Pet Toxins by Species

You do your best to take care of your pet, but what if an everyday household item causes them problems? Many items in your home can harm your pet, and different types of pets are affected by different toxins. Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited  team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital wants to help by providing information on toxins that could harm your pet.

What toxins affect dogs, cats, and ferrets?

Dogs, cats, and ferrets are inquisitive creatures who tend to get into everything. Their curiosity can be dangerous if they contact a poisonous substance. Items that can be problematic include:

  • Human medications — Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, herbal supplements, and certain cold medications can be toxic to pets. In addition, prescription medications, including antidepressants, blood pressure medications, heart medications, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs, can cause problems for your pet, if ingested.
  • Human foods — Many human foods, including onions, garlic, grapes, macadamia nuts, sugar-free candy and gum, and chocolate, are toxic to pets.
    • Onions and garlic — These vegetables, as well as leeks, shallots, and chives, contain a toxin called N-dipropyl sulfide, which attacks pets’ red blood cells and causes anemia.
    • Grapes — Grapes and raisins cause kidney failure in dogs, cats, and ferrets.
    • Macadamia nuts — These nuts contain an unknown toxin that causes depression, weakness, and vomiting in pets.
    • Xylitol — Many sugar-free products contain xylitol, which causes a release of insulin, resulting in hypoglycemia.
    • Chocolate — Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, ingredients that can cause central nervous system stimulation, resulting in restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive urination. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic the product is for your pet.
  • Veterinary products — Medications and supplements designed for pets can cause problems if your pet overdoses, or if the wrong pet receives the product.
  • Household items — Common items found around your home, such as cleaning products, paint, spackle, and glue, are toxic to pets.
  • Pesticides — Many products designed to rid your home of pests, such as rodents and insects, are dangerous for your pet.
  • Plants — Several indoor and outdoor plants and flowers, including lilies, chrysanthemums, tulips, and azaleas, are toxic to pets. In some cases, simply drinking the vase water can cause significant issues.
  • Garden products — Products used to care for your lawn and garden, such as fertilizers and herbicides, are toxic to pets.
  • Alcohol — Pets are extremely sensitive to alcohol, and a small amount can result in poisoning. Signs include lethargy, incoordination, vomiting, and a decreased respiration rate.

What toxins affect pet birds?

Birds are more at risk for airborne toxins, since they breathe through a system of air sacs, which allows for prolonged exposure to inhaled toxins. Smoking cigarettes and cigars in your home can cause issues for your bird, including respiratory disease and skin and eye irritation. Other items that can be problematic for your bird include:

  • Teflon — The chemical polytetrafluoroethylene is found in nonstick pans, heating elements, irons, ovens, and hair dryers. When these appliances are heated, a clear, odorless gas is released that is severely toxic to birds. Most products must be heated to temperatures greater than 500 degrees for the toxic fumes to be released, but imperfections in the coating can allow them to be released at much lower temperatures. Small amounts of the fumes can be deadly for your bird. Educate yourself on which products in your home have teflon, and limit your bird’s exposure to these items, especially when they are heated.
  • Avocado — Avocados contain persin in the skin, meat, pit, and leaves. This substance is toxic to your bird’s heart, and can lead to heart failure and death.
  • Heavy metals — Lead and zinc, which are found in many common household items, are extremely toxic to birds. Sources of lead include stained glass, some jewelry, and lead fishing weights. Sources of zinc include human vitamins, metallic toys, and some rubber items.

What toxins affect pet reptiles?

Reptiles are also extremely sensitive to airborne toxins such as smoke and teflon, because their skin is permeable. Other items that can be problematic for your reptile include:

  • Fireflies — These insects contain lucibufagins, a defensive steroid produced to make them unpalatable to predators. This toxin can damage your reptile’s heart and often results in death.
  • Vitamin D — Over-supplementation of Vitamin D can cause calcification of your reptile’s gastrointestinal tissue, kidneys, lungs, heart, blood vessels, and joints.
  • Bleach — This cleaning product is effective for treating cage parasites, but should never be applied directly to your reptile. Contact can cause skin irritation and significant ocular burns. In addition, respiratory tract irritation can occur if your reptile’s cage isn’t allowed to air out for at least 24 hours after being bleached.

What toxins affect pet guinea pigs?

Similar to cats, dogs, and ferrets, onions, garlic, and chocolate are toxic to guinea pigs. Other items that can be problematic for your guinea pig include:

  • Potatoes — Potatoes contain alkaloids that cause serious health problems, such as lethargy, nausea, vomiting, and potentially, death, for guinea pigs.
  • Dairy products — Guinea pigs are lactose intolerant, and dairy products can result in severe gastrointestinal upset. Ferrets are also lactose intolerant, and should avoid dairy products.

Knowing what items in your home could threaten your pet will help you protect them from these toxins. If your pet ingests a toxin, contact Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital or Animal Poison Control as quickly as possible, to ensure your pet receives the help they need.