Common Household Toxins in Dogs and Cats

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Some dogs (and even some cats) seem to have a knack for figuring out exactly what they are not supposed to eat and eating it.  It’s as if the more difficult you make it for them to get into something toxic, the more they rise to the challenge.  This month, we’ll cover some of the common dog and cat toxins found around the house and in the yard.   

Regardless of what your dog may have eaten – call us right away!  Before you start consulting Dr. Google, know that we are available to answer your questions any hour of the day or night and can see your pet on emergency if it needs to be seen.  Minutes can make the difference between life and death. Depending on the toxin and the dose, we may have you watch and wait, induce vomiting at home, or come in right away.  

Another important number to know is ASPCA Poison Control.  They staff board-certified veterinary toxicologists 24 hours a day and for a small fee can answer questions about what to do in the case of toxin ingestion. Their number is (888) 426-4435.


Most people know that chocolate is toxic to dogs. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which is related to caffeine. At low doses, theobromine causes restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased water consumption. At higher doses it causes cause seizures and fatal heart arrhythmias. 

The darker the chocolate, the more toxic. White chocolate actually contains very little cocoa. Dark bakers chocolate is toxic even in tiny quantities. Small dogs are much more susceptible to chocolate toxicity than large dogs, simple because they can eat more of their body weight in chocolate. 1 ounce of bakers chocolate is enough to cause death in a 10 pound dog.  

If your dog eats chocolate, call us right away.  We may have you induce vomiting at home if its shortly after ingestion.  If your dog is experiencing symptoms of chocolate toxicity this is an emergency and we need to see your pet right away. has a calculator to determine the toxic dose of chocolate in your dog.  

Advil (Ibuprofen)

Advil is one of those drugs that people take without a second thought. A little headache or muscle soreness and a couple Advil does the trick with few side effects. Not so for our companion animals. Dogs and cats are extremely sensitive to the adverse effects of this class of drugs, called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and ibuprofen is one of the worst offenders.  

Ingestion of ibuprofen causes renal failure in dogs and cats. Even a single high dose is enough. Long-term administration is worse; and some of the most devastating cases I have seen have been well-meaning owners giving their dogs daily ibuprofen to treat arthritis. Once the damage has been done to the kidneys it is often irreversible.    

NEVER give ibuprofen to a pet, and keep all ibuprofen-containing drugs locked up and away from pets. Avoid buying the sugar-coated versions as these can be very tempting to pets (my mother’s own dog thought they were so delicious she ate a whole bottle my mom had left out on the table! Luckily she caught it immediately and brought her to her veterinarian).  


Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in sugar free chewing gum and many other sugar free foods. It causes a dog’s blood sugar to drop dangerously, even fatally, low when ingested. These substances are extremely dangerous because they taste like sugar, and therefore are very tempting to dogs. I recommend checking your kitchen for products containing xylitol and keeping them far out of reach of pets. If your dog ingests a substance containing xylitol contact us or poison control without hesitation. 


Cats do strange things sometimes! They may be carnivores, but some cats develop a penchant for nibbling on houseplants. Most houseplants are fairly harmless to cats, but if you cat eats a lily it could be deadly. As few as two leaves of a lily can cause kidney failure in a cat. If you think your cat may have ingested a lily call us right away. But don’t let it get to that.  Don’t keep any lilies around the house if you have cats.    

Interestingly, some types of plants we call lilies are not actually lilies. Calla lilies and Peace lilies are not true lilies, and may cause some gastrointestinal upset but do not affect the kidneys. If you have any doubt about whether or not a plant is a lily, just ask, and err on the side of caution when introducing any new plants or flowers into your household.  


You may have heard that grapes and raisins are toxic to pets. Although it is rare, grapes/raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. This particular toxicity causes a lot of confusion because many people have given their dogs grapes or raisins as a treat and not had a problem. One of the most common things I hear is “my dog used to eat grapes all the time and never got sick.”  

The fact is, grape toxicity in pets is poorly understood. Occasionally dogs develop kidney failure after eating grapes. We don’t know how, and we don’t know why, but we know it happens. It may be that some dogs are more susceptible than others, or it may be related to certain batches of grapes. The safest thing to do is avoid feeding grapes and raisins to dogs. If your dog ingests grapes or raisins call us right away.   

Antifreeze (Ethylene glycol)

Ethylene glycol, the toxic compound in antifreeze, strikes fear into the heart of every veterinarian. Not only is it one of the most deadly toxins known to dogs and cats, but it is also delicious. If not caught immediately, a few licks is enough to kill a dog or cat, even with aggressive treatment. Ethylene glycol, like many of the toxins on the list, causes kidney failure.  However, ethylene glycol damages the kidneys so badly there is often no coming back.  

Keep bottles of antifreeze well out of reach of pets, if you need to keep them around at all. A more insidious culprit of antifreeze toxicity is leaking cars. Make sure your car or truck engine isn’t leaking, and if you notice any suspicious puddles on the street, absolutely do not let your dog or cat lick them.   


There are several types of rodenticides on the market, but all are toxic to dogs and cats. Rodent baits are designed to taste good and designed to kill. Some cause animals to bleed to death, other cause fatal seizures, and others cause irreversible kidney failure. I simply don’t recommend using chemical rodenticides if you have dogs or cats around, period.  

Most pet owners already know and understand this. When a dog gets into rat poison, it’s usually because someone else in the household or on the farm put it down – an exterminator, a barn helper, a tenant, etc. Make sure everyone involved in pest control is aware of these risks.     

If you are having a rat or mouse problem, personally I advocate adopting a cat from Talbot Humane!

Silica Gel

These are those little packets that say DO NOT EAT. Silica gel is a desiccant that helps keep things dry.  Silica gel is nontoxic.  

Prescription or Illicit Drugs

I want to mention this category of toxins because people often hide it from us if their pet has ingested something potentially embarrassing or illegal.If it is a situation where you don’t want to tell your parents, spouse, or children, pull me or my technician aside discreetly and let us know. We will be discreet, nonjudgmental, and will not involve law enforcement. As veterinarians, our only job is to help your pet. It can mean the difference between life and death if we have this information. 

If you just can’t get enough of learning about toxins, visit the ASPCA Poison Control Web site at, for more information. If you have any other questions that haven’t been answered here email me at

Thank you, Dr. Jessica Fragola

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