Pet poisons: Common household items can spell big trouble for your furry friends

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Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

For some reason, I have seen a lot of toxicity cases lately. Most of these cases have happy endings because owners are aware and call early. With cases of pets eating things they shouldn’t, time is key. For this reason, I’m going to go over some of the things animals shouldn’t ever have access to.


Both of these are referred to as methylxanthine derivatives, but all you need to remember is that they are both bad. There are many types of chocolate these days, and the higher the cocoa percentage the worse they are. The better the chocolate is in quality, the more of it is cocoa and less wax, so the worse it is for pets.

Unsweetened baking chocolate has the highest toxic potential, followed by the range of semi-sweet and lastly milk chocolate. The toxicity of chocolate is dose-dependant, which means that it makes a difference depending on the size of the pet, type of chocolate and amount eaten. A Labrador that sneaks a fun-size chocolate bar (hard to imagine, I know!) will probably have no effects, while a pug eating a king-size bar may have fatal effects.

The first thing your veterinarian will do is determine how harmful the dose is. There is a wide spectrum of things that we do afterwards depending on what we find. Dogs can suffer effects that range from vomiting and diarrhea, to seizures, to kidney failure and death. Early and appropriate treatment is usually all these pets need, luckily.

Caffeine is less commonly ingested, but has most of the same effects. We definitely see dogs that eat bags of coffee beans, eat coffee grounds or get into caffeine pills. The most delicious and quite dangerous chocolate-covered coffee beans should be kept well out of range.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, especially xylitol, are extremely toxic to dogs. These usually find their way to our pets by way of gum, candy or snacks. Their bodies do not recognize the difference, and so when it is ingested, they output a large amount of insulin to deal with the “sugar” surge. Since there isn’t actually any sugar, the extreme amount of blood glucose instead drives blood sugars dangerously low. Pets then have resulting hypoglycemia, which can lead to coma and death.

Xylitol also causes extreme liver damage. This damage is not always apparent immediately, so the real danger comes in finding it too late. Because some artificial sweeteners are absorbed quickly (like in baked goods) and others are absorbed slowly (gums), you may see signs after a few hours or not until the next day.

Artificial sweeteners are becoming more commonly added to foods we might not expect, as well. Things like yogurt and peanut butter.


Often I encourage feeding of fruits and vegetables to pets, but here lies a BIG exception. Dogs should never get grapes or raisins in any form. Grapes and raisins cause very serious kidney failure in many dogs. Cats are not affected in this way.

The hardest part about this toxicity is that one dog may be able to eat a bushel of grapes with no ill effects, while another dog may have kidney failure from just a couple. If you have fed your dogs grapes before with no problem, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be a problem in the future. Unfortunately, the signs of grape toxicity are not always apparent, and often aren’t found until irreversible kidney damage is done. Early intervention is important, so if you know your dog has gotten into any, call your veterinarian immediately. Waiting for signs to appear will usually lead to death.


Onions and garlic ingested in large amount cause a type of anemia. Though they must eat quite a bit to see any effects, we often don’t think about these as toxins, so tend to feed more of them. It is rare to have toxicity from these, but things like garlic fed as (not effective, for the record) flea control can get into dangerous levels.

Rodent poison

This stuff kills pets the same way it does rodents. It causes their blood not to clot and it begins leaking out of their vessels. Finally their chest fills with blood and they aren’t able to breathe. It is also specially designed to taste good for furry invaders, so it tastes just as good to our dogs and cats. Even if you hide these in “pet-proof” containers or behind walls, they are easily and often moved by rodents into spaces your dog can access. If you have pets, the best bet is to never use this poison.

All medications

You should never give your pet any medication without speaking to your veterinarian. Many common human medications are toxic to our pets, like Advil and Tylenol. Some dog medicines are toxic to cats, and vice versa. Even a medication that is FOR pets can be toxic if the dose is changed. As with humans, mixing two safe medications may lead to unsafe interactions. Only use medications as prescribed and directed by your veterinarian. You may have some sitting around from a previous problem for the same dog, but if things have changed with their health or medications the same dose may be dangerous. It is always better to call and check with your veterinarian before giving medicine of any kind.

People often think that because something is over the counter for humans that it is safe for dogs, which is not the case. Even medications that both humans and dogs can take have drastically different doses.

Better safe

Print a list of toxins to have on hand so all family members can see it easily. Have safe spaces high in the cupboard to keep delicious dangers and make sure your medicine cabinet is secure. While cats are less likely to eat things they shouldn’t, they love knocking things down within reach of dogs. This is a list of the most common problems, but not all of the toxic things that may be in your house.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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