Help, My Pet Ate Poison!

Veterinarian examining a cute dogthe veterinarian holds a puppy in his arms, the dog at the vet

Pets are naturally curious, often sniffing and tasting things, which sometimes leads to the “What are you eating?” game. That can be alarming, and for good reason, as there are a number of things around the home that can harm our furry loved ones, from food to medications and other substances.

“Human medication ingestion is by far the most frequent call that we receive in our office,” said Dr. Ashley Hotchkiss DVM, at Pawsitive Care Affordable Pet Clinic in Holly. “This can range from a pet accidentally ingesting their owner’s medication bottle to an owner giving their pet over-the-counter human pain medications. Over-the-counter human pain medications are extremely toxic to our pets because they are unable to fully metabolize the drug, causing a buildup of dangerous byproducts in their body. Always consult with your veterinarian before self-administering a medication to your pet.”

There are also some types of human foods that can adversely affect our pets (see box), and care should be taken to keep them from consuming those foods.

“Ingestions of certain human foods can be quite devastating to our four-legged friends, but it is a factor of the type of food and the quantity ingested. A toxic dose in one pet may not be the same toxic dose in another pet. When in doubt, call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Hotline,” said Hotchkiss. “Don’t forget about the garbage! Leftovers and garbage scraps can be extremely devastating. Raw meats or carcass bones can be commonly found in our holiday garbage and can lead to food poisoning or intestinal obstructions.”

Pet owners should also be aware of non-food items that could cause problems for animals. Certain houseplants can be an issue, so if you’re looking to bring in some greenery, do your research to determine if it is safe for the type of pet you have.

Essential oils are becoming increasingly common in homes, as people are using and diffusing them for various reasons. Again, pet owners should be careful about exposing their pets to these highly-concentrated oils, as well as the equipment used with them.

“It’s a factor of dose, duration, and exposure,” said Hotchkiss. “Our pets have very potent noses which can become easily irritated when exposed to potent fragrances or chemicals. It is also important to mention that pets can get severe skin burns from oil diffusers, wax melters or potpourri warmers.”

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to something toxic, you should call an animal-specific poison helpline or your vet immediately to determine how to proceed.

Be aware that there may be a fee associated with the helpline you choose. The Pet Poison Helpline has a website which lists many common toxic items, and the general severity of its toxicity at

Hotchkiss warns not to assume your pet is ok if they are asymptomatic, because depending on the toxicity, some symptoms may be delayed.

“Trained veterinary staff will be able to determine the severity of the ingestion and direct the owner to the next step. Some ingestions can be monitored closely at home while others require urgent attention in an ER clinic,” said Hotchkiss. “Fast thinking can be most beneficial because some toxic ingestions can be lessened if emesis (vomiting) is induced. Inducing emesis is time sensitive, if the toxin has time to travel from the stomach into the intestines then emesis is no longer an option.”

Hotchkiss recommends pet owners keep a pet first aid kit on hand, including the veterinarian’s phone number, number to the nearest animal ER clinic and the Pet Poison Helpline number, which is 855-764-7661. Other items include a bottle of Benadryl, which can be administered to pets that are suffering from anaphylaxis due to a bee sting, vaccine reaction or other reason, and hydrogen peroxide, which can be used under the direction of a vet to induce vomiting in a pet. 

People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets

• Onions and garlic, which have been known to potentially cause anemia in pets. Powdered versions of these spices are most potent.

• Grapes and raisins, which have been known to cause acute kidney failure.

• Sugar-free products such as gum, candy and even peanut butter, which contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can be life threatening by causing low blood sugar.

• Chocolate. It’s all about the potency of the chocolate and the amount ingested, said Hotchkiss. Dark or baker’s chocolate is most concerning, but in our small pets even milk chocolate may be harmful.

• Alcohol. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning in animals are similar to those in people, and may include vomiting, breathing problems, coma and, in severe cases, death.

• Other foods that can cause problems in pets are avocados, most nuts and seeds including macadamias, mushrooms and tomatoes, according to WebMD.


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