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 they cannot be accessed by your pet.
Rodent poisons and insecticides
These are one of the most common causes of companion animal poisonings. Poisons such as rat and snail bait should be avoided if possible, and other more humane methods of pest control used instead. For more information, please see this article. If you do decide to use these at home, only do so with extreme caution. These toxins 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 rodenticides or insecticides, keep them safely locked up and only use them in areas of your property that are completely inaccessible to your companion animals.
Many human prescription and over the counter medications are toxic to animals. For example, paracetamol is a common human pain medication that is particularly toxic to cats, even in tiny amounts. Ibuprofen, another common human pain medication, can be severely toxic to dogs in only small amounts. 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 toxic to 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 are just a few (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 is 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 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.
Common plants and mulch
Some common house and garden plants can be toxic and even deadly to animals if ingested. These include Lily species, 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, see this article. 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?
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 and rubber bands, which can also be dangerous to your companion animal.
Xylitol – sugar substitute
This low-carbohydrate sugar substitute is sometimes used as a sweetener in products such as some chewing gums, toothpastes, baked goods, and possibly other products like peanut butter. While safe for human consumption, it 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.
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.
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 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.
If you are concerned that your companion animal may have ingested something toxic, you can call the Australian Animal Poisons Helpline for advice, this service is free for pet owners.
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 batteries (particularly button batteries); 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.