Anyone who’s been around dogs or cats for any length of time knows they’re not exactly discriminating when it comes to what they put into their mouths. Edible hazards for pets abound, especially during the holiday season – but there are plenty of other everyday items that can present a danger to your pets if ingested.
Since dogs and cats explore the world with their mouths (which explains why they find that odorless, tasteless dust bunny behind the couch so darn fascinating), they can get into serious trouble by swallowing things that were never meant to be eaten. Here are some common items that can get dogs and cats into trouble if they are accidentally ingested – and what to do if that ever happens to your pet.
Edible Hazard #1 – Foods
Although there are plenty of human foods that are healthy for pets, some contain substances that can be Toxic to dogs and cats. As a general rule, it’s best to keep these foods out of reach of your pets:
- Grapes/raisins (can cause kidney damage in dogs)
- Coffee grounds, as well as any beverages containing caffeine
- Onions, Garlic, Leeks, and Shallots (can cause anemia)
- Chocolate (contains theobromine, which affects the central nervous system. Baking chocolate is particularly dangerous; it can be fatal in quantities as small as 1/10 of an ounce per body weight if ingested.)
- Macadamia Nuts
- Apple seeds and stems (contain cyanide)
- Bread dough containing yeast (yeast will continue to expand and ferment in the stomach, creating alcohol and causing potentially life-threatening bloat)
- Fatty foods (increases the risk of pancreatitis)
- Salt (in large quantities can cause dehydration, seizures, and kidney damage)
- Avocados (possibly). Although these are extremely toxic to birds and cattle, the jury is still out as to whether they are truly toxic to dogs and cats. Personally, I keep them away from my pets, since I choose to just not take the risk.
Remember to also keep garbage out of reach; decomposing food contains bacteria and mold that can cause illness.
Edible Hazard #2 – Plants
Although beautiful, many varieties of plants can be toxic to pets. Since dogs and cats instinctively like to chew on plant leaves, be sure the ones in and around your home are safe if ingested. Plants to avoid include:
- Sago Palm
- Castor Bean
- Rhubarb leaves
Other plants that aren’t necessarily toxic but can cause vomiting and diarrhea in pets include chrysanthemum, amaryllis, hibiscus, English ivy, philodendron, hydrangea, and schefflera.
Edible Hazard #3 – Household Chemicals
While it’s unlikely that your dog or cat would purposely go out of their way to swallow chemicals in your home, the danger here is that they can pick up chemicals on their feet or fur and accidentally ingest them through licking and grooming.
Use extra caution and keep pets away from these household chemicals:
- Insecticides (bug spray, ant and roach traps, snail poison)
- Cleaning products (bleach, window cleaners, bathroom/kitchen/toilet bowl cleaners)
- Detergents (dish and laundry detergent pods are particularly toxic to pets)
- Rodenticides (rat and mouse poison)
- Fertilizer/Lawn Chemicals
- De-icers and ice-melting pellets
- Varnish, paint remover, nail polish remover, solvents
- Antifreeze (this is extremely dangerous since it tastes sweet and can cause tremendous damage to the body very quickly)
The best way to prevent accidental exposure to many of these chemicals is to use green, environmentally safe products whenever possible and to clean your pet’s feet whenever they could have possibly come into contact with chemicals on the floor or ground.
Edible Hazard #4 – Xylitol
This artificial sweetener is so dangerous, it gets its own special mention.
Xylitol is used in a tremendous number of human food products, including chewing gum, mints, peanut butter, candy, pudding, ice cream, yogurt, condiments, protein bars, and cookies. It can also be lurking in toothpaste, chewable vitamins, mouthwash, even cosmetics and hair products.
What makes xylitol so dangerous is that it has a sweet smell that dogs in particular are drawn to. A dog who ingests even a few pieces of chewing gum containing xylitol can become seriously ill, and if not treated, can experience seizures, liver failure, and death.
Edible Hazard #5 – Common Household Items
There are a surprising number of everyday items in our homes that can pose a real threat to our pets if swallowed. These include:
- Batteries (particularly small disc batteries like those in remote controls and electronic games)
- Fabric softener sheets (particularly toxic to cats)
- Tobacco products
- Pennies (the ones minted after 1982 contain zinc, which can be toxic if ingested)
- String, yarn, dental floss, ribbons (can cause potentially fatal intestinal obstruction)
- Firestarter logs
- Glue (especially Gorilla Glue, which expands and hardens into a large mass when exposed to stomach acid; it requires surgery to remove)
- Glow Sticks
- Tea Tree Oil
Although many people don’t think twice about giving rawhide chews to dogs, I include them on this list because they not only pose a choking hazard if swallowed, many are also treated with toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, arsenic, and chlorine bleach.
Edible Hazard # 6 – Human Drugs
Medications made for people can make pets extremely sick. High-risk human drugs include:
- Acetaminophen/Tylenol (causes liver failure in dogs and cats)
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin (causes kidney failure in dogs and cats)
- Cold medicine
- Diet Pills
- Numerous prescription drugs
Keep all medications tightly closed and stored safely away from pets, and never give your pet any type of over-the-counter medication unless directed by a veterinarian.
Edible Hazards – Holiday Edition
For most of us, the holidays are the best time of the year – so why risk ruining them with an emergency trip to the vet?
Here are a few potentially dangerous things to watch out for during the holidays if you have pets:
- Toxic holiday plants such as holly, mistletoe, and Christmas lilies
- Potpourri, both liquid and dried (swallowing liquid potpourri can cause ulcers in the mouth and stomach)
- Christmas tree water (can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested)
- Hanging edible ornaments made of dough or gingerbread
- Tinsel (cats in particular love to swallow tinsel, which can cause GI obstruction)
- Holiday leftovers (cooked turkey bones, corncobs, and plastic utensils can also cause serious harm if swallowed)
What To Do If Your Pet Swallows Something He Shouldn’t
If you suspect your pet has swallowed something poisonous, DO NOT HESITATE to call your veterinarian or a pet poison helpline immediately. Time is critical! The ASPCA Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) and the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) are available 24/7, year round (consultation fees may apply).
Always have the following information available when you call about your pet:
- Species, breed, age, sex, and weight.
- Symptoms/signs your pet is displaying.
- Name of what your pet ingested, as well as the strength and amount (have the product container or packaging available for reference, if possible).
- Time elapsed since the time of exposure.
Hopefully you will never need these numbers, but it’s a good idea to have them programmed into your phone should you ever need them. And remember that when it comes to edible hazards for pets, an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure.
Has your pet ever swallowed something he shouldn’t? Please share your story with us in the comments below!
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