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Common Poisons

There are many dangers in and around the home that can spell disaster for your dog. Due to canine curiosity and their tendency to explore the world using their mouth they can ingest common household items that are potentially toxic. Toxicoses account for approximately 15 to 20 percent of animal emergencies at emergency facilities. This article summarizes the common items that are most frequently responsible for a trip to the emergency room due to accidental ingestion.

Before talking about specific substances that can poison your pet, it should be pointed out that the best treatment for accidental ingestion of toxic substances is prevention. While accidents happen, all pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, insecticides, fertilizers, chemicals and rodenticides should be safely stored in a secure place that is inaccessible to your pet. Be prepared for a toxic emergency and put together a first aid kit for your pet to be utilized in an emergency prior to bringing your pet to the veterinarian for more definitive care. Be sure to include a bottle of fresh sealed hydrogen peroxide with a bulb syringe to induce vomiting when necessary, saline eye solution in case you need to flush the eyes and shampoo to bathe your dog in the event of skin contamination. Lastly, always keep the number of your regular veterinarian, emergency clinic and poison control handy. The number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is (888) 426-4435.


Last year, the ASPCA received approximately 8,000 calls about pets that had accidentally ingested rat and mouse poisons. Many types of bait used to attract rodents contain inactive ingredients that are attractive to pets as well. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestions can lead to potentially life-threatening problems for pets, including bleeding, seizures and kidney damage. Keep the package the bait came in and bring it with you to the vet.  By far the most common type is the anticoagulant based rodenticide. The active ingredients for these are typically warfarin based anticoagulants such as brodifacoum, bromodialone and diphacinone. These baits work by blocking vitamin K dependant clotting factors causing massive internal bleeding and death for any rodent that ingests it and the same mechanism applies to dogs as well. Because dogs tend to be bigger than rodents it takes longer for the bleeding to occur, typically within 3-5 days. Clinical signs usually include lethargy, respiratory difficulty, pale gums and general weakness. If the ingestion was recent, induce vomiting and seek immediate veterinary attention. In most cases the veterinarian will induce vomiting, administer oral activated charcoal, and utilize injectable and oral Vitamin K. In serious cases, hospitalization and blood transfusions are necessary. Oral vitamin K is prescribed for at least for 2-3 weeks and your dog’s clotting times should be monitored throughout this time period as the Vitamin K dependent factors can be inhibited for quite some period of time depending upon the poison ingested. For the next couple weeks you will need to watch for lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite and pale gums. If you notice any of these symptoms seek additional veterinary care immediately.

There are two other kinds of rodenticides that are less common. Baits containing cholecalciferol increases the dog’s calcium and phosphorous causing the soft tissue to mineralize. The kidneys are most affected and acute kidney failure is common. Hospitalization with fluid support and medication to lower the serum calcium and phosphorous is usually needed. Bromethalin based rodenticides working by acting on the brain. It makes the brain swell, triggering tremors, seizures and eventually death. There is no specific antidote and only supportive care can be given. Of the three, this is the hardest one to treat and is usually fatal. If you have a rodent problem and feel the only solution is to lay out baits use only anticoagulant based rodenticides since they are the least toxic of the three types and the easiest to treat. Place the baits in a location where your dog cannot reach them and once a day check to see if the baits are still there. Dispose of the baits properly when your rodent problem is gone. If you find a bait missing or has been tampered with and believe your dog ingested some seek veterinary attention immediately.

Snail & Slug Bait or Snail Poison

These poisons are extremely dangerous and toxic to dogs and cats. Many pets get stricken easily as they commonly lick the grass or soil or planting beds through their curious nature. Snail poison is made with arsenic and metaldehyde, also found in ant poison, insecticides, and weed killers. Signs and symptoms include drooling and thirst, diarrhea, vomiting, confusion and twitching or seizures. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned by snail bait, take him or her to the veterinarian immediately, as death may occur very quickly. Your veterinarian will induce vomiting, administer activated charcoal and hospitalize your pet. Many if not all pets require intravenous fluid support, and the administration of sedatives and muscle relaxants. In severe cases, your pet may require to be anesthetized to control the twitching and seizure like activity induced by these poisons and receive additional supportive care until the body has metabolized and eliminated the toxin from their system.


In our effort to battle home invasions of unwelcome pests, we often unwittingly put our pets at risk. In 2010, toxicologists fielded more than 31,000 calls related to insecticides. One of the most common incidents involved the misuse of flea and tick products—such as applying the wrong topical treatment to the wrong species. Thus, it’s always important to talk to your pet’s veterinarian before beginning any flea and tick control program. The most common insecticide that dogs tend to eat is the ant or roach baits. They contain an attractant such as peanut butter or bread which most dogs find appealing. Luckily the insecticides used in the baits today are typically non-toxic in mammals or the dose contained in the baits is so low that serious toxicosis is unlikely. In fact, there is more concern that the container of the bait can end up as a gastric foreign body. For this reason follow the same guidelines for placement as the rodenticides baits. Keep the packaging and contact poison control if you believe your dog ingested an ant or roach bait. If you use insecticides be sure to keep your dog away from the area where it was used.

Human pharmaceuticals

For several years, human medications have been number one on the ASPCA’s list of common hazards. Last year, the ASPCA managed more than 50,000 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements. Pets often snatch pill vials from counters and nightstands or gobble up medications accidentally dropped on the floor, so it’s essential to keep meds tucked away in hard-to-reach cabinets. Never give your dog over the counter medication without first discussing it with your veterinarian. Keep your prescription pills out of reach. The bottles may be child proof but they certainly aren’t dog proof. Don’t leave pills lying around on nightstands or on top of counters for example. If possible take pills in the bathroom with the door closed so that if you accidentally drop a pill your dog cannot run in and gobble it up. If your dog does get into your pills contact poison control with the drug name and approximate number of tablets he ate in order to determine what treatment your dog may need. 

Veterinary pharmaceuticals

Even though veterinary medications are intended for pets, they’re often misapplied or improperly dispensed by well-meaning pet parents. In 2010, the ASPCA managed nearly 8,000 cases involving animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventatives, de-wormers, antibiotics, vaccines and nutritional supplements. Some pills that veterinarians prescribe for dogs are flavored to make them more palatable and apparently some taste so good that dogs think they are treats. It is important to keep all medication for your dog away in a safe place. If your dog needs medications be sure you understand the dosing schedule and ask any questions you might have about the medication before you leave the veterinarian’s office. Never apply flea and tick products meant for your dog on any feline companions you may have.


Common houseplants were the subject of nearly 8,000 calls to the Animal Poison Control Center in 2010. Varieties such as Narcissus and hyacinth bulbs, oleander, rhododendrons, cyclamen, amaryllis, yew, chrysanthemum, azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, lilies, kalanchoe and schefflera are often found in homes and can be harmful to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, and can cause life-threatening kidney failure even in small amounts. Know the species you have in your garden and do some research to find out which are toxic and which are safe and try to only plant non-toxic varieties of plants. If you’re not sure whether your plants are safe, keep your dog out of the garden and watch him around houseplants.


Another reason to keep your dog out of the garden is fertilizer which often smells like food to dogs. Fertilizer may keep your grass green, but certain types of fertilizer can cause problems for outdoor cats and dogs. Last year, the ASPCA fielded more than 2,000 calls related to fertilizer exposure.  There is a wide variety of fertilizers, but they typically contain varying amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous with insecticides and herbicides as common additives. Restrict access to newly-fertilized gardens and garden sheds or garages where fertilizer is kept and keep the packaging as a reference just in case. Or use an organic, pet-friendly alternative.

Cleaning products

Everybody knows that household cleaning supplies can be toxic to adults and children, but few take precautions to protect their pets from common agents such as bleaches, detergents and disinfectants. Many of these products are just as toxic for our dogs as they are to us. Last year, the ASPCA received more than 3,200 calls related to household cleaners. These products, when inhaled or consumed, can cause serious gastrointestinal distress and irritation to the respiratory tract. Store all cleaning products away when not in use and consider using natural, organic cleaning solutions instead. If your dog has ingested a bleach-containing product or a drain cleaner, do NOT induce vomiting. As always contact poison control with the product name and the approximate amount ingested and seek emergency veterinary care.

Heavy metals

Heavy metals such as lead, zinc and mercury accounted for more than 3,000 cases of pet poisonings in 2010. Lead is especially pernicious, and pets are exposed to it through many sources, including consumer products, paint chips, linoleum, and lead dust produced when surfaces in older homes are scraped or sanded. Thankfully, lead toxicosis is becoming less common due to industry safety guidelines. It is no longer a common component of paint but keep in mind that when renovating older homes that lead may be present in paint chips and dust and your dog should be kept away during periods of renovation.  The most common cause of zinc toxicosis is ingestion of pennies. Pennies minted since 1983 are primarily zinc and some dogs love to ingest coins. Clinical signs are gastrointestinal upset and anemia from red blood cell destruction. Surgery is usually necessary to remove the pennies to prevent further absorption of zinc. The best treatment is prevention so keep your pocket change in a jar out of your dog’s reach.
Chemical Hazards

In 2010, the Animal Poison Control Center handled approximately 5,500 cases of pet exposure to chemical hazards. A category on the rise, chemical hazards—found in ethylene glycol antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners and pool/spa chemicals—form a substantial danger to pets. Substances in this group can cause gastrointestinal upset, depression, respiratory difficulties and chemical burns. The most common toxicity in this group is antifreeze poisoning. Antifreeze is very sweet and attractive to dogs. Pets will appear drunk after ingesting even small amounts. While they may appear fine for up to a few hours after ingestion, they will inevitably go into acute kidney failure. The toxic component is ethylene glycol. There is an antidote but it must be given shortly after ingestion so if you suspect ingestion seek veterinary attention immediately. Your veterinarian will induce vomiting, administer activated charcoal, and hospitalize your pet on intravenous fluids. Despite appropriate treatment, some pets will suffer from some degree of permanent kidney damage if a significant amount of ethylene glycol was consumed or if treatment was not immediately initiated after consumption. Much less toxic is propylene glycol based antifreeze, so whenever possible purchase propylene glycol based antifreeze. If you do use ethylene glycol based antifreeze be sure to prevent access and be sure to dispose of it properly as it is toxic to wildlife as well.  If a product is labeled ‘toxic’ then assume it’s toxic to animals as well and store chemicals out of reach. De-icing salts used to melt snow and ice are paw irritants that can be poisonous if licked off. Paws should be washed and dried as soon as the animal comes in from the snow.

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