Toxic Household Items

As caring pet owners, we are typically well aware of the various dangers that threaten our furry friends’ safety. Keeping their vaccinations up to date, making sure they are properly groomed, and providing them with the most nutritious food to ensure good health are just a few things that we tend to with the utmost importance. However, numerous toxic items commonly found around our households are often overlooked and can be detrimental to our pets’ lives.

A large variety of household plants, foods, and chemicals that are considered safe for human use are toxic to our pets. Some of the most dangerous plants to keep out of your pets reach include any flowers in the lily family, including sago palms, oleander, foxglove, castor bean, and poinsettias. Though these are bad for both cats and dogs, the toxic dose often differs between species.

“Some of the most common foods that can be toxic to dogs are grapes and raisins, or any food items containing the artificial sweetener xylitol, which can be contained in chewing gum as well as many low-calorie foods as a sugar substitute,” said Dr. Medora Pashmakova, a Clinical Associate Professor in emergency and critical care at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Chocolate is also a well-known toxin to pets; however, it’s particularly the dark chocolate and baking chocolate varieties that pose the real threats due to their higher cocoa and theobromine content.”

Although cats are more discerning when it comes to eating household items, grooming themselves after coming into contact with any toxic chemicals can be very dangerous. “Owners of cats should be vigilant about any chemical spills or even the use of countertop cleaning products, which can be caustic when cats groom themselves after being in contact,” said Pashmakova.  “In addition, even small volumes of ingested antifreeze or coolant fluid can be lethal to cats and requires seeing a veterinarian right away, without waiting for clinical signs to appear.”

A good rule of thumb is that if something is toxic to humans, it is likely toxic to our pets as well. “At the same time, medications considered safe in people (such as over the counter pain medications or cold/flu medications) are NOT safe for dogs and cats,” Pashmakova said. “Never give your dog or cat human medications without speaking to a veterinarian first.”

Dr. Pashmakova explains that keeping your pets safe is similar to keeping babies safe. This sometimes includes pet-proofing your house and anticipating what cats, dogs, ferrets, and other small animals can get into. “Keeping cupboards secured, bathrooms closed, bathroom garbage stowed away, medications locked up, and any chemical spills cleaned up quickly and thoroughly are just some basics that all pet owners should keep in mind,” said Pashmakova. “Having a good plan of action in the event of ingestion is also key.” This can be something as simple as calling your veterinarian during daytime hours or calling an emergency hospital after-hours.

If your pet ingests any of these items, it is best to play it safe and contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center; they can help you determine if your pet needs to be seen by a doctor and if they consumed a toxic dose. The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital ER is always available to advise on toxic ingestions, and the Animal Poison Control Hotline affiliated with the University of Illinois veterinary school is a 24/7 resource with board-certified toxicologists to advise owners or veterinarians on how to deal with toxicities.

There is no harm in being extra cautious when dealing with possible toxicities around the house. Be sure to keep these toxic household items out of your pet’s reach at all times, and to call your veterinarian or poison control center immediately if they do come into contact with them. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the safety of your furry family member.

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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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