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What are common household dangers for pets?

Many common household items such as food, plants and medicines can be toxic to our companion animals (pets) and can even be fatal. It is important to familiarise yourself with toxic items commonly found in households so you can ensure that your pet can’t access them.

A helpful resource for pet owners who are concerned that their animal may have ingested something toxic is the Australian Animal Poisons Helpline, which is a registered animal charity and provides a free service to pet owners including rapid up-to-date first aid advice, risk assessment, and triage recommendations.

Pesticides, including rodent poisons, insecticides, and herbicides

Pesticides (poisons used to kill animals, insects, fungi, plants) are one of the most common causes of companion animal poisonings. 

Rat bait should be avoided if possible, and other more humane methods of pest control used instead. For more information, please see this article “What is the most humane way to kill rats and mice?

Other commonly used products that can be toxic to our companion animals include insecticides like slug bait, ant bait, and insect killing sprays. The toxicity of these products varies by active ingredient, the concentration, dose consumed, and individual species sensitivity (e.g., rabbits are very sensitive to fipronil which is found in some products such as ant killing products, while cats are particularly sensitive to pyrethroid insecticides and can get sick from exposure to even small amounts).

If you do decide to use any products containing poisons at home, only do so with extreme caution. These products are designed to entice animals to eat them. This means that even if you attempt to hide them in hard-to-reach places, your animal may search out and find them, with serious consequences. If you must use pesticides, keep them safely locked up and only use them in areas of your property that are completely inaccessible to your companion animals.

Permethrin containing products such as top-spot pet medications and other insect control products

Certain dog-only top spot (or spot-on) 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 on which the product can be safely used. If in doubt, please discuss this with your veterinarian. Toxicity has also been reported where the product was used on a dog and the cat was in close physical contact with the dog (e.g., playing, grooming or sleeping together). Therefore, extreme care should be taken if using permethrin-containing products on your dog if you also have a cat and the risks should be discussed with your veterinarian. If you suspect your cat has been exposed to permethrin, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Permethrins are also common in insect control products (for example, pesticide sprays for plants and fly sprays) and these should be avoided if you share your home with a cat. For more information, discuss this with your veterinarian.


Many human prescription and over the counter medications are toxic to animals. Many medications for humans can be dangerous if ingested by animals, because the drug is specifically toxic to the species and/or due to the dosage ingested. The following are examples of common human medications which can be a risk for your pets:

  • Paracetamol, a common human pain medication, is dangerous for your pets. It is particularly toxic to cats, even in tiny amounts, but it can also be toxic to dogs. 
  • Ibuprofen, another common human pain medication, can be severely toxic to dogs and cats, even in only small amounts.
  • Other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) available “over the counter” for pain management may also be toxic to pets.
  • Antihistamines – although these are commonly used in both human and veterinary medicine, accidental ingestion of antihistamines may be a risk for pets.

Remember that even topical drugs (e.g. creams you apply to your skin) can cause problems for pets if they lick these off your skin or if the product gets onto their hair and they lick it off themselves.

Never medicate your animal without the advice of your veterinarian and make sure that all medications (human and animal) are kept in sealed containers away from your animals. 

Some animal medicines can be dangerous to your animal if used incorrectly, or if an animal ingests them accidentally. For example, overdoses of medications can be dangerous and some flea prevention treatments for dogs contain compounds that are highly toxic for cats; so, these should never be used on cats and cats should not be exposed to them. Always use veterinary drugs according to the directions given by your veterinarian and the package instructions.


Some foods are potentially dangerous for companion animals and so should be kept secure where your animal cannot access them and should never be fed to animals. These include chocolate, onions and garlic (including products containing onion or garlic powder, e.g., baby food), tomato (including the plant), macadamia nuts, plants belonging to the Allium family (e.g., spring onion, chives, etc), grapes (including dried grapes – sultanas and raisins), and products containing caffeine (please check with your veterinarian for more information).

Feeding fat trimmings may be associated with the development of pancreatitis (which is inflammation of the pancreas and can be very serious) and foods such as raw fish, liver, and sugary foods can be associated with metabolic diseases when fed in excess. Avocado may be toxic to many animals including birds, dogs, mice, rabbits, horses, and livestock. Cooked bones are very dangerous to companion animals, as these can splinter, causing gastrointestinal obstructions and damage which can be fatal.

Raw dough which contains yeast can also be toxic to animals. If ingested, the live yeast in dough (for example, bread dough, pizza dough, sourdough and starters) produce ethanol (alcohol) in the stomach. The alcohol is rapidly absorbed and can cause alcohol intoxication in your animal; this can be serious if a lot of live yeast and dough have been ingested (see the section on alcohol for more details on signs of alcohol intoxication).

In addition, if dough containing live yeast is ingested, the process of ‘rising’ continues in the animal’s stomach and can lead to gastrointestinal distention and even obstruction. Signs of this can include abdominal pain and vomiting. This can be very serious and even life threatening.

Raw dough should never be fed to animals and any rising dough should be kept well away from your animals for their own safety. If you suspect your companion animal has ingested raw dough, contact your veterinarian promptly for advice.


Alcohol is commonly found in households in alcoholic beverages and also in other products; for example, some cleaners, disinfectants, cosmetics, mouthwashes, paints, perfumes, medications, and food items such as syrups.

Ingestion of alcohol can cause alcohol intoxication in animals. If sufficient alcohol has been ingested, the animal may show signs such as disorientation, loss of coordination (wobbliness or unsteadiness), and depression. Ingestion of a large amount of alcohol can cause very serious problems such as gastrointestinal irritation, low blood sugar, temporary blindness, and potentially coma and even death.

Alcohol should never be given to animals and it should be kept well away from your animals for their own safety. If you suspect your animal has ingested alcohol, contact your veterinarian promptly for advice.

Please note that hops (which are used in making beer and may be present in the home, especially if making homebrew beer) are toxic to dogs and can cause panting, high body temperature, seizures, and even death if ingested. It is important to secure any hops (dried or fresh) and ensure that your animals cannot access or ingest them.


Be aware that magnets can be dangerous if ingested. Two or more magnets (which are common in many household items like electronics, kid’s toys, stress relief desk toys, and tools) are drawn together by the magnetic force between them even within the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause severe gastrointestinal problems; for example, the tissue between the magnets can be damaged, erode, and even perforate which can be life threatening.

Be particularly wary of neodymium magnets (also called rare-earth magnets) as these are very strong magnets with an extremely strong attraction resulting in even greater risk than ‘normal’ magnets.


Batteries can be dangerous to your animals if ingested, chewed, or if they leak chemicals which your animal comes into contact with. The chemicals in batteries can cause serious burns in the mouth, oesophagus, or gastrointestinal tract if the battery or chemical is ingested.

If a whole battery or part of a battery is ingested, these can cause a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract which can be very serious and even life-threatening.

Remember that button batteries are particularly easily ingested (they can be quite small and easy to swallow) and can cause significant damage, particularly if they get caught in the animal’s oesophagus.

Please keep batteries secured and away from pets so that they cannot access them.

If you think your pet may have ingested a battery (either if you see it happen or if they show signs such as drooling, refusal to eat, vomiting, abdominal pain), contact your veterinarian immediately for advice.


Adhesives like glue can be a risk to your pet if they are ingested (from your pet licking the product directly or getting the adhesive on their hair and licking it off during grooming) or if they contact their skin or eyes. The problems that adhesives can cause vary as there are many different potential ingredients but can include obstructions of the gastrointestinal tract (especially expanding glues), irritation to the skin or mouth/gastrointestinal tract, and damage to the eyes.

Please store adhesives out of reach of your pets and be careful when you are using them to make sure your animal does not ingest or come into contact with them.

Common plants and mulch

Some common house and garden plants can be toxic and even deadly to animals if ingested. These include Lily species (ingestion of even a tiny amount of the plant, or pollen from brushing against the flow can be life threatening for cats), Brunfelsia species (Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow), and cycad seeds but there are many more to be aware of. For a more thorough list of poisonous plants, visit this website and see this article for more information.

Cocoa mulch is also highly toxic if ingested. See this article for more information: “Why should pet owners avoid using cocoa shell mulch on their gardens?

Christmas considerations

Please note that some plants commonly present around Christmas time such as Lilies, Holly, American Mistletoe, and Poinsettias, are toxic to some companion animals (toxicity varies from extremely toxic to mildly toxic). So please keep these out of reach of your animals and, before bringing any plants (live or as cut flowers etc) into the home, check to see if they might be dangerous for your pets.

Christmas trees can be a risk to your animals in a number of ways:

  • They can tip over and fall on your companion animals, especially if they decide to use it as a scratching post or climbing frame! Make sure the tree (real or artificial) is tightly secured so that it cannot tip or fall and injure your pet.
  • If you have a real Christmas tree and are using water to keep it alive and fresh be wary as the water can contain potentially harmful chemicals like fertilisers and/or bacteria which can use a gastrointestinal upset. Make sure that any water at the base of the trunk is covered and inaccessible to your animals.
  • The needles from a Christmas tree can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract if ingested.
  • Christmas tree ornaments can be a danger to your pets too. Tinsel (ribbon and string too) should be avoided as it can be a significant risk to pets as, if ingested (and it is very tempting to play with for many animals), it can cause severe gastrointestinal problems including obstructions requiring surgery. Other ornaments, especially lights or those made from glass, can also be a hazard for your animal if they are ingested, break, are chewed etc.

For their own safety, it is best to keep your pets away from the Christmas tree if possible.

Be aware that wrapped Christmas presents under the tree (or anywhere within reach!) can be a danger to your animals too if the present contains something that could be toxic such as chocolate or if wrapped with ribbon or string which can be ingested. Keep any presents containing food and other potentially dangerous items well out of reach of your pets. Pets can easily break into a wrapped present to get to the contents, especially if these smell interesting!

Many foods and beverages we enjoy around the Christmas period can be harmful for our companion animals, including chocolate, Christmas cake and pudding, sweet items containing xylitol, alcohol, fatty and/or spicy foods. So, keep these well out of reach of your pets including avoiding unattended plates of food where pets can get to it, warning guests not to feed human foods or drinks to your pets, and disposing of food safely, including securing the lids of rubbish bins.


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, but pet owners should be conscious of its potential as a poison regardless.


Your companion animal may love to play with pieces of string, but be aware that if string is ingested it may cause painful and potentially deadly intestinal obstructions. Also be wary of other similar items such as yarn, dental floss, tinsel, ribbon, and rubber bands, which can also be dangerous to your companion animal.

If your pet has ingested string or something like it take them to a veterinary clinic immediately. If the string is hanging out of your pet’s mouth (or other end) never attempt to pull it out as this can cause it to saw into the gastrointestinal tract potentially resulting in severe damage. If string is hanging out of an animal’s mouth secure to their collar (do not trim the string) before taking them to a veterinary clinic immediately.

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, xylitol is metabolised differently by dogs. If a dog ingests xylitol, insulin is suddenly released causing the dog’s blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels (hypoglycaemia). Hypoglycaemia can lead to seizures and even death. In some dogs, xylitol consumption causes liver failure and clotting problems, which can also be very dangerous. If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately as prompt and effective treatment can be lifesaving.

Tree or plant fruit stones

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 very serious and even fatal. In addition, some fruit stones, berries or seeds may contain toxic compounds which can be poisonous to your companion animals. Remove any tree or plant stones/seeds/berries from your garden to prevent your animals from ingesting them. For more information, please see this article titled “Where can I find out about plants that might be poisonous for my pets?


Fertiliser products generally contain varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium compounds. Fertilisers may be in a liquid, granular or solid form. They may also contain additives such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, iron, copper and zinc. Because fertilisers are usually a combination of ingredients, the effects following ingestion may differ. Many fertilisers cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal irritation which may involve signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, hypersalivation, lethargy and abdominal pain. In most cases the effects resolve within 24-48 hours with supportive veterinary care. However, some fertilisers contain compounds which are very dangerous to animals and can cause very serious health problems (see more detail below). If you suspect that your animal has ingested fertiliser, you should contact your veterinarian immediately for further advice.

Some types of fertiliser such as bone meal and blood meal can cause significant gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation) and possibly pancreatitis, especially if eaten in large quantities. Certain fertilisers may also contain bacterial or fungal toxins which can have serious side effects if ingested.

Fertilisers 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 fertiliser material may also occur in some cases.

Symptoms may be more severe though, particularly if a large amount of fertiliser is ingested or if additives such as insecticides and iron are part of the fertiliser mix. Some fertilisers 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 if a large amount is ingested. A few fertilisers also contain insecticides such as disulfoton, a highly toxic organophosphate which when ingested can cause a sudden onset of seizures and pancreatitis.

Owners should exercise caution when using these products, store them securely, and take active steps to ensure that their dogs (and other companion animals) do not ingest any type of fertiliser material. For information relating to specific fertiliser products or any other questions regarding fertiliser ingestion by animals, we suggest you contact your veterinarian.

Other dangerous items

Other items in your home may also be dangerous to your companion animals. Carefully look around your home for items which might be dangerous if chewed, swallowed, climbed, pulled on etc. These include but are not limited to cords and cables; furniture, decorations or objects which may unbalance and fall on your animal (think about whether this could happen if these are knocked, climbed, or pulled on); and draws and cupboards which your animal could climb into, which may close shut, trapping your animal inside. If you feel an object or item is unsafe for a child, consider whether it is also unsafe for your animals.

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Updated on December 18, 2023
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