No matter what time of year, there are toxins and poisons to watch out for when it comes to your pet either ingesting or inhaling something that could cause illness or be fatal. A lot of poisons are in plain sight, such as plants, household foods or cleaning items.

Many people know the foods that are toxic to pets, but not many know the plants that may be toxic or poisonous to pets. Here is a list of a few plants:

  • Autumn Crocus – Both spring and autumn crocuses can cause adverse reactions in pets, but the autumn crocus is HIGHLY toxic. If ingested, it can cause severe vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damages and respiratory failure.
  • Azalea – This is a VERY common plant here in the Missouri 4-state area. It is in the same family as rhododendrons. Even eating a few leaves can result in vomiting, diarrhea and excessive drooling; without immediate veterinary attention, the pet could fall into a coma and possibly die.
  • Daffodil Bulbs – Ingestion of the plant or flower can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. More serious reactions include abnormal heart rate or changes in respiration.
  • Dieffenbachia – Popular in many homes and offices, dieffenbachia can cause intense oral irritation, drooling, nausea, vomiting and difficulty swallowing if ingested.
  • Hyacinth/Tulip Bulbs – Though all parts of hyacinths and tulips can cause adverse reactions if ingested, these plants contain concentrated amounts of toxins in the bulb. If ingested in large amounts, bulbs can affect breathing and cause severe vomiting, diarrhea and an increase in heart rate.
  • Lily – This includes Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese lilies. They are highly toxic to CATS. Severe kidney failure can result from ingestion of even a few petals or leaves. If your cat has eaten any part of a lily, see a veterinarian immediately
  • Oleander – Oleander is an outdoor shrub, popular for its evergreen qualities and delicate flowers. However, the leaves and flowers are extremely toxic if ingested and can cause severe vomiting, slow the heart rate and possibly even cause death.

This is just a very small list and I tried to choose those that are most common in our area. You can visit for a more complete listing.

Other outside dangers that have to do with gardening include:

  • Certain baits such as rodent, snail and slug baits used to keep pests at bay. These are extremely harmful to pets. Without immediate veterinary attention, they can be FATAL. Rodent baits can cause blood clotting disorders, brain swelling or kidney failure, depending on the type used. The slug and snail bat can result in severe tremoring or seizuring.
  • Blood meal – used as an organic fertilizer is usually flash-frozen animal blood that has been dried and ground. Unfortunately many pets find this product very tasty and may even seek it out. If large amounts are ingested, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and severe inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Bone meal also is an organic fertilizer made from animal bones that have been ground to a powder. The “bone” is what makes it so palatable to dogs – but when ingest, bone meal can form a large, concrete-like obstruction in the stomach that could require surgical removal.
  • Insecticides, most over-the counter, are basic gastrointestinal irritants to pets and are generally not cause for major concern. However, if your pet has ingested this type of chemical, contact Pet Poison Helpline right away to make sure your pet is safe.
  • Fertilizers are basic gastrointestinal irritants. However, some are combined with dangerous chemicals and compounds called organophosphates or carbamates, which can be harmful to pets. Ingestion can result in drooling, watery eyes, urination, defecation, seizures, difficulty breathing, fever and even death. Immediate treatment with an antidote is necessary to improve your pet’s chance of survival.

Inside dangers can come in the form of household toxins, foods, or non-ingested poisons.

Household Toxins

  • Acids (such as drain and toilet cleaners)
  • Alkalis (such as ammonia, lye and some types of drain and toilet cleaners)
  • Batteries
  • Bleach
  • Enzymatic cleaners (used for breaking down proteins and organic matter)
  • Fabric softeners
  • Glow jewelry
  • Ice melt products that contain sodium or salt-like ingredients
  • Liquid potpourri
  • Mothballs
  • Paint solvents and lacquers
  • Paint balls
  • Pine oil/essential oils
  • Solvents (such as cleaners used to remove oil, grease and grime)
  • Teflon®-coated cookware (birds only – see below)

Non-Ingested Poisons (Inhaled Poisons and Absorbed Poisons)

   Inhaled Poisons include — Carbon monoxide, smoke and chemical fumes.

  • Exposure can result in coughing, disorientation or unconsciousness. If your pet has inhaled any sort of airborne toxin, move him to fresh air immediately and contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. You should have installed carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in each room of your house, and be sure to change the batteries every six months to protect from this type of exposure.
  • When using products that emit vapors – such as paint or cleaning solutions – be sure there is adequate ventilation in the room. Also, consider learning pet CPR. Our local Joplin Red Cross offers a Pet Safety First Aid class, but is only offered if they can get enough people to make a class. If you are interested, call Teri Layton at 417-624-4411, x. 4417 at the American Red Cross, Joplin, Missouri.
  • If you have a bird, never use Teflon-coated pots and pans, as the emit polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) fumes when overheated, which are fatal to our avian friends if inhaled. Alternative non-stick cookware options that do not contain PTFE should be used.

   Absorbed Poisons — Toxins that can enter the body through the skin.

  • Commonly absorbed poisons include strong acids/alkalis such as ammonia, lye and some types of drain and toilet cleaners, and topical insecticides. Examples may include spot-on flea products that are applied to cats or concentrated tea tree oil applied to both dogs and cats. Signs range from skin irritation to difficulty walking/balancing, tremors and seizures.
  • Be aware of any chemicals used outside by your neighbors or maintenance crews, like fertilizers or pesticides. Use soap and water to thoroughly clean your pet’s belly, legs and feet in order to get rid of any chemical residue that could be absorbed, licked or rubbed onto bedding.
  • Ice melt products are of particular concern in the winter; the salt crystals can stick to pet’s feet, causing skin irritation and discomfort and sometimes burns.
  • If you have a pool and use chemical, be sure they are kept locked up and away from pets. I know from experience that these can burn and cause severe reactions to the skin of pets. Not only do they also contain alkalis, but the chlorine itself is very dangerous.

Toxic Table Scraps

Many of us have heard over and over and see on Facebook posts of the items that we eat that are hazardous or toxic to dogs. I am still going to list those in case maybe there is a new one you did not know! At least maybe it will answer any questions you may have about – what does that food do? Or why is it bad for the animal?

  • Alcohol – this is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream of your pet. Alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature, intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure. Be careful of desserts that contain alcohol as well or yeast-containing doughs, they are often the unknown culprits.
  • Caffeine – Coffee, tea, energy drinks, dietary pills or anything else containing caffeine should never be given to your pet, as they can affefct the heart, stomach, intestines and nervous system.
  • Chocolate – Cocoa and chocolate contain theobromine, a chemical that is highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion of small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but ingestion of larger quantities can cause seizures and affect heart rhythm.
  • Fatty foods – Foods high in fat can cause vomiting, diarrhea and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) in pets, especially in certain breeds like mini schnauzers, Shetland sheepdogs and Yorkies. Fight the temptation to share table scraps and give a healthy pet treat instead.
  • Grapes and Raisins — Keep these away from dogs. Just a few grapes or raisins can damage your dog’s kidneys or even prove deadly. Even small amounts of raisins in trail mix or snack boxes can pose a problem. I have had a friend who had a Golden Retriever die from eating a snack pack of raisins. It is very serious.
  • Macadamia Nuts – These nuts are popular in nuts and candies, but should never be given to dogs. Lethargy, vomiting, and loss of muscle control are among the effects of macadamia nut ingestion. To be honest, I avoid all but peanuts to give to my dog.
  • Onions and Garlic – Even in powdered form, onions and garlic can endanger your pet’s health. Ingestion of small amounts can result in a mild gastrointestinal upset, while larger amounts can cause severe anemia, particularly with long-term ingestion. I find it ironic that vets (the ones I worked for anyway) in the past have actually suggested sprinkling garlic on pet food to entice dogs to eat their food if they were not eating well. It has just come to light that onions and garlic are a danger to your pet.
  • Salt – It is hard to believe that common table salt if poisonous to your pet. But it’s not usually from table scraps. The source is often what surprises pet owners: pets often experience salt toxicity as a result of eating household play dough, swallowing too much ocean salt water or ingesting paint balls, which are loaded with salt. Salt toxicity can be severe and result in neurologic signs such as incoordination, seizures and brain swelling. This needs to be treated carefully by a veterinarian.
  • Sweeteners – Many sugarless gum and candy now contain a new natural sweetener called Xylitol. It is acutely toxic to dogs. Ingestion can cause vomiting, weakness, a life-threating drop in blood sugar, loss of muscle control, seizures, and liver failure. Keep all types of candies well out of reach of your pets.
  • Yeast Dough – Unbaked dough that contains yeast can expand in your pet’s stomach or intestines. As the yeast ferments, it releases gases, resulting in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even life-threatening bloat and a twisted stomach. Some yeast dough also ferments into alcohol, which contributes to signs of lethargy and alcohol toxicity.


Human Medications, especially those that are flavored, are very palatable to pets. Candy-coated pain relievers, chocolate-flavored vitamins, sweetened cough syrups, and gummy vitamins can be irresistible to pets, so be sure to keep these kinds of drugs safely out of reach. Never give your pet human pain relievers in brand name or generic forms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol® or Excedrin®) or NSAIDS medications like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen (Advil® or Aleve®). The reason is pets to do not metabolize these drugs like humans do, and can result in liver and kidney failure putting your pet’s life at risk. Always keep your medications and your pet’s medications in different locations. This will eliminate the mistake of you giving them yours or you taking theirs. That is when accidental pet overdoses occur.

Pet Medications are a concern as well. There are many medications that are ok for a dog or cat, but not the other! The one to come to mind quickly is the flea medication that you put on dogs. There are some that are interspecies, but most are NOT. If you put a dog flea product on a cat, it results in life-threatening seizures. Working at a vet, I sadly know this to be true.   Also, do not split medications (half them) unless your vet says it is appropriate. Many medicines do not have a uniform dose of the medication distributed throughout the pills. And, as with human medications, keep all pet medicines out of reach of the dog, and by this, I mean even if they are on their hind legs, or if they jump onto a counter. I had a friend who had Rimadyl® for her senior dog and kept it on her kitchen counter. While gone the other day, the younger dog, got it off the counter, chewed the container up and ate 60 beef-flavored tablets all at one time. He was in the Emergency Pet Center for four days on IV fluids after having administered charcoal and Vitamin K to flush his system. Fortunately, Charlie made it through.

It’s important to know these toxins and keep them out of reach (or keep them out of the house if possible), but do you know what to do if they do wind up poisoning your pet? There is a Pet Poison Helpline that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 800-213-6680 is the number to call. There is a fee of one-time per incident consultation fee of $35. This is a small price to pay to do what is necessary or may help your pet before you are able to get them to the veterinarian. They will need to know

  • What your pet has ingested and when
  • How much your pet ingested (how many pills, what mg strength they were, etc.)
  • Your pet’s current weight
  • Your pet’s known medical history including medications (prescription and supplements)
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