An A to Z of pet poisons – household and garden items

You may be surprised about how toxic some of the items that you have in your home and garden are to your pets. However, every year pets are exposed to a wide variety of toxic products within their territory. Below are just a few of the most toxic items that regularly cause issues with our pets. Always make sure that chemicals are locked away, or, at the very least kept out of reach in order to save yourself unnecessary trips to the vet!

Antifreeze - poisonous to cats and dogs

winter anti freezer for carsAntifreeze, which contains ethylene glycol, is extremely dangerous to pets and a lethal dose can be very small (around a tablespoon for a medium sized dog). The substance tastes sweet and, is not toxic itself but the way in which it is processed by the liver makes it that way.

The first symptoms that appear 30 minutes to 12 hours following ingestion emulate alcohol poisoning; drooling, vomiting, seizures and excessive thirst. This is then followed by a 12 to 24 hour period where the animal seems to recover outwardly, although there may be a raised heart rate and increased rate of respiration, however, internal injuries continue to take place.

A third stage then follows, in cats at around 12 to 24 hours after exposure, while in dogs may take 36 to 72 hours to appear. During this stage, the animal will have no appetite, be lethargic, and have halitosis – a symptom of the kidney failure that is occurring internally. Vomiting, depression and seizures may be seen, and, without treatment, ingestion will cause the animal to fall into a coma.

The antidote must be administered by a vet within the first 8 to 12 hours for a dog and within 3 hours for cats in order to be effective. Unfortunately, after this time, death is almost certain unless aggressive therapy takes place

Batteries – poisonous to cats and dogs

Batteries can be dangerous when ingested. Most batteries contain strong acids or alkalis, plus significant amounts of metal. An animal that chews on a battery or swallows it whole may suffer with breathing and swallowing issues. They may also develop severe chemical burns to the mouth, throat and stomach. A battery should only be retrieved by a vet via endoscopy or surgery, inducing vomiting may cause the battery to rupture and cause further problems.

Bee stings – see Insect Stings

Camphor - see Mothballs

Cigarette smoke – poisonous to all pets - Also see Nicotine (cigarettes)

In addition to the hazards posed by nicotine (see below) cigarette smoke can, just as with humans increase the risk of cancer in your pets – more so in cats because they tend to ingest more toxins, as a result of the time spent self-grooming – this is called 3rd hand smoke. Veterinarians have also observed that pets develop far more respiratory issues than those in smoke free homes. They also see allergic reactions to smoke such as scratching, biting and other skin issues, which are often confused as flea or food allergies. Dogs are also observed putting on weight more quickly after neutering than in smoke free homes

Birds can react by developing respiratory issues such as coughing and wheezing , you may also see eye problems and, if you handle your bird they may develop contact dermatitis from the nicotine on your skin. Birds may also pull out their own feathers, and develop heart and fertility problems.

Tank and aquarium fish are not immune either, since toxins in the smoke can be introduced into the water and lead to a failure to thrive and possibly, depending upon the level of smoke in the air and the size of the tank cause their premature death.

Smoking outside obviously reduces the toxicity to your pets, however, research shows that the tobacco levels in homes of smokers who smoked outside were still 5 to 7 times higher than smoke free homes. Even so, if you are unable to stop smoking, do take care not to smoke inside in order to reduce your pet’s exposure. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before handling your pet and invest in an air purifying system to help clean the smoke from their air. You can always try e-cigarettes/vaping but make sure that you don’t expose your pets to harm by leaving them out to in case they are chewed upon!

Detergents – poisonous to cats and dogs

Detergents are very often corrosive and so are likely to be damaging to your pet. As a result, if you spill something you should quickly clean it up just in case your pet walks through it, causing it to be groomed away, or ingests it by licking it up.

Detergents can be divided into several categories.

Soaps (including bar soaps, laundry soaps, and homemade soaps)usually not toxic but may cause vomiting or diarrhoea if ingested
Anionic detergents (including Laundry detergents, shampoos, dish soaps, and electric dishwashing detergents) – these substances are likely to be only slightly, to moderately toxic and generally shouldn’t cause fatalities. However, they may irritate the mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes, cause vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal bloating,
Cationic detergents (including fabric softeners, sanitizers and disinfectants) – these products are highly to extremely toxic to your pet and will cause burns to the oral cavity and the gastrointestinal tract. Other symptoms will include vomiting, red and ulcerated eyes and there may be skin irritation and hair loss
Non-ionic detergents (including dishwashing detergents, shampoos, and some laundry detergents) – these are less toxic than anionic and cationic detergents and so may only cause vomiting or diarrhoea.

Whatever you think your pet may have ingested it is possible that the product may be in a different bottle or in addition to something else, for example, as a result, prompt veterinary attention is recommended

Ethylene glycol - see antifreeze

NB - also found in lower quantities in de-icers, motor oils, brake fluid, film processing solutions, paints, wood stains, inks, printer cartridges and solvents

European Adder – poisonous to cats and dogs

The European Adder is the only venomous snake native to the UK. Adders are usually only active in warmer temperatures and so bites tend to be seasonal. Dogs are bitten more frequently than cats and the result is usually a local swelling that is often dark. It will feature two small puncture wounds in the centre and your pet may exhibit symptoms such as pale gums, bruising, dribbling, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, restlessness, drowsiness and lethargy.

It is rare, but some pets bitten by an adder may collapse, have blood clotting problems, kidney failure, liver injury, tremors or convulsions. Bites on or around a pet’s face may also result in breathing difficulties. If your pet has been bitten, you should contact your vet as soon as possible to administer the anti-venom. If is not administered quickly enough, the affected area may suffer from tissue necrosis (tissue death).

Fertilizers – poisonous to cats and dogs

plant food packagesThere are a wide variety of fertilizers on the market, however many contain poisonous amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc and pesticides. As a result, always check the product instructions in order to check when it is safe to let your pet into the treated area again.

The level of the product’s toxicity will depends upon the contents so ingestion may cause anything from a mild stomach upset to more severe physical symptoms such as multiple organ failure or even death

Flea Medications – See A to Z: Drugs

Herbicides – see Pesticides

Insecticides – see Pesticides

Insect stings – poisonous to all pets

It is rare for an insect sting to cause a bad reaction, however, just as humans can be allergic to them, so too can your pet. As a result, if you think your pet has been stung by a bee or another insect make sure that the sting is removed, and bathe the area with cool water. Restrict their movement to ensure that the blood supply to the area is minimised, therefore reducing the pain and swelling effect and observe them for any unusual changes. If the localised swelling does not go down in a day or so notify your vet. However, if you pet does suffer a severe allergic or anaphylactic reaction to the sting you should seek help straight away.

Symptoms may include facial and/or neck swelling, difficulty breathing, excessive salivation, general weakness or a significant number of lumps in the skin away from the sting. Pay particular attention to pets that have been stung on or near their face, and seek veterinary assistance if the sting occurred inside the mouth, as a consequence of it being caught in the mouth or eaten. The swelling may cause the animal’s throat to become blocked, and therefore restrict their breathing.  The vet may well prescribe an anti-histamine, however, never give it to your pet without your pet having first seen a vet because the reaction to the medication may prove more dangerous than the reaction to the sting and, it could even be fatal!

Mothballs – poisonous to cats and dogs

SONY DSCMothballs are designed to release a vapour that kill and repel moths (and their larvae) and, occasionally, other insects. In some cases, they are also used to repel mice and other pests.

Mothballs come in a variety of formats and contain the insecticides naphthalene, paradi-chlorobenzene (PDB), or occasionally camphor. Older mothballs contain naphthalene which was superseded by PDB due to fears of toxicity and flammability.

Cats are more sensitive to the chemicals than dogs but canines are more likely to consume a mothball than a feline. Mothballs that are more modern are less toxic but can still cause issues for cats and dogs if ingested. Signs of mothball toxicity include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst (and therefore, urination), breathing problems, and seizures. In cases of severe poisonings, an animal may develop multiple organ failure, fall into a coma and, rarely, death may follow.

Naphthalene – see Mothballs

Nicotine – poisonous to cats and dogs

Nicotine poisoning can occur in pets as a result of inhaling second hand smoke or ingesting tobacco, however, it is unlikely that they will be keen to eat much of it since it tastes bitter to them. Even so, stop-smoking aids are often sweetened and flavoured, which makes it more appealing.

Evidence suggests that a toxic dose for pets is around 1mg per pound of pet body weight, while the lethal dose is 4 mg per pound of pet body weight. Which means a 40 lb. dog would become ill after eating one cigarette but would need 11 cigarettes to reach a fatal dose.

Symptoms of nicotine poisoning can occur within an hour and even small amounts can cause symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, fast or difficult breathing, tremors, loss of coordination and collapse. Many animals will vomit soon after ingestion, thereby ridding themselves of the toxin, however, in larger doses and without treatment the animal may die – occasionally within a few hours - as a consequence of an inability to breathe. As a result, if you suspect that your pet has eaten a nicotine containing product you should seek veterinary assistance straight away.

Remember; always keep your nicotine containing products away from nosy pets, and clear away cigar and cigarette butts straight away. Water that has had a butt floating in it, for example, may be toxic to a thirsty cat. E-cigarettes have also been implicated in a number of pet deaths so make sure that you don’t leave them unattended just in case your pet decides to chew on it!

Nicotine (as an insecticide) – See pesticides

Paradichlorobenzene/ PDB – see mothballs

Permethrin – See Flea medication (A to Z: Drugs)

Pesticides - poisonous to all pets

pesticide applied to lawn - warning messagePesticides are substances that are designed to attract and kill pests. They are not usually specific in their action and so, while not intended to harm, can often affect our pets in devastating ways. There are several types of pesticides and they can be classified in a number of ways. We highlight a few of the major examples that are used domestically - and a few that might be used in the wider world (e.g. agriculturally) - that can affect our pets and the effects that they may have; Rodenticides, Molluscicides, Insecticides and herbicides.

– designed to kill mice and rats. These products range in toxicity depending upon their action. They are the most common pesticides implicated in poisoning of cats, usually because the feline has eaten a mouse that has received a dose. There are different types of rodenticide

Anticoagulants (e.g. Warfarin) – these are the most common and well known of all rodenticides. Their primary action is to prevent the blood from clotting, and as a result causes internal bleeding and eventual death of the pest.Signs of ingestion in your pet can appear up to 4 or 5 days after exposure and include lethargy, depression, weakness, coughing and difficulty breathing. Less common signs are vomiting, diarrhoea, bleeding nose and gums, bruising and swollen joints. With veterinary assistance, recovery is possible but without treatment it can be fatal
Cholecalciferol - The primary action of these rodenticides are to cause high calcium and phosphorous levels in the body causing kidney failure and eventually death of the pestSigns of ingestion are weakness, lethargy and a decreased appetite and progress to include vomiting, increased thirst (and urination), vomiting, diarrhoea within 12 to 36 hours after exposure. The kidneys may fail within one or two days of exposure. With veterinary assistance, recovery is possible but survivors may have permanent damage to their kidneys. In addition, signs of poisoning may last several weeks because cholecalciferol is often slow to leave the body.
Bromethalin – The primary action of these rodenticides is to poison the central nervous system, causing paralysis and eventually death. Cats are more sensitive to the poison than dogs. Signs of ingestion include coordination problems, tremors, seizures, paralysis and, eventually death. The more the animal eats the more severe the clinical signs may be. Symptoms usually appear within 2 hours, but can be delayed by up to 36 hours, milder signs may resolve without treatment. Animals with more severe symptoms generally have a poorer prognosis.
Zinc and aluminum phosphides – The primary action of these rodenticides is to react with the acid in rodents’ digestive system to create a toxic gas. Rodents don’t have a vomit reflex which is why these poisons are so effective as rodenticides! The gas is absorbed by the body and damages the tissues of the liver and lungs. The toxic properties of the gas eventually cause multiple organ failure and death of the pest. Signs of ingestion include loss of appetite, stomach bloating, vomiting (which may be bloody), abdominal pain, diarrhoea, coordination problems, convulsions and liver damage. Once clinical signs are observed, the prognosis is poor.The poison may cause vomiting within an hour of ingestion but other signs may be delayed by 4 to 18 hours. The gas produced by the poison is highly toxic to humans so care should be taken by those looking after an affected animal.

Molluscicides – designed to kill slugs and snails. There are two different types of molluscicide oxidizing and non-oxidizing.

Non-oxidizing Molluscicides – these include metal salts such as iron(III) phosphate and aluminium sulfate, and are “advertised” as pet safe. Indeed they are generally less toxic than other products but they can cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation and, rarely - if eaten in a large amounts over a long period – ingestion could be fatal.
Oxidizing Molluscicides – the most common of these chemicals is metaldehyde. Metaldehyde is highly toxic and, unfortunately, bait using this chemical is very attractive to our pets because it is usually mixed with other products to make it more palatable to the target species, thereby rendering them more enticing for our pets.
When these chemicals are ingested by our pets it can cause symptoms between 30 minutes and 3 hrs later. These symptoms include agitation, tremors, seizures and severe hyperthermia (temperatures of 108 degrees – 102 is normal for dogs - have been observed). Organ failure and death soon follows without quick and aggressive treatment.

Insecticides – designed to kill insects and include treatments for fleas and ticks. There are several different types and include organochlorides, organophosphates and carbamates, Pyrethroids, and Neonicotinoids

Organochloride – perhaps the most well known of the Organochlorides is probably DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). DDT and all other organochlorides have been banned due to their highly toxic nature. They have been replaced by organophosphates and carbamates.
Organophosphates and carbamates  - commonly found in flea collars and snail and slug killers and have replaced organochlorides as the most frequently used insecticides. Unfortunately, they can cause severe poisonings in pets as well! Their primary action is on the nervous system, they prevent transmission of signals throughout the body of the pest, therefore acting as an agent of paralysis and, eventually death. If ingested, your pet will experience various symptoms, including SLUDGE signs (the acronym for salivation, lacrimation, urination, and defecation).  They will also suffer from hypothermia, hyperthermia, difficulty breathing, tremors, and seizures. Unless the animal experiences respiratory issues and seizures, prognosis is usually good.
Pyrethroids – See A to Z: Drugs
Neonicotinoids  - insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. While it is suggested that have adverse effect on bee populations and may contribute to the decline in bird populations, they are significantly less toxic than organophosphates and carbamates. Negative effects on pets tend only to be eye and skin irritation, and occasionally muscle weakness.

Herbicides - also known as weedkillers, are chemical substances designed to control unwanted plants. Most herbicides are selective and are not poisonous to animals. Those which are not selective, including arsenicals and sodium chlorate, tend to be more toxic.

Since there are over 200 chemicals that can be used in herbicides it is difficult to quantify what may signal an ingestion. However, should you observe that your pet has gastrointestinal issues and you are aware that you or your neighbours have used a weedkiller recently, you should seek advice from your vet.

Pyrethrin See Flea medication (A to Z: Drugs)

Rodenticides – see Pesticides

Scented oils - see Essential Oils (A to Z: Drugs)

Tick medications See Flea medication (A to Z: Drugs)

Toxic Gases – poisonous to all pets

carbon monoxide warning messageThere are a number of gases that are toxic to pets; while many of them are also toxic to humans, it takes very little to cause a poisoning in an animal, particularly birds and small pets. As a result, if you are struggling with the smell of fumes from new paint, for example, it is likely that your pet is finding it even harder. We highlight a few of the most frequent causes of poisonings in pets, as a consequence of toxic gases.

Carbon monoxide - an odourless, colourless gas produced by carbon based fuels, most frequently in defective heating systems. When inhaled it reduces the oxygen that is available to the body and depending on the concentration levels and the length of exposure symptoms may develop quickly or gradually. Acute symptoms include sleepiness, weakness, lethargy, breathing problems, seizures, and altered mental state. Coma and eventually death may follow.

Smoke inhalation – if you pet was unfortunate enough to be caught in a fire and inhale smoke as a result, they may have been poisoned by toxic fumes released from burned materials. They may also have had a heat-induced injury of their lungs without having been burned themselves, or suffered asphyxia as a result of a lack of oxygen. Signs and symptoms may include soot in the nasal or throat passages, rapid and deep respiration, open mouth breathing in cats, weakness and lethargy, Reddened eyes, confusion and seizures.  The length and type of exposure will determine the prognosis.

Teflon – we use this as a catchall term for polytetrafluoroethlyene (PTFE) fumes. PTFE is used as a coating for various products including non-stick cookware, self-cleaning ovens, and coatings for household items such as irons. When heated the PTFE give off acidic fumes that can be lethal to birds but are harmless to other animals. The fumes are quick acting and cause respiratory distress which is usually fatal, however can be easily prevented by using un coated products.

Other gases given off by products such as paint fumes, bleach fumes essential/aromatherapy oils, for example, may all cause irritation to your pet and may prove fatal depending upon the size of your pet and its exposure. Caution is always advised!

Weedkillers – see Pesticides


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