While many of us use seemingly harmless ingredients and items to clean, cook and decorate our homes, there are several which can be quite harmful and even deadly to our pets. It’s important to know which every day, household items can put our furry friends at risk. It’s not only chemicals or cleaners but many foods and plants can be toxic as well. The following includes, but is by no means limited to some of the most common toxicities we see in our veterinary profession.


We regularly express and show our love by making and sharing food not only for family but for our animals also. However, you need to know there are certain “treats” which should be avoided as they can cause extreme illness for our animal companions.

  • Alcohol and Bread Dough: alcohol should never be given under any circumstance as it can lead to vomiting/diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, coma and even death. Bread poses 2 threats; one mechanical and one biochemical. Mechanically the yeast in the bread, when consumed stimulates yeast growth because of the warm and moist environment the digestive system provides. This “rising of the dough” can result in expansion and dilation of your pet’s stomach and when severe enough, can result in respiratory/vascular failure or cause a twisting of their stomach. Biochemically, yeast rising causes a release of alcohol and the above symptoms can be triggered.
  • Chocolate/Coffee/Caffeine: these products contain chemicals known as methylxanthines which can affect the central nervous system, kidneys, heart and muscles. Typically, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic. Symptoms of ingestion can range from very mild (upset stomach/vomiting) to very severe (seizures and death).
    Grapes and Raisins: can cause kidney failure.
  • Onions/Chives/Garlic: these tasty seasonings can cause vomiting and diarrhea at the minimum, while the more severe side effects include blood cell damage and anemias.
    Nuts: delicious because of their high fat content but can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis in our pets. Macadamia nuts need to be particularly avoided as they can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors, and fevers.
  • Raw Foods/Bones/Eggs: like the risks humans face when eating raw food, undercooked meats and egg can possibly cause food-borne illnesses. Salmonella and E. coli are common contaminants found in raw foods, which can lead to gastrointestinal upsets. Bones pose a chocking and foreign body hazard especially if they get lodged or puncture the intestines. Raw eggs can block B vitamins from being absorbed and can lead to skin and coat issues.
  • Xylitol: a common sugar-free product used to sweeten many items, most notably gum and candy. Often harmless to humans but in dogs can cause significant illness. Signs can include vomiting, weakness, ataxia, depression, seizures, and coma. Another major concern is that xylitol can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar leading to hypoglycemia. It can also cause liver damage. Always check groceries for this ingredient, especially if your pooch is prone to investigating the cabinets, cupboards and pantries.


Numerous families enjoy adding color, aroma and greenery to their home, however as beautiful as some plants may be, they can pose quite a threat to our pets.

  • Castor Beans: these are highly toxic and the main ingredient, ricin, blocks protein synthesis leading to cell death. First noted symptoms can include loss of appetite, excessive thirst, weakness/lethargy, abdominal pain, trembling/incoordination, difficulty breathing, and fever. As symptoms progress, bloody diarrhea may occur, and convulsions and coma can precede death.
  • Lilies: unique in that cats are affected by the toxic properties. Symptoms start with lethargy, vomiting and anorexia but can rapidly progress to kidney failure. All parts of the plant are toxic.
  • Oleander and Foxglove: drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting/diarrhea of which may be bloody, depression, and possible death. Heart arrhythmias are also a possibility.
  • Poinsettia: most often gastrointestinal upsets are seen but irritations of the mouth and stomach can also occur.
  • Tulips: vomiting/diarrhea, depression and hypersalivation (drooling). Highest concentrations of toxin are found in the bulb.

Human Medications

While several human medications are extrapolated over to veterinary medicine, there are some which when ingested can be deadly, even ones considered over-the-counter. Never give your personal medications without guidance from your veterinarian.

  • Decongestants/Pseudoephedrine: products like Afrin, Clear Eyes (to name a couple) can cause vomiting, panting, depression/weakness/drowsiness, nervousness, hyperactivity/agitation and shaking.
  • Marijuana: ataxia, vomiting, lethargy, and urinary incontinence are most common but occasionally hyperactivity/stimulation can occur. Cardiac and body temperature changes can be seen, as well as tremors.
  • Pain Meds/NSAIDS/Anti-inflammatories: more commonly known as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen, (Tylenol, Advil and Aleve); these are extremely accessible and readily used in households. Ingestion of these products can have serious side effects, however. They can often start with vomiting/diarrhea, lethargy or facial and paw edema but can rapidly progress to more complicated symptoms: stomach and intestinal bleeding, changes in body temperature, kidney failure, liver failure, anemias, seizures and death.

Household Toxins

These everyday items have the potential for very serious side effects.

  • Cigarettes/Nicotine Patches/E-cigarettes: these all have the potential to produce severe vomiting, depression, an elevated heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, seizures, respiratory failure and, in severe cases, even death.
  • Dryer Sheets: on initial ingestion can cause digestive upsets, excessive drooling, mouth and esophageal ulcerations and fevers. If many are ingested, then a risk of foreign body obstruction may be possible.
  • Essential Oils: while toxic to both dogs and cats, cats do seem more sensitive. Symptoms of ingestion and topical application include nausea, depression or lethargy and in severe cases, liver damage. Not all essential oils are created equal and some pose stronger threats than others. Always utilize caution when using them around pets.
  • Rodent Bait: several are available, and each can cause different side effects. The most common rodenticides cause anti-coagulation or inability to clot which lead to internal and external bleeding. However, other side effects include weakness, tremors, seizures, kidney failure, paralysis, brain damage and death. ALWAYS contact poison control or your veterinarian if your pet had consumed rodenticide.

When to Contact a Veterinarian

As mentioned above, the items listed are not exhaustive but are to serve as an informational guide. If you suspect or know your pet has encountered a toxin, contact your veterinarian immediately. They are equipped with information regarding poisons, best treatment protocols and prognoses based on individual cases. Another wonderful and helpful source of the household is the ASPCA. They have an extremely informative and reliable website pertaining to several poisons. They also have a mobile app for pet parents which scales the severity of most toxins found. If you cannot find a specific poison, the ASPCA has a poison control hotline which can be called 24/7/365.

However, even with these many resources available, the best cure is prevention and avoidance. If you know you have a curious critter, please take extra steps to ensure chemicals and medications are stored properly and food cabinets locked. And while we all know accidents happen, if you’re ever unsure (or sure) of a toxin/poison threat, please never hesitate to call you veterinarian for advice. We are always happy to help! Also, any “extras” you can bring us; pictures, labels, time/date any of these incidents, can greatly expedite treatment and recovery.

Sara N. Armon, DVM
Prescott Animal Hospital