Poisons and Pets, a Deadly Mix

By December 19, 2022 January 19th, 2023 Health

Anywhere between 10 and 20 times per week, Geary Veterinary Hospital gets calls from pet owners who are concerned about something their dog or cat may have eaten: plants, trash, medicine, socks, you name it. Once, a client’s dog came in with her stomach and intestines full of several feet of stringy carpeting she’d unraveled from the woven material. We did our best, but eventually, the dog needed emergency surgery. We’re glad to report that she survived. More recently, Garson the 18 lb. mini Aussie (pictured to the right) ate an entire footlong Subway sandwich after jumping on the counter to steal it!

Have you pet-proofed your home, garage, and yard? Pet-proofing is a lot like childproofing, with a special focus on items having a scent that will likely attract a dog or cat. Even if you crate your dog when you aren’t home, it’s important to make sure your surroundings are as animal safe as possible. You can’t watch your pets every single minute—and they can be sneaky. Make sure your dog or cat has plenty of pet-safe toys that will provide necessary enrichment each day.

We recommend swapping out your kitchen garbage can and the other trash bins in your home with ones that have tight lids that rise when you put your foot on a lever. Then your pets can’t root through the garbage so easily. Next, purchase hampers with lids—now your dog can’t eat dirty socks for breakfast! Look around your home at a dog’s-eye or cat’s-eye level . . . what do you see? Easy-access plants to nibble on? Bars of soap left on the side of the tub? Plug-in air fresheners within chewing reach? How about packs of gum, cigarette butts, or crayons sitting out on tables? Or maybe dentures, mouthguards, retainers, or Invisalign braces? Easy pickings for pets! Make sure your family cleans up messes and clutter throughout the day so curious animals don’t get a taste of something they shouldn’t.

Image and information courtesy of Nationwide® in coordination with Pet Poison Hotline, an animal poison control center based of out Minneapolis, MN.

Harmful if ingested by dogs and/or cats:



BonesChicken bones, for example, can get caught in the throat or stomach.

Caffeinated products

Chocolate An ingredient in chocolate called theobromine can cause dogs to have tremors, fast or irregular heartbeat, seizures, internal bleeding, or a heart attack. Some forms of chocolate are more toxic to dogs; for example, dark chocolate and baking chocolate are the most dangerous.

Coffee grounds Pets may get into the trash or raid the yard, where gardeners sprinkle coffee grounds under flowers.

Fatty or fried foods

Grapes, raisins

Macadamia nuts


Onions, chives, garlic



Tobacco products



Xlitol-containing products This artificial sweetener is often found in sugar-free candy or gum. There is also a risk that Xylitol may be in your peanut butter brand—read labels!

Yeast dough

Household hazards


Household products such as Polyurethane adhesives are dangerous if ingested by pets. For example, several brands of expanding wood glues containing Diphenylmethane Diisocyanate (often abbreviated as MDI) may lead to obstructive gastrointestinal masses if ingested by your pet. Once ingested, the adhesive may form an expanding ball of glue inside your pet’s esophagus or stomach, creating a mass that expands well past the glue’s original volume—an effect that can happen within minutes.


It’s best if your pets aren’t allowed to go in the garage or roam the driveway or yard unattended. There are just so many hazards within easy reach. Here are a few to pay special attention to:

AntifreezeThe sweet taste attracts pets. They may lick it out of the container or off the garage floor, where it has dripped.

De-icing saltsPets may walk right through them, and then lick the salt from their paw pads.




You’ve probably heard of kids getting into Tide PODS (laundry detergents), because they look like tasty treats. Well, nearly any cleaning product can have that appeal for curious pets. Animals are attracted to the scents (leading to tasting) or may simply watch you while you clean, and then walk right through the area you’ve covered in cleanser. Of course, then they lick their paws, putting the animal at risk.

Many cleaning products on the market now use natural ingredients that are less likely to harm pets and people. You also can make your own cleaning solutions at home, using vinegar or lemons. But let’s face it, sometimes you just need a cleanser containing bleach or other strong disinfectants to kill germs. The instructions on the label will usually say “keep pets and children away from area until dry,” which, if followed, helps minimize possible health risks.

Our best advice is to use caution with bleach-containing products, whether cleansers or detergents. Store these items securely, where pets can’t reach. Put your animals in a crate or different room as you clean, so you don’t expose them to the fumes or risk skin contact. Bleach can cause respiratory problems if inhaled in a high enough concentration. If ingested, bleach may lead to an upset stomach, drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea. Skin contact with concentrated solutions can produce chemical burns. Keep cleaning products in their original packaging so you know exactly what’s in the ingredient list, in case of accidental exposure.


We probably don’t have to tell you that pets like cords. Ferrets, rodents, and rabbits love chewing on nearly anything, and electrical cords are particularly tempting. Cats are attracted to wires, cords, and ear buds. Puppies are notorious chewers, but many adult dogs gnaw on electrical cords when bored. You can prevent these problems by using cord covers and making sure your pets do not have access to wires.


If you must use such products in your home or garage, be sure to follow the instructions on the products’ labels. Pesticides like these can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed by your pets. Even if you’re using pet-approved products such as flea and tick removers, double check the labels so you understand their proper use. Note: if an anti-flea/tick product says “for use on dogs only,” never use it on a cat or another type of animal, as serious problems can occur. If you have any questions about the safe use of such products, call us at Geary Veterinary Hospital and we’ll be glad to answer questions.

Rat or mouse poisons are particularly dangerous for your pets, so be sure to only use in areas that your cat or dog cannot access. Similarly, baited rodent traps should only be placed in locations that are inaccessible to pets.


Store all human (and pet) medications out of reach of animals. It’s best to dispose of medications properly—don’t just put them in the trash where a pet can find them, and don’t flush unwanted meds down the toilet (which pollutes the water system). Many pharmacies have used-medication drop-off areas for disposal.

Your pet may be harmed if the following medications are ingested:



Cold medicines

Diet pills

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugssuch as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen

Prescription drugs



Mothballs that contain the ingredient naphthalene can cause serious illness in pets. If a pet inhales the scent of mothballs, this may lead to damage to the respiratory tract. Ingestion of mothballs could cause liver, kidney, and blood cell damage; digestive tract irritation; swelling of brain tissues; seizures or coma; and even death. Just one mothball has the potential to make your cat or dog sick.

Many people avoid using mothballs altogether because of the risks above, and because of the strong smell. A safer alternative is a hanging block/ball of cedar that you can place in closets and cabinets, out of pets’ reach of course! Garment bags are also helpful for deterring moths. We recommend that you keep your pets’ cages and crates very clean because moths are attracted to kennels and bedding, and may lay their eggs there.


Be cautious when using paint, paint thinners, mineral spirits, and other solvents around animals. In fact, it’s best just to keep your pets away from these products altogether. Chemicals like these are dangerous; they may cause severe irritation or chemical burns if swallowed, or if they come in contact with your pet’s skin. Even artist paints can be risky when used around animals. Some specialty paints contain heavy metals or volatile substances, and your pet’s respiratory or digestive system could be harmed.

Latex paints are less dangerous but still may cause stomach upset if ingested. Contact us if your dog or cat has been exposed to latex paint.


Want to know one of the main culprits when it comes to the accidental poisoning of pets? Plants! Toxic plants may be found indoors or outdoors, so we’ve included a list of popular ones (below) that often cause problems for dogs and/or cats. Many of our cat-owning clients have learned to simply avoid buying or picking bouquets of flowers to display at home, no matter how beautiful the flowers may be. Unless you’re a botanist, it’s hard to identify each flower in a mixed bouquet so how would you know what’s potentially toxic? And cats are climbers—they can reach a vase of flowers almost anywhere and may decide to turn the blooms into a midnight snack.

ALOE VERA PLANTScan cause vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea.

AZALEAS, RHODODENDRONS, and TULIP/NARCISSUS BULBS may cause intestinal upset, weakness, heart problems, coma, and possibly death.

CASTOR BEANcan cause severe intestinal problems, seizures, coma, and death.

FUNGI (such as certain varieties of mushrooms) – may cause liver damage or other illnesses.

In California, beware of the TOXIC DEATH CAP MUSHROOM, or Amanita phalloides.

LILIES (Lilium and Hemerocallis species) – are highly toxic to cats, often resulting in kidney failure, even if small amounts are ingested.

LILY OF THE VALLEY, OLEANDER, YEW, FOXGLOVE, and KALANCHOE – may cause heart problems or death if ingested.

MISTLETOE – has toxic berries. Hang it well out of reach of your furry friends.


POINSETTIAS –  may cause stomach upset, too. If you use poinsettias for decoration during the holiday season, be sure the plants are out of the reach of pets. Throw away fallen blooms and leaves from the floor.

RHUBARB LEAVES and SHAMROCK – contain substances that can produce kidney failure.

SAGO PALMS (Cycas species) – can cause severe intestinal problems, seizures, and liver damage, especially if the plant’s nut portion is ingested.

For a comprehensive list of potentially harmful plants, please visit:

Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List – Dogs

Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List – Cats


The images below contain further reading on how to keep our pets safe!* Having trouble reading the text? Click each image to view and download a .pdf version!

*Images and information courtesy of Nationwide® in coordination with Pet Poison Hotline, an animal poison control center based of out Minneapolis, MN.




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