Many common household items such as food, plants and medicines are fatally toxic to our pets. It is important to familiarise yourself with the most commonly found poisons so that they are not kept within reach of your pet.
Rodent poisons and insecticides
These are one of the most common causes of pet poisonings. Poisons such as rat and snail bait should be used with extreme caution. They are designed to entice animals to eat them and attempts to hide them in hard to reach places are often unsuccessful. Try substituting with other more humane methods of pest control (please see the attached article " What is the most humane way to kill rats and mice?") . If you must use rodenticides or insecticides, keep them safely locked up and only use them in areas of your property that are inaccessible to your dog or cat.
Many prescription and over the counter medications are toxic to animals. Paracetamol is a commonly found pain medication that is particularly poisonous to cats, even in tiny amounts. Never medicate your pet without the advice of your veterinarian and make sure that all medications are kept in sealed containers out of the reach of your pets. Some pet medicines can also be dangerous to your pet if used incorrectly. For example, some flea-prevention treatments for dogs contain compounds that are highly toxic for cats. Always use veterinary drugs according to your vet and the package’s instructions.
Some foods are toxic to your pets and should never be fed to them. These include chocolate, onions and garlic (including products containing onion or garlic powder, e.g. baby food), tomatoes (cats), macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes and products containing caffeine amongst others (please check with you vet for more information). Feeding fat trimmings may cause your pet to develop pancreatitis and foods such as raw fish, liver and sugary foods can lead to metabolic diseases when fed in excess. Avocado is toxic to many animals including birds, dogs, mice, rabbits, horses and livestock. Be careful not to feed your pets cooked bones as these can splinter, causing gastrointestinal obstructions which can be fatal.
Common plants and mulch
Some common house and garden plants are deadly to animals if ingested. These include Lily species, Brunfelsia species (Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow) and cycad seeds. For a more thorough list of poisonous plants visit http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants.aspx Cocoa mulch is also highly toxic if ingested.
Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol which tastes sweet, is attractive to animals and deadly if consumed in small amounts. Ethylene glycol poisoning is rarely seen in Australia, however pet owners should be conscious of its potential as a poison regardless.
Your cat may love to play with pieces of string, however be aware that if these are ingested they may cause painful and potentially deadly intestinal obstructions. Also be wary of yarn, dental floss and rubber bands.
Xylitol - sugar substitute
This low-carbohydrate sugar substitute is used as a sweetener in products such as chewing gum, some toothpastes and baked goods. While safe for human consumption, it is metabolised differently by dogs. After xylitol ingestion, dogs can become acutely hypoglycaemic (develop low blood sugar) leading to seizures and death, if not treated immediately. In some dogs xylitol consumption causes liver failure and clotting problems, also carrying a poor prognosis.
Top-spot pet medications
Certain dog-only top spot treatments containing the compound permethrin are highly toxic to cats. Cats are unable to metabolise permethrin and can have fatal reactions to the drug. Please read product labels carefully to check which animal species can safely use the product. If in doubt, please contact your local vet.
Tree or plant fruit stones (these may become an intestinal obstruction)
Many garden trees and plants drop fruit stones, berries or seeds. Dogs (and sometimes cats) will eat these parts of the plant. Unfortunately ingestion of fruit stones, berries and seeds can lead to serious intestinal blockages/obstructions which can be fatal. In addition, some fruit stones, berries or seeds may contain toxic compounds which can be poisonous to your pets. Remove any tree or plant stones/seeds/berries from your garden to prevent pets from ingesting them. Please see the attached article titled "Where can I find out about plants that might be poisonous for my pets?" for more information.
Fertilizer products generally contain varying amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) compounds. Fertilizers may be in a liquid, granular or solid form. They may have additives such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, iron, copper and zinc. Because fertilizers are usually a combination of ingredients, the effects following ingestion may differ. In general, fertilizers cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal irritation which may involve signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, hypersalivation, lethargy and abdominal pain. In most cases the effects are self-limiting and resolve within 24-48 hours with supportive veterinary care. RSPCA Australia recommends that owners take active steps to ensure that their dogs and other pets do not ingest any type of fertilizer material. If an owner suspects their dog or other pet has ingested fertilizer they should contact their local vet immediately for further advice. For information relating to specific fertilizer products or any other questions regarding fertilizer ingestion by dogs or other pets we suggest you contact your local vet.
Some types of fertilizer such as bone meal and blood meal may be eaten in large quantities by dogs which can cause significant gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, constipation) and possibly pancreatitis. Certain fertilizers may also contain bacterial or fungal toxins which can have serious side effects if ingested.
Fertilizers can also be caustic, which irritates the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases ingestion may lead to gastrointestinal ulceration. Impaction (gastrointestinal blockage) with fertilizer material may also occur in some cases.
Symptoms may be more severe however, if a large amount of fertilizer is ingested or if additives such as insecticides and iron are part of the fertilizer mix. Some fertilizers contain a significant amount of iron which can result in iron toxicity. Though heavy metals such as iron are generally not readily absorbed into the animal’s system, they can pose a hazard when dogs ingest large amounts. A few fertilizers also contain insecticides such as disulfoton, a highly toxic organophosphate which when ingested can cause a sudden onset of seizures and pancreatitis.
Also see Animal Emergency Centre (AEC) Pet Dangers webpage for more information.