Poisonous to Pets: Common Household Toxins

For the past two weeks, Pet Talks have addressed poisonous foods and medications common in most homes. This week the focus is on miscellaneous poisonous items around the house including plants, pennies, and insecticides.


There are several plants that can be poisonous to pets. Lilies, for example, are toxic to cats. The ingestion of any part of any type of lily can lead to kidney failure. The clinical signs can include vomiting, depression, or loss of appetite. If you suspect your cat of ingesting lilies, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. There is no antidote, and intense supportive care is needed for cats to recover.

Also, sago palms are a common decorative house plant that is toxic to pets. The seeds, leaves, and cones of the plant can cause acute liver failure. The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

“If your pet ingests sago, and they show the clinical signs of poisoning, the prognosis is guarded to poor” Dr. Dorothy Black, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explained. “There is no antidote and supportive care is extensive and includes blood transfusions.”

While lilies and sago palms are very toxic, Black explained that poinsettias are usually “non” to “mildly” toxic. Pets ingesting this plant either have no clinical signs or gastrointestinal discomfort.

“Poinsettias are usually referred to as highly toxic, but they really aren’t,” Black said. “So feel free to display the poinsettias at Christmas!”


It may be surprising to some people, but pennies minted after 1981 contain significant quantities of the metal zinc and are poisonous to pets. When ingested, excess zinc is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and causes red blood cells to break apart. Pets, then, become anemic showing signs of lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, port/wine colored urine, and yellowing of the skin and gums.

“Removal of the penny and aggressive supportive care with blood transfusions usually allows for a successful recovery,” Black said.

Chemicals and Insecticides

A dangerous chemical common in many garages is Ethylene glycol. It is found in radiator coolants, brake fluids, and many other household products. When ingested it causes the pet to appear intoxicated and, as the toxin is metabolized, it leads to kidney failure. Although there are medications that can inhibit the toxin and prevent kidney failure, it must be administered within the first three to six hours post-ingestion.  If kidney injury is already present prognosis is guarded, but with immediate treatment prognosis is good.

Ant bait is used extensively in Texas, especially pyrethrin and pyrethroid containing products. When ingested in significant quantities, these chemicals can cause total body tremors and seizures in cats and dogs, and their body temperatures can become markedly elevated. Supportive care, including muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, are required until the pet can metabolize the drug.

“Not all ant baits contain pyrethrins, some are safe for pets,” Black said. “Read the labels carefully before you make a purchase.”

Other insecticides that contain organophosphates are highly toxic substances. When ingested these insecticides can cause severe clinical reactions, including salivation, tearing, urination, defecation, vomiting, respiratory distress, tremors, seizures, and paralysis.

“Drugs exist to counteract the toxin and are used in addition to extensive supportive care,” Black said. “But successful recoveries require prompt treatment.”

Rat bait is another household danger. It is offered in three main varieties: anticoagulant, bromethalin, and vitamin D analog (cholecalciferol).  All three types can lead to death of dogs and cats that ingest them.  Anticoagulant rodentecides (brodifacoum, bromadiolone, warfarin) lead to uncontrollable bleeding.  Although there is no antidote, if the pet is brought immediately to the veterinarian, treatment and decontamination can prevent bleeding from accidental ingestion. Bromethalin toxicity leads to progressive neurologic signs such as difficulty walking and can progress to seizures and death. There is no antidote, only supportive care. Also, cholecalciferol bait causes renal failure and is highly toxic. As with bromethalin, there is no antidote, only supportive care. Dialysis can be attempted if clinical signs are present.

“If you think your pet has ingested any of these toxic substances, contact your veterinarian immediately. Treating your pet quickly after ingestion is key to a successful recovery,” Black said.

For additional information on substances that are toxic to pets, please consult the resources below.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435, $65 consultation fee, http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

Pet Poison Hotline: 1-800-213-6680, $39 consultation fee per incident, http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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