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13 Things You Never Suspected Could Poison Your Pet

By Colleen Williams and medically reviewed by Cathy Barnette, DVM
published: March 14, 2016 - updated: January 18, 2023 • 8 min. read
can dogs eat grapes

Key Takeaways

  • Many common items around the house can prove toxic to pets, including medications, houseplants, and certain foods.
  • Accidental poisonings are one of the most common health issues for dogs and cats.
  • Pet parents should be aware of the dangers of these everyday items and keep them out of pets’ reach.

Accidental poisonings are one of the most common pet insurance claims for cats and dogs. Unbeknownst to many pet parents, many toxins can lurk in the home. Almost every room contains some seemingly innocuous poison, so it’s important to be aware and appropriately pet-proof your house.

Watch for these symptoms of accidental poisoning in dogs and cats:

If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin, call your veterinarian, a local emergency vet clinic, or a pet poison hotline. An operator will guide you through any necessary at-home treatment, such as inducing vomiting, and determine if your pet requires medical care. Never hesitate to contact the professionals if you’re unsure – better safe than sorry.

1. Ibuprofen

hand full of ibuprofen pills

While humans often take ibuprofen for aches and pain, it should be avoided in pets in pain. Even small amounts of ibuprofen can be deadly in both dogs and cats.  Pets’ bodies are built differently than humans, and small animals are more susceptible to ibuprofen toxicity. Never administer any medical treatment to your pet without instruction from your veterinarian.

Too much ibuprofen for dogs and cats results in a damaged stomach lining and possible kidney failure. Watch for vomiting or diarrhea – often containing blood – as well as loss of appetite and fatigue. Untreated, blood loss will eventually cause fainting and death. Keep ibuprofen in pet-proof containers out of paws’ reach; add a locked medicine cabinet to these protective measures if you’ve got a real troublemaker on your hands.


2. Houseplants

plants toxic to cats
Before you bring that bouquet of spring blooms home, check that it’s cat-friendly! (

Indoor plants are a common cause of accidental poisoning, especially for felines. Curiosity can kill a cat, especially if the flora is consumed in secret; successful treatment depends on identifying how much and how recently the toxin was eaten. Lilies can shut down a cat’s kidneys within hours, quickly followed by death. Irritation and swelling of the mouth and muzzle are the primary symptoms of plant poisoning in pets, along with excessive drooling and itching of visibly irritated skin.

If your pet shows a penchant for consuming blooms, you may have to mark anniversaries and other special occasions with less flowery displays. Many plants poisonous to cats appear in bouquets, like chrysanthemum, peony and primrose. Even the foliage and greenery included with many arrangements can be toxic: eucalyptus, boxwood, foxtail, ivy and magnolia are toxic to both dogs and cats.

3. Grapes and Raisins

Keep the trail mix and fruitcake out of pets’ paws! While the exact toxin has yet to be identified, vets are clear that grapes and raisins are poisonous to pets. Sudden kidney failure can arise, although symptoms depend on how much was ingested. Pay attention to your pet’s urine output and frequency of urination, both indicators of kidney health.

Act quickly to save your pet’s life – once toxins are absorbed into the body’s bloodstream, the only course of treatment is to flush them out. Activated charcoal or hydrogen peroxide may be recommended for use by your vet, but never administer any substances without professional instruction! Hospitalization is typically required to intravenously rehydrate the animal and monitor kidney function. Pets who survive grape or raising poisoning may need dialysis to support their kidneys during recovery.

4. Human Prescription Meds

puppy proofing
Use child locks on drawers and cabinets to keep nosy pups out of human prescriptions. (

Over 50% of Americans are now taking at least one prescription medication, and this has led to a rise in pet poisonings. The Pet Poison Hotline reports that half of its calls involve an over-the-counter or prescription medication for humans. Dogs can chew through bottles to access pills or liquids, in addition to opening cabinets and drawers unprotected by child locks.

Antidepressants can overstimulate animals’ nervous system, causing seizures, sedation, shaking and elevated heart rate. Human medications used to treat ADD/ADHD have similar effects when ingested by pets, especially those containing amphetamines. Sleeping aids can prove fatal if eaten in even minimal amounts, as they disproportionately affect pets’ smaller bodies. Treatments for human heart conditions, including ACE inhibitors and beta blockers, may lead to dangerous drops in blood pressure if consumed by dogs.

Take small steps to reduce your pet’s risk of prescription medication poisoning! Keep all pills in secure containers rather than plastic baggies, which are easily torn or chewed up. If you use a weekly pill sorter, avoid leaving it on your bedside table or bathroom counter where it’s easily accessible to curious paws. Same goes for purses and backpacks if they contain meds.

5. Spring Flower Bulbs

dog tulips

Winter weather can erode the topsoil in flower beds, exposing bulbs planted last fall. Dogs may also dig them up, although bulbs prove a not-so-tasty snack that results in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Hyacinth and daffodil bulbs have an outer coating of crystals that irritate the mouth, causing excessive drooling. If eaten whole or in large amounts, irregular heartbeat and breathing can arise; in this case, visit your nearest emergency vet for treatment.

Avoid ruining your garden – and your dog’s day – by planting at a depth two to three times’ the bulb’s height. Tulips and daffodils are typically best buried six inches deep, while smaller spring blooms may lie only three or four inches below the surface. Don’t leave your dog outdoors unsupervised, and consider investing in a dog run or fence system to protect your plants and pet.

6. Bread Dough

dog bread dough
The yeast in raw bread dough will continue to rise in a dog’s stomach if eaten, causing dangerous bloating. (

If there’s a baker in your household, bread dough toxicosis is a seemingly random but very real threat. Many homemade baked goods contain yeast, a fungus responsible for the “rising” process. This occurs through a chemical reaction: yeast feeds on flour and sugar, releasing bubbles of carbon dioxide that are captured in the sticky dough. A rising loaf is typically left out on the counter, vulnerable to inquisitive paws.

After a dog deviously devours your loaf-to-be, it continues to rise inside the stomach – a warm, oxygen-free environment is perfect for promoting expansion. Unfortunately for pets, this poses two problems. The most obvious issue is of space: an inflating wad of dough quickly brings a dog’s stomach to capacity. Bloating increases risk of gastric-dilatation volvulus (GDV), or stomach twisting and rupture, especially in large breeds of dog. Another complication caused by bread dough is alcohol poisoning; as yeast ferments, it releases ethanol as a byproduct.

7. Coins

Zinc is present in many metal U.S. currencies, as well as other small objects like screws. If a pet chomps on some spare change – especially pennies – zinc poisoning can result. Entering the bloodstream through the stomach, zinc destroys red blood cells and damages the liver, heart and kidneys. Without removal, coins can also cause intestinal obstructions in dogs.

Look for unusual symptoms like yellowed or pale gums and discolored urine, indicators of liver and kidney damage. A penny quickly becomes very expensive, requiring emergency treatment to remove endoscopically as well as fluids to support damaged kidneys. Zinc is a very corrosive metal, and medications are often needed post-poisoning to “coat” and protect the stomach. If your dog has developed anemia, an iron deficiency, blood transfusions may be required as well.

8. Flea and Tick Medications

cats grooming
Felines’ meticulous – and mutual – grooming exacerbates the effects of flea and tick medication poisoning. (

Preventative flea and tick medications fall into two categories: all-naturalpyrethrins and synthetic pyrethroids. Plants from the pyrethrum species, such as Chrysanthemums, provide the basis for pyrethrin flea medicines. Pyrethroids are artificially created but longer-lasting and often stronger. There are numerous benefits to warding off fleas and ticks, vectors of misery and disease, but apply too much of a good thing and the outcome can be disastrous for pets.

Cats in particular are susceptible to flea and tick medicine poisoning because of their smaller size, fluffier coats and extensive grooming habits. Using canine flea and tick prevention on cats is a common cause of toxicity. Mild reactions to flea and tick medications include excessive drooling, flicking paws or ears, vomiting and diarrhea. In more serious cases, muscle twitching or tremors, hives, excessive itching and difficulty breathing may be present. Work with your veterinarian to find the correct flea and tick preventative for your pet to prevent poisoning.

9. Nuts

While there’s little evidence nuts are harmful for felines, as a rule, dogs should generally avoid them. Peanuts are the one exception, although their high fat and fiber can still cause gastrointestinal upset. Other kinds of nuts, including almonds, cashews and pistachios, are not necessarily toxic but may lead to pancreatitis in dogs as part of a fatty diet.

Walnuts, hickory nuts and pecans are too large for dogs’ digestive systems, potentially creating intestinal blockages. Macadamia nuts, similar to grapes, are mysteriously toxic to dogs but can cause neurological issues like tremors and temporary paralysis. If your backyard has nut trees, keep Fido away from the fallings; consuming moldy walnuts or other types puts your pet at risk of consuming a neurotoxin originating in fungi.

10. Magnets

As veterinarian Dr. Eric Barchas notes, strong magnets can cause intestinal perforation in pets. “Weak ordinary refrigerator magnets are not necessarily any more dangerous than any other potential foreign body,” he wrote for Dogster. “The magnets I’m talking about in this post are so-called rare earth magnets. In particular, neodymium magnets are noted for the danger they pose to dogs.”

Magnets can also lodge in place inside the animal, obstructing gastrointestinal blood flow. Pieces of the intestines stuck between magnets wither and die, falling away and spilling their contents into the abdominal cavity. Bacterial infection soon sets in, with imminent treatment required; even with surgery, septic peritonitis has a 50% mortality rate for canines. Even with emergency surgery, a pet requires multiple medications post-op to recover.

11. Sugar-Free Snacks 

These snacks, especially candy and gum, contain xylitol, a sugar substitute lethal to pets in doses as small as two pieces of gum. Other products like peanut butter, chewable vitamins, mouthwash, and so many more household items may also include xylitol; store them in high-up cabinets and add a childproof lock for good measure. Xylitol’s use is on the rise in America, as it retains the sweetness of sucrose with only two-thirds the calories, making it perfect for “low calorie” diet foods.

Like with many other substances, pets are affected differently than humans. While xylitol may have a mild laxative effect in humans, it lowers blood sugar to unsafe levels in dogs and cats and can also cause liver damage. Hypoglycemia appears within 10 to 60 minutes of ingesting the xylitol, and the severity of effects depends on both your pet’s size and the brand of gum. Xylitol is 100 times more toxic than chocolate, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Immediate hospitalization is required for a pet’s best prognosis.

12. Toads

dog toad poisoning
Many species of toads are poisonous to dogs, like the Cane Toad. (

If your pup has a penchant for pouncing on critters, stay away from swamps and other areas where toads congregate. The Colorado River Toad lives in – you guessed it – the southwestern U.S. and is active from May to August. Southern pet parents should be wary of Giant Toads, who also go by the nom de guerre Cane and Marine Toads. The Common and American Toads’ range extends along the East Coast as well, active in late spring to summer.

These amphibians secrete bufotoxin, a powerful hallucinogen that dogs ingest when licking the toad’s back. Reports have even surfaced of pets becoming poisoned after a toad hops through their water bowl. If you spot your dog chewing on a toad, immediately rinse out your dog’s mouth. Contact your veterinarian, who will tell you to look for symptoms of toad poisoning in dogs like foaming at the mouth, dark pink or red gums, and eye or nose irritation. As the toxin advances, seizures, paralysis and difficulty breathing present; care focuses on controlling symptoms, but the prognosis for this type of poisoning in pets is not often good.

13. Glow Sticks

cat glow stick
Ingredients in glow sticks, including a glass bead, can cause gastrointestinal and skin irritation in pets. (

Tempting to felines especially, the signature ingredient in glow sticks is dibutyl phthalate. The bitter-tasting liquid irritates anything it comes into contact with – skin, eyes, nose, mouth, paws. Behavioral changes have also been noted, like hyperactivity, anxiety or aggression.

Some glow sticks contain glass capsules; if ingested these can do real damage to a cats intestines. Watch for blood in stool or vomit, an indicator emergency treatment is needed. Even if you’re sure your pet has only had external contact with the glowing dibutyl phthalate, a full-body bath is needed. Take your pet into a dark room and note areas where the liquid is present! When bathing, take care not to run off water into your pet’s eyes, mouth or nose.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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cathy barnette
By Cathy Barnette, DVM

Cathy Barnette, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Punta Gorda, FL. She graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, then headed to North Carolina, where she spent fifteen years working in small animal general practice. Cathy recently returned to her home state of Florida and now dedicates her working hours to creating educational content for pet owners and veterinary team members for Healthy Paws Pet Insurance LLC & the Healthy Paws Foundation. Cathy is passionate about making complex medical information accessible to pet owners, allowing them to partner with their veterinarians to make informed decisions about their pets' health. Cathy is a member of both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Medical Writers Association. In addition to her human family members, she shares her home with one dog, two cats, and a dove. Cathy Barnette on LinkedIn

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