This guest post is written by Matthew Bershadker, President & CEO, ASPCA.
Most people are generally aware of potentially toxic products in their homes. After all, we can read labels, we can receive alerts, and we can share information with each other. But our pets are blind when it comes to knowing what’s good and bad for them, and some items that are harmless to us are actually poisonous to them (you’ll rarely find pet-safety information on the labels of products intended for human use). So it’s critical to be both alert and aware.
Every year, during National Poison Prevention Week (March 16-22), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals releases a list of top toxins reported by pet owners to our Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). Nearly 180,000 cases were handled in 2013, and many of these items could be accessible to pets in your home right now.
Mind Your Medications
As the subject of nearly 20 percent of all calls received, prescription human medications were the number one toxin reported by pet owners. These include products such as cardiac medications, anti-depressants and pain medications. A majority of cases involved heart medications often used to control heart rate and blood pressure.
Over-the-counter medications came in at number three, making up nearly 15 percent of calls to the APCC. Many easily-accessible products such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and dietary supplements like weight loss products are NOT safe for pets. And because some of these products taste or smell good, your pets might chew right through the bottle to get to them.
Veterinary medications came in number six, reinforcing the need to keep prescriptions out of reach.
Some not-so-obvious ways to keep your pets away from your meds: Don’t take them when your pets are watching you. “Keep all medications out of reach and take your pills behind a closed door away from your pets,” says Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. “If you drop your medication, your dog can scoop it up quicker than you can say ‘poison’.”
What’s Inside Insecticides
It’s obvious that mice- and rat-killing rodenticides – number eight – aren’t safe for your pets and should be kept in secure places, but also be careful about insecticides intended for use on one pet which can be toxic to another. (By the way, the ASPCA recommends only using humane traps and methods for rodent control).
Some products made specifically for dogs, like certain flea-control medications, can be very dangerous, even fatal, for your cat. In fact, more than half of the cat-related calls the APCC received in 2013 involved insecticide exposure, which is the number two top toxin. So make sure you’re always reading labels and using these products properly.
Household products cover a lot of ground, and the APCC received almost 17,000 calls about these items, including cleaning supplies, glue, and paint. Jumping up to number four this year, household products often contain bleach or ingredients like phenols that should be used exactly as instructed on the label.
Some household products can be corrosive, while others might cause obstructions in the gastrointestinal tract, which could require surgery. Even some seemingly safe and very pet-accessible products – like fire logs – are included in this grouping of potentially harmful items.
Watch What You Eat…
Not all food for you is good food for your pets. The number five toxin includes a range of food from vegetables and herbs -- like onions and garlic -- to harmless-seeming snacks, like grapes and raisins. None of these items are safe for pets, and some can cause nausea, gastrointestinal irritation, and kidney failure.
Products that have xylitol listed as an ingredient should also be avoided. Used as a sweetener in things like baked goods, candy and even toothpaste, xylitol can cause vomiting, lethargy, seizures and sometimes liver failure.
See more dangerous foods here, including alcohol, macadamia nuts, yeast dough, milk, salt, and raw meat and eggs.
… Especially Chocolate
While all prescription human medication made up the number one toxin reported to the APCC in 2013, chocolate was actually the number one single product, generating an average of 26 calls per day. Chocolate – number seven on the toxins list -- contains substances called methylxanthines, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures. The type of chocolate and size of the animal will affect the risk: The smaller the animal and darker the chocolate, the more harm it can cause.
Dogs might be more likely to gobble up harmful human food, but cats take the lead in poisonous-plant consumption. As the number nine toxin called into APCC, certain plants can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, for your pets. Even popular plants, like lilies, can cause kidney failure. With so many garden and household plant varieties available, it’s important to do research before exposing your pets to them.
Products used to care for and treat plants also made the list, coming in at number 10. These potentially toxic items, like fertilizer, are sometimes made with poultry manure and other products attractive to pets. Making sure to read the label of any lawn and garden product is a simple way to find out whether it’s toxic to animals.
For more information on plant toxicity, visit the ASPCA’s extensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants, and here’s this year’s full APCC list of top toxins, in order of call frequency.
1. Human medications
3. Over the counter medications
4. Household items
5. Human foods
6. Veterinary medications
10. Lawn and garden products