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As an emergency veterinarian for over thirty years, I’ve found that despite your best efforts, accidents happen even to the best owners. Your pet may gain access to a potentially harmful or fatal substance. Many toxins are common items in your home and yard. Some poisons are rather obvious and easy to avoid, while others are not so easily identifiable so it’s important that you educate yourself and keep these poisons out of reach of your pet. Here are some helpful tips about how to poison-proof your home and to know what happens if your pet does ingest a harmful substance.

To help raise awareness, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) released its list of top ten animal toxins of 2020 after reviewing roughly 232,000 cases of potential animal poisoning.

  • Over-the-counter medications ranked number one in pet toxins, accounting for nearly 20% of calls to the APCC. Common medications in this category are the drugs used to combat headaches, fevers and colds which include ibuprofen, naproxen, cold medications, certain herbal supplements and certain essential oils.
  • Human prescription medications accounted for 17.5% of all APCC cases. The most common medication were ADHD medications, antidepressants and heart medications.
  • Food items such as grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and items containing xylitol, an artificial sweetener commonly used in baked items even toothpaste.
  • Chocolate accounted for 10.1% of APCC cases. The darker the chocolate, the more potent the potential effects are. It is important to note that white chocolate is not toxic.
  • Veterinary medications accounted for 9.3% of cases. Many pet medications are flavored to increase palatability and make them taste good. Some pets may mistake these pet medications for dog treats. Remember that a “childproof container” does not mean pet-proof. Always keep all medications out of reach of children and pets.
  • Household items accounted for 7.3% of cases, including ingestion of anti-freeze, paint and cleaning products.
  • Rodenticide exposure increased to 6.3% of APCC cases. There are two major categories of rodenticides: anti-coagulants and those causing brain effects.
  • Insecticide exposure accounted for 6.2% of cases.
  • Plants accounted for 5.5% of cases, including some indoor and outdoor plants and notably bouquets containing lilies so toxic to cats and so common during Easter season.
  • Garden products round out the list at number 10, accounting for 2.3% of APCC cases. Many pets find fertilizer irresistible.

Though it did not make this top ten list, the APCC is also getting an increasing number of calls about marijuana and CBD products, especially edibles. Edible products are not regulated and may contain a high amount of THC which could lead to low blood pressure, coma, and even death.

Portrait of an old beagle hound dog with sad eyes outside on grass.

Symptoms of Toxicity

With some poisons, you may have a reaction within minutes of ingestion. With other poisons, such as certain rat poisons, it may take several days before you notice any symptoms. Here are some toxicity symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Pale or yellowish gums
  • Excessive thirst or urination
  • Nervousness, hyperactivity, muscle tremors or coma

Pet-Proofing Your Home

Pets are like children – they can’t resist investigating and putting things in their mouths. That’s why poison-proofing your home is so important. Here are some important steps from the Pet Poison Helpline that can make your home safer for pets:

  • Make sure your houseplants are non-toxic. Check out lists of poisonous plants on the ASPCA guide of toxic plants before purchasing and bringing them home.
  • Store medications in secure area and out of reach of pets.
  • Secure garbage cans behind closed doors.
  • Keep ashtrays, cigarettes, and smoking cessation products out of reach.
  • Put your purse in an area where your pets cannot access it.
  • Keep pets out of the room when using toilet cleaners or other cleaning products.
  • If you use an automatic toilet bowl cleaner, always close the toilet lid.
  • Keep rodenticides (rat poison) out of reach from your pets.
  • Never use flea and tick products made for dogs on your cat.
  • Keep glue out of reach. Some glues, such as Gorilla Glue®, expand greatly once ingested and require surgical removal. Just one ounce of glue may expand to the size of a basketball.
  • Read all labels and instructions before using or applying.

If you think that your pet may have ingested any of these poisons or any other questionable substances, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) -764-7661 (incident fee applies) immediately. It will be very helpful if you can identify the substance and bring the package, label, or picture of it with you.

Related article: Heatstroke in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, Treatments
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