If you believe your pet has consumed a poisonous substance or even if you are just not sure, please call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 immediately.
We all want our pets to be safe, happy, and healthy. Sometimes it’s simple to determine what's healthy for dogs and cats, and sometimes it’s not. We get it. It can be difficult to know if what your pet just ate is okay for them or potentially dangerous. Smaller pets are typically at higher risk for dose-dependent toxicities; however, there are some toxicities where the size of your pet doesn’t reflect the danger of the substance. While we cannot provide an exhaustive list of everything your pet should not be eating, here are some commonly ingested items to watch out for:
- Chocolate: The cocoa beans used to make chocolate contain a compound called theobromine. Theobromine is found in higher concentrations in baking and dark chocolate but can be found in all chocolate products. When a pet consumes chocolate with theobromine, they can experience symptoms beginning with stomach upsets and potentially ending in seizures and even death. The level of danger can be estimated by looking at the pet’s weight relative to how much and what kind of chocolate they indulged in. If you find that your chocolate stash has been raided by your pets, take note of what kind and how much chocolate they might have eaten so your vet can do toxicity calculations when making a treatment plan. Save all that delicious chocolate for yourself and store it in a pet-proof place away from treat-seeking noses.
- Grapes and Raisins: Consumption of grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure in dogs. Strangely, we cannot yet predict if any given dog will go into renal failure if they eat one grape or a hundred. For this reason, if a pet eats even one grape, you should call your vet. Avoid feeding grapes to pets, and monitor pets that have access to gardens as the sweetness of the fruit is quite alluring.
- Macadamia nuts: These nuts are poisonous to dogs specifically. Symptoms include digestive upsets, weakness, depression, hyperthermia, and tremors.
- Xylitol: This chemical is a low-calorie sweetener used in many human food products such as mints, chewing gum, and other low sugar food items. If you use peanut butter as a special treat, check the label as some versions can contain xylitol. In pets, xylitol can cause blood sugars to dip to life-threateningly low levels directly after consumption and potentially cause long-term damage to the liver.
- Onions and Garlic: Despite the perception that these ingredients may seem benign, and animals do sometimes love the flavor, eating large amounts of onion and garlic may lead to red blood cell damage and anemia. Like with most toxins, smaller animals are more likely to see effects. However, these foods should not be given to pets of any size. Even though there’s a belief that feeding these potent-smelling items will deter fleas, this has not been shown to be true for either cats or dogs.
- Edibles: With recent changes to many state laws, there have been more opportunities for our companion animals to accidentally access food products that are infused with THC derived from marijuana plants. Our pets don’t know that these are to be consumed in moderation so they can tend to go way overboard. Pets are more sensitive than humans to the effects of these compounds and frequently show signs of extreme sleepiness or hyperactivity, coma, or uncontrollable urination. Please speak candidly with your veterinarian if you believe your pet might have eaten one of your treats and take care to keep them in a place your pets cannot get into.
Other household hazards and toxins
- Over-the-counter pain medications: These common medications are easy to accidentally drop on the floor and seem like no big deal to us as humans. Sometimes when your pet is in pain, you want to do anything to help them feel better. Pain medications for people should never be used to alleviate your pet’s discomfort unless you receive very specific instructions from a veterinarian to do so. Certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (commonly found in Advil® and Tylenol® respectively) are especially dangerous for pets.
- Antifreeze: This bright fluorescent green or yellow chemical is used in cars, and unfortunately, sometimes will spill or accidentally leak out of a parked car. Antifreeze, or ethylene glycol, is very sweet due to its high sugar content but is lethal to pets. Many animals will drink this out of puddles accidentally left on the ground. Ensure pets are kept away from places where cars are worked on and be on the lookout for any fluorescent green or yellow puddles in areas where cars are parked. You should also store all excess chemicals in a secure location.
- Rodent baits: These are designed to taste delicious to rodents, but unfortunately, our pets are also attracted to their smell and taste. Baits contain any number of different compounds that cause harm to the intended rodent pests. Our companion animals can also experience the harmful effects if they catch a rodent who has recently ingested some of these toxins. The best policy is to avoid using these baits in homes with pets. Sometimes, we aren’t in control of our surroundings and pets may find baits we’re not aware of. If you think your dog or cat has ingested some of this bait, try to bring some of the crumbs or packaging with you to the vet clinic. This will be very helpful to your veterinarian in deciding how best to help your pet.
- House and yard plants: Several common plants are not safe for dogs and cats. Some unsafe plants include deadly nightshade, azaleas, lilies, holly, fiddle-leaf fig, and pothos. But there are so many possibilities that we recommend checking out the extensive plant database at the ASPCA Poison Control Center if you think your pet has been sneaking a few bites of greenery or flowers.
Just to be clear...
If you believe your pet has ingested something poisonous, please contact your veterinarian or local animal hospital immediately. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 is a wonderful group of caring individuals who can also help you in these situations if you don’t know where to turn. Often, they require a small payment for their services but they are your best bet in an urgent situation if you can’t contact your veterinarian or local animal hospital.
Porterpan B. Raisins and Grapes: Potentially Lethal Treats for Dogs. Vet Med. 2005; 100(5):346-350.
Mazzaferro EM, Eubig PA, Hackett TB, et al. Acute Renal Failure Associated with Raisin or Grape Ingestion in 4 Dogs. J Vet Emerg Crit Care. 2004; 14(3):203-212.
Penny D, Henderson SM, Brown PJ. Raisin poisoning in a dog. Vet Rec. 2003; 152(10):308.
Campbell BN. Raisin poisoning in dogs. Vet Rec. 2003; 152(2):376.
Singleton VL. More information on grape or raisin toxicosis. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001; 219(4):434-436.
Gwaltney-Brant S, Holding JK, Donaldson CW, et al. Renal Failure Associated with Ingestion of Grapes or Rasins in Dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001; 218(10):1555-1556.
Gwaltney-Brant S, Holding JK, Donaldson CW, et al. Canine renal pathology associated with grape or raisin ingestion: 10 cases.J Vet Diagn Invest. 2005; 17(3):223-231.
Donaldson CW. Marijuana exposure in animals. Vet Med. 2002;6:437–439.
Meola SD, Tearney CC, Haas SA, et al. Evaluation of trends in marijuana toxicosis in dogs living in a state with legalized medical marijuana: 125 dogs (2005-2010). J Vet Emerg Crit Care. 2012; 22(6):690-696.