and never leave rodent bait, insecticides, antifreeze, or lawn and garden products where your pet can eat them. Warn kids to keep sugar-free gum out of their bedrooms, where pets may find it in a backpack or on the floor. Keep your pet out of the kitchen while you prepare meals, and secure all leftovers in an outdoor trash can with a tight-fitting lid. It’s also a good idea to make your garage and shed no-pet zones, since many potential toxins likely line the shelves.

Recognizing pet toxicity

Toxicity can cause illness signs in your pet that range from mild vomiting to life-threatening complications. Pet owners often are unaware of a toxin exposure until their pet begins acting abnormally. Unfortunately, toxicity can advance quickly, and some toxins cause irreversible organ damage only hours after exposure.

Since there are so many potential toxins, and each affects the body differently, signs will vary from non-specific and mild to life threatening. However, common toxicity signs include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Excessive salivation
  • Incoordination
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures

If your pet is acting abnormally after a known toxin exposure, seek medical care immediately. Bring the toxin or packaging with you, along with any vomit that may contain the toxin.

Treating pet toxicity

Call your family veterinarian, your local NVA Compassion-First hospital, or the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Center at the first sign of pet toxicity. Never attempt to treat pet toxicity on your own, and induce vomiting only if instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Some toxins can cause more damage if your pet vomits them, and peroxide is no longer considered safe to use in many situations. While your family veterinarian can manage some toxicity cases, pets who require more intensive diagnostics, treatment, or monitoring may need a 24-hour emergency and critical care facility.

Stacy Burdick, DVM, DACVIM
NVA C-F Clinical Advisor
Chief of Staff, Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals – Tinton Falls, NJ

“Through the collaboration of our medical teams, and the availability of advanced treatment options, such as therapeutic plasma exchange, we are able to treat a wide variety of toxin ingestions in pets,” says Stacy Burdick, DVM, DACVIM, chief of staff at Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, and NVA Compassion-First’s clinical advisor.

“Early intervention and knowing the type of toxin ingested are key to a successful outcome. Please do your best to pet-proof your household, but we understand accidents can happen.  We want you to know we are here for you when they do.”

NVA Compassion-First hospitals’ highly trained veterinary teams have experience treating all types of pet toxicities, and can provide high-level care, such as:

  • Unique medications and treatments — Whether your pet needs a blood transfusion, antidote administration, or serial blood clotting tests, we are prepared for any situation.
  • 24-hour care — Our critical care facilities have skilled team members on duty at all times to monitor your pet, administer treatments, and watch for complications.
  • Dialysis and therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE) — These therapies may be used to remove toxins from a pet’s bloodstream or support a patient’s damaged kidneys while they recover from toxicity. Dialysis and therapeutic plasma exchange require cutting-edge equipment and continuous veterinary monitoring.
Brandi Mattison, DVM, DACVECC
Medical Director, AVECCC

“Ibuprofen and Rimadyl (i.e., carprofen) ingestion are the most  common reasons we perform TPE at our hospital,” says Brandi Mattison, DVM, DACVECC, medical director of Arizona Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Center. “Avoiding exposure or accidental overdose is always ideal, but fortunately, we can now physically remove approximately 80% of the drug from a pet’s body with a single treatment. Treatment timing is important for the best outcome, so see your veterinarian as soon as possible if you think your pet has been exposed to a toxin.”

Keep your pet safe by pet-proofing your home and yard from known pet toxins. However, if your pet’s penchant for mischief lands them in trouble despite your best efforts, our NVA Compassion-First hospitals are always here to support you and your pet.