Poison Prevention in Pets

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handles about 180,000 calls a year about pets exposed to potentially toxic substances. Given that it is Poison Prevention Awareness Month, it’s a good time to review the most common sources of pet poisonings. Being aware of which medications, plants and foods are toxic to pets, and preventing your pet access to these products, is a very important part of preventing exposure in the first place.

- Prescription and Over-the-Counter Human Medications

The most common types of medications that animals are exposed to include: heart medications which can alter blood pressure and heart rate; antidepressants which can cause sedation, tremors and seizures; NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach and intestinal ulceration and bleeding; Acetaminophen (Tylenol) which can cause liver failure and decreased oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cells. Often times these exposures are due to people dropping their medication when preparing to take it and their pet eating it off the floor. Depending on the medication and the size of your pet even 1 or 2 pills can be toxic.


Insecticides are used in the yard, home, and on our animals. More than half the calls to animal poison control hotlines involving the use of insecticides are due to the improper use of topical flea products on cats. These exposures typically result from owners inappropriately applying products labeled for dogs onto their cat. Symptoms of exposure include drooling, tremors and seizures. Always read the label before using any insecticide on your pet, in your home, or in your yard.

-Household Products

Household toxins can range from fire logs and lighter fluid to cleaning products like bleach, drain cleaners, and disinfectants. Some items can be corrosive, while other can cause obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract requiring surgical intervention. Tobacco products are another common toxic substance found in many homes and exposure can cause tremors, seizures and potentially death.

-People Food

Human foods are particularly appealing to pets, especially dogs. Chocolate is still the number one people food that pets ingest. Too much chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, high heart rate and seizures. Other foods that are harmful to pets include grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, macadamia nuts, avocado, coffee, alcohol, and xylitol (an artificial sweetener used in many sugar free gums, candy, and baked goods). Ingestion of spoiled food and fatty food can cause severe gastrointestinal upset and possibly pancreatitis.

-Veterinary Products and Medications

Both OTC and prescription veterinary products are included in this group. Flavored tablets make it easy to give your pet needed medication, but it also makes it more likely for them to ingest the entire bottle if given the chance. It’s also important that family members communicate about who is giving the pet’s medication in order to avoid double dosing.


When putting out baits to kill mice and rats, don’t forget your pet may find that bait appealing as well. Depending on the type of rodenticide used, ingestion can cause internal bleeding, kidney failure or seizures.

Lawn and Garden Products

Fertilizers, which can be made of dried blood, poultry manure and bone meal, are very attractive to pets. Symptoms following ingestions can include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing. Other products such as pesticides and cocoa mulch can also be very harmful to pets.


Ingestion of plants is a very common reason for owners to have to call animal poison control hotlines. This is one category that cats lead dogs in the number of exposures. Lilies can cause kidney failure and death in cats. While there are many different species of plants that are toxic, generally most plants that grow from bulbs are toxic, especially to cats. Visit the site below for a list of toxic and non-toxic plants.



If you ever have an incident where you think your pet may have been exposed to a harmful substance call your veterinarian immediately. You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 ($65 fee) or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661 ($39 fee).



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