seven household toxins that can harm your pet

15th October 2014

We all love our pets and we want them to be safe, healthy and happy, right? They’re a part of our family, after all.  Well, there are several surprisingly dangerous items in and around your home right now that could be harmful to your pet.  I caught up with Dr. Brent Rains from Westlake Animal Hospital to find out more about the hidden dangers that every pet owner should know about. 

Make your home safe for you pet by keeping toxins out of reach.

Make your home safe for your pet by keeping toxins out of reach.

You’ve all heard this one before. What you may not know is that where toxicity is concerned, all chocolate is not created equal.  So, what’s a panicked dog owner to do when you find a missing Hershey bar or the brownie pan you left on the counter has been licked clean while you were sleeping?  That depends on two major factors: the size of your dog and the concentration of cocoa in the chocolate. 

The four types of chocolate from lightest to darkest. Darker chocolate is more harmful to dogs.

The four types of chocolate from lightest to darkest. Bakers chocolate is the most harmful to dogs.

Food products with high concentrations of cocoa such as bakers chocolate are significantly more dangerous than those with a lower concentration, like milk chocolate.  Likewise, it will take a larger volume of chocolate to have an effect on a medium or large dog than on small breeds.  Larger breeds may simply develop gastrointestinal symptoms (followed by remorse) and recover on their own, while toy and small breeds like chihuahuas might have more severe reactions.  In any case, here’s what to look for and what to do.

Signs and symptoms of chocolate toxicity in dogs: 

  • vomiting
  • hyperactivity (cocoa is a stimulant)
  • panting
  • tremors

If your dog has ingested any chocolate and you begin to see any of the above symptoms, immediately call your veterinarian and take your dog in for evaluation.  The most likely scenario in these cases is that your doctor will induce vomiting to get the chocolate out of your dog’s stomach. If the dog’s symptoms are severe, hospitalization and further supportive care may be required.  This situation is rarely fatal if treated, so make sure you act fast to help ensure your dog makes a full recovery. 

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in many prepared foods labeled “sugar-free” such as chewing gum, cookies, candy and even nasal spray. Dentists recommend it because it helps cut down on bacteria in the mouth and does not harm teeth like regular sugar.  Xylitol has many health benefits for humans, but has been shown to be very dangerous for dogs.  It causes drastic drops in blood glucose and liver damage. 

Take extra precautions with all foods containing Xylitol.

Take extra precautions with all foods containing Xylitol.

Symptoms to look for:

  • lethargy
  • vomiting

If your dog has ingested Xylitol, he will likely require hospitalization and detoxification therapy as prescribed by your doctor.  This is not something you can wait on, so call right away if you think your dog has gotten into any product containing Xylitol.

Other foods that are toxic to dogs include grapes, raisins, onions and garlic, so keep those our of your pet’s reach at all times. 

What you should know: All parts of the plant are toxic and can cause liver damage.


  • vomiting
  • lethargy

Call your vet right away if your dog displays any of these symptoms and has chewed on or eaten any part of a sago palm.  These plants are very common in the Austin area, so learn to recognize them and keep your dog from investigating them too closely. 

A lovely perennial flower that may help brighten up your home, but don’t let your cat munch on them.  Lilies are highly toxic to cats and cause kidney damage.


  • vomiting
  • lethargy

For both sago palm and lily ingestion in either dogs or cats, hospitalization and detox therapy may be required.

Toxic Plants

If you have kids, you are probably pretty careful about where you store your prescription medication, but over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can be just as dangerous to your pets.  Cats are especially sensitive to high doses of NSAIDs, which cause liver and kidney toxicity.  Usually, ingestion of these requires hospitalization for both dogs and cats. If you’re not sure about a specific human drug your pet may have ingested, the best thing to do is to call a pet poison hotline immediately.  Tell them which drug your pet ingested and how much.  They frequently have more detailed information pertaining to each specific medication and can guide you in communicating the problem to your veterinarian. 

As a side note, I should mention that pets medication should also be stored in a safe place. Even drugs that were prescribed to your pet can be harmful if an incorrect dose is ingested. 

This seems like a no-brainer, but there is something important you may not think of if your dog or cat comes in contact with rat poison.  ALWAYS bring the package of rat poison to your veterinarian.  There are three very different types of rat poison and all three affect entirely different organ systems and functions.  They will either attack the body’s blood clotting mechanism, neurological function, or kidney function.  Your doctor may not know how to best treat your pet if he or she does not know which of the three types of poisons is involved. 


  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • lethargy
  • bleeding

Did you know antifreeze is sweet tasting?  Well, dogs love sweets, so be sure keep this product in a sealed container and out of reach.  Consuming antifreeze causes kidney damage and also requires hospitalization. 

It’s a lot of information, but if you only remember one thing, it’s this website and phone number: ASPCA ANIMAL POISON CONTROL (OPEN 24/7) 888-426-4435

Always keep this number where you can find it.

Always keep this number where you can find it.

Of course, you should always be in touch with your veterinarian if your dog becomes sick or has ingested anything that might be toxic.  If you live in Austin and this happens after hours, there are several emergency hospitals available.  Here are the three I can personally recommend: 

South Austin: 512-899-0955 (Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital)
Round Rock: 512-961-5200 (Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital)
Central/East: 512-331-6121 (Austin Vet Hospital)

I hope your pet never gets into anything toxic, but if this does happen, be sure to call poison control as well as your veterinarian and be prepared to provide as much information as possible to give your furry friend the best chance for a full and speedy recovery. 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *