Poison Prevention for Pets | Arbutus West Animal Clinic

Poison Prevention for Pets

By Uri Burstyn, on Friday, May 2nd, 2014

With the summer just around the corner, dogs and cats will be spending more time outside, flowers will soon be blooming, and people will be working in their gardens (hopefully with a furry friend “helping”). This is a great time of year, but it is also a time when the risk of poisoning (or toxicity, if we are to use medical language) is at its highest.

High-quality general information on toxicities in pets can be found at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control Website.

The following is a brief overview of a few of the more common toxic agents you can find in and around your home:

In the Garden

Poison Prevention for Pets: In The Garden | Arbutus West Animal Clinic

1. Snail Bait
Methylcarbamol, often used to protect a garden against snails, is a potent neurotoxin. Dogs will often eat it while sniffing around the garden, and it can cause severe symptoms, including fever, shaking, coma and death. When I was an emergency vet we used to see quite a bit of the “shake and bake” syndrome. It’s a shame, because simple precautions, such as putting snail bait in containers with a small hole that only the snails can access, can easily prevent this toxicity.

2. Rat poison
This is another very common reason for a visit to the vet. Two types of rat poison are commonly used: anticoagulants that cause prolonged bleeding and vitamin D analogues. In either case, eating even a small amount can kill a large dog but they can be saved with prompt decontamination and medical supportive care. Signs of toxicity can take 1-2 days to develop, so if your pet has eaten rat poison, don’t wait to see if everything will be ok! Remember, the best way to prevent toxicity is to decontaminate right away, before the toxin has been absorbed into the body. It is a much cheaper, easier and more successful strategy than dealing with the effects of the poison once it has all been absorbed.

Cats can get poisoned by eating rodents who have eaten the rat bait. If you are planning to use rat poison, please communicate with your neighbors and try to keep any hunting cats out of the area until a few weeks after the poison has been removed. Common symptoms in cats are lethargy, bruising of the gums and exposed skin (ears, underarms, belly), anorexia, or collapse.

Around the House

It has always surprised me how often dogs get into the medicine cabinet. Whether its prescription medication of over the counter pain-killers, once it hits the floor, dogs can’t resist. If only it was this easy to get doggy medication into them!

Poison Prevention for Pets: Around the House | Arbutus West Animal Clinic

3. Chocolate
Oh chocolate! It is delicious, and very bad for dogs. One of the most common toxicities seen by vets, the darker the chocolate, the worse it is, and the smaller the dog, the less is needed to cause symptoms, which can include heart arrhythmias and seizures. White chocolate is non-toxic (although it has a lot of fat, which can make a dog sick and trigger pancreatitis), while baking chocolate is the most dangerous, with only a small amount being enough to make a large dog dangerously ill.

4. Antidepressants
Even a small dose for a human can be a large overdose when it comes to the commonly used human antidepressant. Dogs will often present hyperactive, breathing fast, with brick-red gums and pounding pulses. Sometimes they can even have seizures. The most common cause is when the owner spills medication and doesn’t pick-up all the pills. A lot of the time these dogs need just a little bit of sedation and a dark kennel to wait for the drug to clear the system, but the overall effect can be quite alarming!

5. Pain-Killers
Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol. These are probably the most common causes of poisoning seen by veterinarians. Sadly, this often happens because well-meaning owners try to treat their pet without speaking to a veterinarian first. Dogs and cats lack blood and liver enzymes that humans have for metabolizing these drugs.

Ibuprofen and Aspirin can cause kidney failure, bleeding disorders, or stomach cloughing (think stomach ulcer, only covering the whole surface of the stomach). Tylenol can liver failure in dogs and methemoglobinemia in cats: their blood stops being able to carry oxygen, not a particularly desirable scenario.


Toxic Plants

It’s important not to rely on putting a toxic plant in a difficult to reach location to keep your pets safe. Accidents happen, vases can be knocked over, and do you really think there is anywhere in the house your cat can’t get to while you’re out? The only safe place for a toxic plant is outside your house.

Poison Prevention for Pets: Toxic Plants | Arbutus West Animal Clinic

6. Lilies
In my opinion this is the most important toxic houseplant for cats. Lily pollen cause irreversible kidney damage in cats, and even a small amount can be deadly. Cats have been known to go into kidney failure after just brushing-up against a lily and then licking the pollen off their fur! All Lily varieties are dangerous.

7. Easter Lilies
The common white lilies often seen in bouquets, Asian lilies and tiger lilies are the species most often implicated, but all lilies are considered potentially toxic. I would not tolerate ANY Lily species in the household with cats . It is important to check bouquets and gift baskets for these flowers as they are a popular item with many florists. Lilies are non-toxic to dogs.

8. Azaleas
This is a common member of the Rhododendron family. It can cause gastrointestinal and neurologic signs in cats as well as dogs.

9. Poinsettia
These common plants frequently cause vomiting and oral irritation in cats and dogs. While the symptoms are usually mild, it doesn’t take much to make a pet sick. A common, but luckily, not a very severe toxin.

10. Palms (Family cycadaceae)
A number of decorative palm species can cause gastrointestinal irritation in dogs when eaten. Some can also cause liver failure.

11. Bamboo
Decorative bamboo species (heavenly bamboo, sacred bamboo) can cause neurotoxicity when eaten by cats or dogs. Regular bamboo is considered non-toxic.

There are hundreds more toxic plants out there, and its always a good idea to check before bringing a new plant into the house. While many “toxic” plants cause little more than an upset stomach or some foaming at the mouth, it is always best to check with your vet if your pet has been gnawing on a suspicious plant. Often a timely decontamination can make the difference between a quick visit to the vet, and a prolonged illness!

Just to leave on a positive note, not all plants are bad! Decorative cabbage sounds like an oxymoron, but can be quite pretty, and is safe for pets to chew on, and wheat grass is a great treat for indoor cats, and should be offered regularly to provide them with some variety. Don’t worry about the grass making your pet vomit – it won’t, unless they need to vomit anyway. Just put it in a location where having it knocked over and dragged won’t do any harm!


Sharing “just a bite” of food off your plate with your pet is harmless, right? WRONG! Many human foods can be dangerous, and even deadly, to dogs and cats.  These are some of the most toxic table scraps to feed your pets.

Poison Prevention for Pets: Food | Arbutus West Animal Clinic

12. Grapes
I know few dog owners who don’t enjoy making their dog chase grapes around the floor, but unfortunately we now know that grapes can cause kidney failure in dogs. Luckily small amounts are harmless, but we don’t know what the minimal toxic dose is, so better to avoid them altogether. Raisins are dry grapes, and are much more toxic to dogs, they should never be given raisins!

13. Onions and Garlic
This whole family of plants can cause anaemia and hemolysis (rupture of blood cells) in cats and dogs. No part of these plants should ever be fed to a pet.

If you suspect your pet may have fallen ill from ingesting a toxic substance it is best to call your local vet or the ASPCA 24-hour emergency poison hot line directly at 1-888-426-4435.

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