Common Pet Poisons: How to Keep Your Pet Safe

March is Pet Poison Prevention Month. As part of our ongoing mission at College Hills Veterinary Hospital, we would like to talk this month about common pet poisons and what you can do to keep your pet safe.

Cleaning Products

Many cleaning products are fine to use around your pets. However, your cleaning product may have special instructions to ensure the safety of your animals. For instance, if the label states, “keep pets and children away from the area until dry,” follow those directions to prevent possible health risks. Products containing bleach can safely disinfect many household surfaces when used correctly. However, they can cause stomach upset, drooling, vomiting or diarrhea, severe burns if swallowed, and respiratory tract irritation if inhaled in a high enough concentration. In addition, skin contact with concentrated solutions may produce severe chemical burns. Some detergents can create a similar reaction, and cats can be particularly sensitive to ingredients such as phenols. Phenols are organic compounds that you find in many products. As a rule, store all cleaning products in a secure cabinet out of the reach of pets and keep them in their original packaging or a clearly labeled and tightly sealed container.

Air Fresheners

Some forms of air fresheners can be quite toxic, especially to animals (and children!) who might ingest the substances or cannot avoid the parts of the home where air fresheners are used. The ingredient list for most air fresheners are volatile organic compounds (VOC). VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. These substances can cause a long list of maladies. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the health effects of VOCs may include:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches, loss of coordination, lethargy, and nausea
  • Damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system
  • Some VOCs can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause it in people

Essential Oils

Essential oils, which are included in many air freshener products, can be toxic, especially to cats. If you have essential oils in the home, make sure they are kept in a location where your pets cannot come into direct contact with them. For more information about air fresheners and essential oils toxicity to pets, you can read an article from PetMD here.

Poisonous Plants

Some of the common plants to ensure your pets avoid here in Texas are:

  • Texas Bull Nettle
  • Poison Ivy
  • Poison Sumac
  • Wisteria
  • Foxtail
  • Oleander

For more information about poisonous plants, you can visit the Texas Poison Center Network.

CBD and Hemp Products

As cannabis-derived products have become more available for human use, our office has seen an increase in pet poisoning from CBD or Hemp oil products, or from ingestion of the plants themselves. Our office has particularly seen a rise of toxicity in cats. According to the AVMA, veterinary cases of cannabis toxicosis in dogs stem most commonly from exposure to edibles. Note: in these cases, there may be additional toxic ingredients involved – such as chocolate, raisins, or xylitol – which result in a poorer prognosis. The most common signs of poisoning from CBD products are:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of muscle control or coordination can occasionally occur with large ingestions.

Visit the AVMA website for more information regarding CBD poisoning in pets.


As with household cleaners, read and follow label instructions before using any type of insecticide, pesticide, herbicide, or rodenticide in your pet’s environment. For example, flea and tick products labeled “for use on dogs only” should never be used on cats or other species, as severe or even life-threatening problems could result. Always consult with your veterinarian about the safe use of these products for your pet. You can call our office for any questions. This time of year, we start thinking about fertilizing our lawns and growing our gardens. But fertilizers, insecticides, mulches, and weedkillers can all contain poisonous substances than can affect your pet. Again, read labels and instructions and follow them carefully to keep your pet safe. If you can’t keep your pets away from toxic gardening chemicals, play it safe and find non-toxic alternatives. Here are some sites to give you some ideas:

Rat and Mouse Poison: If a pet ingests rat or mouse poison, potentially serious or even life-threatening illness can result; therefore, when using any rodenticide, it is important to place the poison in areas completely inaccessible to pets. Some newer rodenticides have no known antidote and can pose significant safety risks to animals and people.

Foods Poisonous to Pets

Food is in the top three of the most common things that poison pets. Food that is safe for humans can be deadly for pets. To be on the safe side, you should never allow your pet to have any of the following things:

  • Coffee – either the grounds, beans, or the drink itself. Caffeine of any kind can be extremely toxic.
  • Chocolate
  • Avocado
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Salt
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Alcohol
  • Foods with a lot of fat
  • Macadamia nuts

Human Medication

Pets ingesting medication meant for humans is the number one reason people call the emergency animal poison control number. You should never give your pet any human medication unless specifically directed by your veterinarian. That includes:

  • Painkillers like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen (Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, etc.)
  • Antidepressants or anxiety medications
  • ADHD drugs (Ritalin, Concerta, etc.)
  • Cold medicines
  • Diet pills
  • Prescription medications for medical conditions
  • Vitamins and supplements. * Note, there are vitamins and supplements made specifically for pets that are safe. If you would like to find out more about them for your pet, please feel free to ask us.

If you have a question about a particular medication, call us at (979) 693-0123.

Signs of Poisoning

As a pet owner, keep yourself informed so you can tell as rapidly as possible if your furry friend needs medical attention. These are some of the common things to watch out for:

  1. Vomiting
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Lethargy
  4. Irregular/stumbling gait
  5. Lack of appetite or water intake

If you observe any of these indicators, act quickly because the faster you get help, the better the chances are that there will be no long-term adverse effects for your loved one. The list above are the common signs of pet poisoning but is not a complete list. To find more signs of pet poisoning, you can go here.

How to Handle Pet Poisoning

If you see signs that your animal may be poisoned or you suspect they ingested something poisonous, don’t wait! Call us immediately at (979) 693-0123. You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline – (855) 764-7661 As an important reminder: do not induce vomiting in your pet after poison ingestion unless you are directed to do so by a trained professional.

Final Words

Even when you think there are no poisons in or around your home, it is always best to stay on the alert when it comes to your pet and potential dangers. Keep our phone number and the number for the pet poison helpline in an easily accessible place. In the event that your pet does ingest something poisonous try to remain calm and call us. As your veterinarian, we will direct you on exactly what to do next. We are honored to be entrusted with your beloved animal companion’s care. We will give the highest quality of medical care to patients while also educating you so you can have the best owner-pet relationship possible.

Dr. Kim Stewart
College Hills Veterinary Hospital
College Station, Texas

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