There are many dangers in and around the home that can spell disaster for your dog. Due to canine curiosity and their tendency to explore the world using their mouth they can ingest common household items that are potentially toxic. Toxicoses account for approximately 15 to 20 percent of animal emergencies at emergency facilities and listed below are the top ten categories of common household items that are most frequently seen.
1. People food
Just because we can eat it does not mean our food is safe for our canine companions. Chocolate contains large amounts of caffeine and theobromine which dogs do not tolerate well. It can cause clinical signs ranging from gastrointestinal upset, irregular heartbeats, abnormal blood pressure, tremors, seizures and even death in extreme cases. In general, the darker the chocolate the more toxic it is. The toxic dose is calculated by factoring in your dog’s weight, the type of chocolate and how much chocolate was ingested. Please contact poison control or your veterinarian with this information to see what steps will need to be taken. Inducing vomiting is recommended if the ingestion was within the last two hours and depending on the dose, your dog may need to be hospitalized so he can receive activated charcoal and IV fluids. Chocolate tends to be one of the more common toxicoses but there are other foods to be aware of.
Grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure; macadamia nuts can cause GI upset, tremors and weakness. Avocado contains persin which causes vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. Sugarless gums contain xylitol which can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels. Signs of low blood sugar are weakness, loss of coordination, tremors and occasionally seizures. Several days after ingesting xylitol dogs can develop elevated liver enzymes and sometimes liver failure. Compared to dog food, people food in general is richer, higher in fat and spicier. Dogs that indulge in people food tend to experience gastrointestinal upset or in severe cases can develop inflammation of the pancreas which usually requires hospitalization. Please keep people food away from your dog’s reach. If you have family or friends coming over inform your guests not to feed your dog and make the kitchen and dining areas off limits for your canine friend.
Mouse and rat baits are designed to be appetizing to rodents to encourage ingestion, but unfortunately, for the same reason many dogs find these baits appealing as well. By far the most common type is the anticoagulant based rodenticide. Active ingredients for these are typically warfarin based anticoagulants such as brodifacoum, bromodialone and diphacinone. These baits work by blocking vitamin K dependant clotting factors causing massive internal bleeding and death for any rodent that ingests it and the same mechanism applies to dogs as well. Because dogs tend to be bigger than rodents it takes longer for the bleeding to occur, typically within 3-5 days. If the ingestion was recent, induce vomiting and seek veterinary attention. Your veterinarian will prescribe oral vitamin K for 2-3 weeks and may want to check your dog’s clotting times. For the next couple weeks you will need to watch for lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite and pale gums. If you notice any of these symptoms seek veterinary care immediately. In serious cases, blood transfusions are sometimes necessary.
There are two other kinds of rodenticides that are less common. Baits containing cholecalciferol increases the dog’s calcium and phosphorous causing the soft tissue to mineralize. The kidneys are most affected and acute kidney failure is common. Hospitalization with fluid support and medication to lower the serum calcium and phosphorous is usually needed. Bromethalin (note the similarity of the word to Bromodialone) based rodenticides working by acting on the brain. It makes the brain swell up triggering tremors, seizures and eventually death. There is no specific antidote and only supportive care can be given. Of the three, this is the hardest one to treat and is usually fatal. If you have a rodent problem and feel the only solution is to lay out baits please use only anticoagulant based rodenticides since they are the least toxic of the three types and the easiest to treat. Place the baits in a location where your dog cannot reach them and once a day check to see if the baits are still there. Dispose of the baits properly when your rodent problem is gone. If you find a bait missing or has been tampered with and believe your dog ingested some seek veterinary attention immediately.
Keep the package the bait came in and bring it with you to the vet. I know of one case where the owner told their vet that the bait was “D-con” which is an anticoagulant based rodenticide. Unfortunately, this owner used “D-con” as a generic term for all rodenticides. The veterinarian in this case treated the dog with vitamin K. The dog later presented at the emergency clinic with neurological signs because the bait was actually bromethalin based. So be safe and hang on to the packaging material and bring it with you to the vet so there is no confusion.
The most common insecticide that dogs tend to eat is the ant or roach baits. They contain an attractant such as peanut butter or bread which most dogs find appealing. Luckily the insecticides used in the baits today are typically non-toxic in mammals or the dose contained in the baits is so low that serious toxicosis is unlikely. In fact, there is more concern that the container of the bait can end up as a gastric foreign body. For this reason follow the same guidelines for placement as the rodenticides baits. Keep the packaging and contact poison control if you believe your dog ingested an ant or roach bait. Less common insecticides to be aware of are metaldehyde based snail and slug baits and methomyl based fly bait. If you use insecticides be sure to keep your dog away from the area where it was used.
4. Human pharmaceuticals
This category includes prescription medications and over the counter drugs meant for humans. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are toxic and should never be given to your dog. Never give your dog over the counter medication without first discussing it with your veterinarian. Keep your prescription pills out of reach. The bottles may be child proof but they certainly aren’t dog proof. Don’t leave pills lying around on nightstands or on top of counters for example. If possible take pills in the bathroom with the door closed so that if you accidentally drop a pill your dog cannot run in and gobble it up. If your dog does get into your pills contact poison control with the drug name and approximate number of tablets he ate in order to determine what treatment your dog may need.
5. Veterinary pharmaceuticals
Some pills that veterinarians prescribe for dogs are flavored to make them more palatable and apparently some taste so good that dogs think they are treats. It is important to keep all medication for your dog away in a safe place. If your dog needs medications be sure you understand the dosing schedule and ask any questions you might have about the medication before you leave the veterinarian’s office. Never apply flea and tick products meant for your dog on any feline companions you may have.
This is more of a problem with cats but I have seen puppies that chewed on plants and sometimes adult dogs will chew on plants when their stomach is bothering them. Some toxic plants to be aware of are Narcissus and hyacinth bulbs, oleander, rhododendrons, cyclamen, amaryllis, yew and chrysanthemum. Know the species you have in your garden, do some research to find out which are toxic and which are safe and try to only plant non-toxic varieties of plants. If you’re not sure whether your plants are safe, keep your dog out of the garden and watch him around houseplants.
Another reason to keep your dog out of the garden is fertilizer which often smells like food to dogs. There is a wide variety of fertilizers, but they typically contain varying amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous with insecticides and herbicides as common additives. Restrict access to newly-fertilized gardens and garden sheds or garages where fertilizer is kept and keep the packaging as a reference just in case. Or use an organic, pet-friendly alternative.
8. Cleaning products
Many of these products are just as toxic for our dogs as they are to us. Store all cleaning products away when not in use and consider using natural, organic cleaning solutions instead. If your dog has ingested a bleach-containing product or a drain cleaner, do NOT induce vomiting. As always contact poison control with the product name and the approximate amount ingested and seek emergency veterinary care.
9. Heavy metals
Zinc and lead are the most common culprits. The most common cause of zinc toxicosis is ingestion of pennies. Pennies minted since 1983 are primarily zinc and some dogs love to ingest coins. Clinical signs are gastrointestinal upset and anemia from red blood cell destruction. Surgery is usually necessary to remove the pennies to prevent further absorption of zinc. The best treatment is prevention so keep your pocket change in a jar out of your dog’s reach. Thankfully, lead toxicosis is becoming less common due to industry safety guidelines. It is no longer a common component of paint but keep in mind that when renovating older homes that lead may be present in paint chips and dust and your dog should be kept away during periods of renovation.
10. Miscellaneous chemicals
Antifreeze is very sweet and attractive to dogs. They appear drunk after ingesting even small amounts. They appear fine after a few hours but go into kidney failure as few days later. The toxic component is ethylene glycol. There is an antidote but it must be given shortly after ingestion so if you suspect ingestion seek veterinary attention immediately. Much less toxic is propylene glycol based antifreeze, so whenever possible purchase propylene glycol based antifreeze. If you do use ethylene glycol based antifreeze be sure to prevent access and be sure to dispose of it properly as it is toxic to wildlife as well. Many other chemicals pose dangers as well such as paint, paint thinners, solvents and pool chemicals. If a product is labeled ‘toxic’ then assume it’s toxic to animals as well and store chemicals out of reach.
Be prepared by considering toxic emergencies when putting together a first aid kit for your dog. Please check out our first aid guide for dog owners for more information on building a first aid kit. Be sure to include a bottle of fresh sealed 3% hydrogen peroxide and a bulb syringe so you can induce vomiting when necessary, saline eye solution in case you need to flush the eye and dishwashing detergent to bathe your dog with in the event of skin contamination. Lastly, always keep the number of your regular veterinarian, emergency clinic, and poison control handy. The number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is (888) 426-4435. It’s a poisonous world out there but with knowledge and prevention you can help keep your dog safe.
Remember that prevention is the best treatment!
About Dr. Kristy Conn
A graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, she did her clinical year at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Teaching Hospital where she fell in love with emergency and critical care medicine. She is a member of the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps which helps provide veterinary care to animals affected by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. She resides in Long Island with her beloved mixed breed dog named Buster.
Did you ever take your dog to the emergency room because of a household item? Tell us what happened in the comment.