Protect your pet: Be aware of lesser-known toxins around the house

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Even the sweetest of pets can get into undesirable substances at the blink of an eye. | Dani Grace Photography

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There’s no telling what a dog or cat can get into when they set their mind to it.

That’s why, according to Dr. Claire Ojala, associate veterinarian at the South Loop Animal Hospital in Chicago, and Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, it is important to make sure medications, food, plants and household items that are harmful to pets are put away in the most secure of places.

“Many of us underestimate the ability of our dogs to get under the stove or in the closet or behind the refrigerator,” Wismer said.

Even more important than making sure things are put away properly is to know what products inside of your home could be harmful or even deadly to your pet.


1. Ibuprofen – “We take it for pain in moderation,” Wismer said. “Dogs and cats will eat the entire bottle and it can cause ulcers and kidney failure.”

2. Tylenol – “Extra dangerous in cats,” Wismer said. “One extra-strength Tylenol can change [a cat’s] blood so it’s unable to create oxygen.”

3. Anti-depressants – Can cause behavioral changes in your animal and affect heart rate and blood pressure.

“Your pet may become restless, agitated, and hallucinate and vocalize at things that are not there,” Wismer said.

4. ADHD medications – Are amphetamines that cause stimulatory signs such as high heart rare, high blood pressure and seizures.

5. Efudex and Dovonex – Efudex is an ointment for treating skin cancer for humans and can cause seizures and death for animals who lick their owner after they have applied it. Dovonex is also an ointment, but is used to treat cirrhosis. The high levels of vitamin D can cause kidney failure.

6. Rogaine and estrogen creams – “Dogs and cats have access to our skin, so they can lick things that are applied topically,” Ojala said. “If they lick your skin with Rogaine or estrogen creams on it, it can be very, very toxic to them.”

7. Human vitamins – Pets will eat supplements that have been dropped on the floor and people will think nothing of it. Ojala warns to be more careful.

“Because vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated, people get supplements for anything from mood to sleep,” Ojala said. “We have had animals come in and we suspect toxins, but have no idea what it is.”

Wismer notes that human medications are OK for pets in certain cases.

“There are many medications we use that are fine for both dogs and cats,” Wismer said. “The important thing to remember is to ask the dosage from the veterinarian. It’s really going to vary from a human to a pet.”


1. Chocolate – Poison control gets the most calls each year about chocolate because people are so aware of the dangers it presents to dogs. What many people don’t know is that the type of chocolate consumed makes a world of difference.

“Chocolate acts as a stimulant that leads to high heart rate, seizures and diarrhea,” Wismer said. “It is very important the type of chocolate and the amount that is ingested. A 20 pound dog would have to eat 8.5 ounces of milk chocolate, 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate and only 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate to be in trouble.

“If your dog eats that Hershey’s Kiss or 5 or 6 M&Ms, we aren’t going to be too concerned.”

2. Bread dough, pizza dough and hops – Things that rise are toxic to dogs.

“Hops, from home brewing are toxic to dogs,” Ojala said. “We didn’t know about it until more people got ‘hopped up’ and started calling in when their dogs accidentally ate them.”

3. Grapes and raisins – “Both are toxic to dogs and probably cats,” Ojala said. “We don’t know the toxic principle, so a German shepherd could have one raisin and have a problem.”

4. Onions and garlic – Both cause the loss of red blood cells and anemia.

5. Xylitol – An artificial sweetener that acts as a stimulant in dogs. It is natural, and can be found in some berries, vegetable and fruits.

Plants/Household items:
1. Lillies – Extremely toxic to cats.

“Lillies can cause kidney failure and it doesn’t take much,” Ojala said. “All parts of the plant are toxic. I don’t even allow those in my house.”

2. Poinsettias – Overrated in their toxicity. Can cause irritation to the mouth, but are not the deadly poisons a lot of people think they are.

3. Sago Palm – By far the worst plant a dog could eat. It causes liver failure if digested.

“It used to be we only got calls on [the Sago Palm] from southern states,” Wismer said. “Now, it can be potted and versions can be found at local stores.”

4. Potpourri – Cats go after potpourri, especially the liquid ones, and eat or drink them. Both irritate the mucus membranes of their mouths.

“It can get to the point where they have so many sores in their mouth that they need hospitalization,” Ojala said.

5. Oven cleaning supplies, rust cleaner and drain cleaners – All are very acidic and can cause severe burns to the mouth, skin and stomach of pets. Wismer suggests not keeping these under the sink, in a closet or on the side of the refrigerator because of the threat they provide to animals.

To ensure the safety of your animal, especially when you’re gone, you either have to be vigilant about cleaning up, or keep them locked away in a safe place.

“Behind a closed door is probably the best way to keep [an animal] safe,” Wismer said. “Cats can jump on the counter and bigger dogs can get into anything on the counter.

“If you have visitors in your house, make sure they know how to keep your animal safe.”

Ojala said when guests who don’t know the items that can harm your pet enter the house, the likelihood of them getting into something they shouldn’t goes up.

“If [pets] are going to be out, make sure things are kept up and completely away,” Ojala said. “If you have a dog or cat that likes to explore and get into things, they should be in a crate or a room.”

Follow Matthew Schwerha on Twitter @MatthewSchwerha