Common Pet Toxins

Your pet’s inquisitive nature can be dangerous if they investigate a toxic substance. In 2022, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) experienced a 22 percent increase in calls over the prior year, assisting 401,550 animals across all 50 U.S. states. This jump in cases led to the APCC reaching the unfortunate milestone of 4 million cases of pet toxicity since its inception 45 years ago.

The APCC publishes a list each year of the most common toxins involved in the cases they assist. You may be surprised to find that many of these potential pet toxins lurk in your home, and your curious pet can easily be exposed to a hazardous substance. 

Over-the-counter medications can be toxic to pets

Over-the-counter (OTC) human medications are the most common cause of pet poisonings addressed by the APCC. These include:

  • Ibuprofen — Pet owners commonly turn to their own medicine cabinet when their pet is in pain, and ibuprofen is a staple found in most people’s homes. However, medications safe for humans aren’t necessarily safe for pets. Ibuprofen has a narrow safety margin in dogs, causing problems such as stomach ulceration, kidney failure, and neurological signs. Cats are more sensitive to ibuprofen toxicity than dogs because they can’t metabolize the drug efficiently, and they can be poisoned at extremely low doses.
  • Acetaminophen — Acetaminophen is another medication most people keep in their homes. Dogs and cats metabolize the drug differently than humans, and small doses can lead to issues such as liver failure and red blood cell abnormalities. Cats are especially sensitive.
  • Cold and flu medications — Many cold and flu medications contain pseudoephedrine, which can cause signs in pets including agitation, hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and tremors. 

Prescription medications can be toxic to pets

Several human prescription medications are hazardous to pets. These include:

  • Antidepressants — Human antidepressants, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and novel drugs, are toxic to pets, causing cardiac and central nervous system abnormalities. 
  • Cardiac medications — Cardiac medications, such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and calcium channel inhibitors, can be toxic to pets, most commonly causing signs such as weakness, vomiting, slow heart rate, and collapse.
  • Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications — ADHD medications are stimulants, and, when ingested by a pet, can cause such signs as agitation, increased heart rate, elevated body temperature, tremors, and seizures. 

Human foods can be toxic to pets

Many common foods found in your kitchen are toxic to pets. These include:

  • Chocolate — This delectable sweet treat contains caffeine and theobromine, which pets can’t metabolize as well as humans. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, excessive panting, increased thirst and urination, and an elevated heart rate. In severe cases, tremors, seizures, and heart failure can occur.
  • Grapes — Grapes and raisins contain an unknown toxin that causes kidney failure in pets. Signs typically develop in 24 to 48 hours and include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, increased thirst and urination, and seizures.
  • Onions — Onions, garlic, and other members of the allium family contain N-propyl disulfide, which causes a pet’s red blood cells to break down, leading to anemia. Signs include vomiting, lethargy, weakness, decreased appetite, pale gums, and reddish urine.
  • Xylitol — Xylitol is a sugar substitute commonly used in sugar-free products such as candies, peanut butter, baked goods, and gummy vitamins. In pets, xylitol triggers a dose dependent insulin release from the pancreas that causes a profound drop in blood sugar. Signs include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking or standing, lethargy, seizures, and coma.

Household substances can be toxic to pets

Certain substances found in and around your home are toxic to pets. These include:

  • Antifreeze — Many antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, a sweet tasting liquid that causes severe kidney damage in pets. Signs include vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, increased thirst and urination, and seizures.
  • Rodenticides — Many types of rodenticides are on the market, and they are all dangerous to pets. The most common forms include:
  • Phosphides — These zinc, calcium, and aluminum phosphide based products act by releasing phosphide gasses inside the pet, causing painful abdominal distention and liver damage.
  • Bromethalin — These products cause lethal swelling inside the brain.
  • Cholecalciferol — These products increase calcium and phosphorus levels, leading to acute kidney failure.
  • Anticoagulants — These products prevent clotting, causing the pet to bleed out. 
  • Glue — When ingested, wood glues, construction glues, and high-strength glues mix with the pet’s stomach fluids and rapidly expand, forming a foreign body obstruction in the stomach. 

Steps to decrease your pet’s toxin risk

Not every pet toxicity case can be prevented, but you can take steps to decrease your pet’s risk. These include:

  • Containing your medications — Keep your medications in an area inaccessible to your pet, such as an elevated bathroom or kitchen cabinet.
  • Going in another room — When taking your medication, go in another room and close the door so your pet can’t ingest the tablet if you drop it.
  • Containing your garbage — Keep your garbage in sealed containers so your pet can’t dumpster dive and find toxic substances.
  • Keeping your counter clean — Don’t leave pet toxic foods on your counters.
  • Reading the label — Read all labels on a product to ensure no ingredients are harmful before giving the food to your pet.
  • Securing your guests’ belongings — Ensure your guests’ coats and purses are in a secure area. Many people carry sugar-free gum or mints and medications that can be dangerous to your pet.
  • Keeping household items secure — Ensure all household substances are in a secure cabinet or closet.


Many household items pose a threat to your pet, but taking certain precautions can decrease their risk. If your pet ingests a toxin, immediately contact our Madison Veterinary Emergency team so we can provide the care they need.