By: Cate Burnette

March is Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month

Animal advocacy groups have designated March as Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month. Understanding what harmful poisons exist in your home, your refrigerator and your yard is the first step to keeping your pets safe and free from any potentially deadly toxins. Some of these hazards are very obvious and well-known, while others might be new to you. Check out the lists below to save your 4-legged family members from potential injury and illness.


Just because your pooch begs for food from your plate or you want to get rid of some leftovers by treating your pet, that doesn’t mean that everything that is tasty for you is beneficial to your pup. Some foods humans eat can be downright dangerous for canines.
Listed below are just some of the foods and food ingredients that your dog should NEVER eat. **Note: If your dog accidentally ingests any of these items, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice.

Onions, Garlic, and Chives

These herbs and vegetables can cause hemolytic anemia in dogs, a disorder of the red blood cells that affects the animal’s liver, lymph nodes, and spleen. They also lead to intestinal distress, including diarrhea and vomiting. While cats are more susceptible to these problems than dogs, any pet that eats large quantities of these foods, or their dehydrated powders, is vulnerable.

Grapes and Raisins

Even though veterinarians are not exactly sure which specific toxin in grapes and raisins causes illness, there are numerous cases of accidental poisonings that have been reported after dogs have eaten these foods. Symptoms of grape and raisin poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, depression, lethargy, and, eventually, kidney failure that often leads to death. Even though there are some dogs that can eat the occasional grape without repercussions, veterinarians recommend NEVER feeding your pooch raisins, as the more-concentrated toxins in raisins have been linked to severe physical reactions.

Chocolate, Coffee, Caffeine

Methylxanthine, an ingredient in coffee and chocolate, can cause severe neurological and digestive problems if ingested by your dog. The caffeine found in coffee and theobromine found in chocolate are classes of methylxanthine, a compound that works as cardiac stimulant, smooth muscle relaxant, and diuretic agent. Symptoms of chocolate or coffee toxicity include vomiting and diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, panting, heart arrhythmias, tremors, hyperactivity, seizures, and, if not treated, eventually death. The darker, less-sweet varieties of chocolate are more dangerous than chocolates containing milk, however, all type are toxic.

Yeast Dough

Raw yeast dough, the kind used in making breads and rolls, can rise in your dog’s stomach just like it does in your kitchen, causing painful bloating and gas in the intestinal tract and possible organ ruptures and blockages. Once the dough is cooked, you can treat your pup with small bites of bread as long as the treats don’t make up more than 5- to 10 per cent of her daily allowed calories.

Macadamia Nuts

Macadamias, those Hawaiian nuts commonly used in baking and cooking, can cause severe distress symptoms in your dog that usually appear within 12 hours of her eating the nuts. Those symptoms, that include depression, vomiting, increased temperature, and muscle spasms, can last anywhere from 12 hours to 2 days.


The seeds of the eggplant are comprised of cyanogenic glycosides, organic chemical molecules that, when ingested in the canine body, turn into cyanide and can poison your dog. The seeds, fruit, and skin of the eggplant have been known to cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, seizures, tremors, and heart arrhythmias in dogs that eat this plant.


The smooth and creamy avocado contains a fungicidal toxin called “persin” that is similar to a fatty acid. Generally harmless to humans, persin affects dogs negatively, causing severe diarrhoea and vomiting that can be especially harmful to smaller breeds and puppies. All parts of the plant, including the fruit, seeds, leaves, and bark can make your dog ill.

Milk and Milk Products

Not necessarily considered toxic to dogs, milk and its by-products (butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, yoghurt) may upset your dog’s intestinal system – particularly if she eats the full-fat versions. The enzyme lactose, along with the extra fat in cow’s milk products, can cause vomiting and diarrhea in your pooch because canines are known to be lactose intolerant.


Alcohol is considered toxic to dogs, and because it is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, your pup will start showing severe symptoms quickly after drinking it. Vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, tremors, a lack of physical coordination, abnormal blood acidity, coma, and even death can befall your dog if she ingests any kind of alcohol, even that found in certain kinds of foods.


Excessive amounts of salt have the same effect on your dog as they do on you – they lead to excessive thirst, increased urination, and possible sodium poisoning. Too much sodium can affect your pup’s heart and kidneys and result in symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, tremors, depression, elevated body temperatures, seizures, coma, and even death.

If you suspect your pet has ingested any of these foods, note the amount eaten, the time the food was eaten, and contact your veterinarian immediately.


Your pet’s curious nature often gets him into trouble, causing him to explore weed thickets, storage containers, and open fields where he can come into contact with any number of poisonous substances, including toxic plants. Particularly as the weather warms and more and more people are allowing their dogs and cats outside for a bit of fresh air, the possibility of coming into contact with toxins increases.

Ingesting a poisonous plant can cause a variety of symptoms in your pet including drooling, mouth and gum inflammation, swelling of the trachea and/or esophagus, vomiting and diarrhea, hallucinations, tremors, seizure, coma and death. Some plants will only cause a skin rash, a fairly non-threatening problem, while others, known for their medicinal properties, can induce symptoms similar to a drug overdose, with kidney, cardiac, and respiratory failure.

The following tables of toxic plants, shrubs and trees are included for reference. You can find more information on each plant species by going to Merck Veterinary Manual websites here and here.

Toxic Outdoor Plants

  • Water hemlock
  • Dogbanes
  • Nightshades
  • Jerusalem cherry
  • Potato stems and leaves
  • Horse nettle
  • Buffalo bur
  • Rattlebox
  • Purple sesbane
  • Bladderpod
  • Coffeebean
  • Corn cockle
  • Milkweed
  • Day-blooming jessamine
  • Night-blooming hemlock
  • Jimson weed
  • Thorn apple
  • Yellow jessamine
  • Evening trumpet flower
  • Carolina laurel
  • Ivybush
  • Lambkill
  • Oleander
  • Castor bean
  • Sorghum
  • Sudan grass
  • Kafir
  • Durra
  • Schrock
  • Japanese and English yew
  • Milo
  • Broom-corn

Poisonous House Plants and Ornamentals

  • American aloe
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Barbados aloe
  • Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow
  • Caladium
  • Marijuana
  • Chili pepper
  • Spider plant
  • Crocus
  • Lily-of-the-valley
  • Cyclamen
  • Dumbcane
  • Foxglove
  • Dragon tree
  • Poinsettia
  • Hyacinths
  • English holly
  • Kalanchoe
  • Easter lily
  • Daffodils
  • Avocado pear
  • Philodendron
  • Mistletoe
  • Azalea
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue
  • Schefflera
  • Florida arrowroot

Chemical Hazards

Many household items that we use every day can be dangerous and poisonous to our dogs and cats. Below is a partial list of substances that pet parents should keep out of the reach of their furry companions.

  • Theobromine, a of stimulant found in cacao shells, can also be found in cocoa bean mulch used in your garnden. If your pet eats the mulch, it can result in restlessness, hyperactivity, panting, vomiting and diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, seizures, coma and eventual death.
  • Citrus oils, such as linalool and limonene, found in candles, mosquito deterrents, and room fresheners, produce low blood pressure, weakness, drooling, tremors, depression, fevers, ataxia (the inability to walk correctly), and possible death.
  • DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, found in insect repellents, can cause tremors, over-excitement, vomiting, and seizures if your dog eats any of it. Skin irritation can be the result if the chemical gets on your pet’s coat and skin.
  • Acids and alkalis, found in bleach, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and batteries, can result in burns on your dog’s tongue and gums, drooling, holes in the esophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract, severe abdominal pain, sepsis, and eventual death.
  • Petroleum products such as gas, motor oil, kerosene, turpentine, paint thinner, and lighter fluid, result in tremors, breathing problems, coma, seizures, vomiting, respiratory failure and even death if ingested.
  • Antifreeze, containing ethylene glycol, can prove fatal to a dog within 24 to 48 hours if ingested through acute kidney failure. Signs of toxicity include increased thirst and urination, vomiting and diarrhea, seizures, panting, and loss of appetite.
  • Human pain medications, including aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, trigger a loss of appetite, drooling, bloody vomit, drooling, stomach ulcers, and intense pain.
  • Mothballs that contain the chemicals naphthalene and dichlorobenene are toxic to your dog, and if ingested, cause serious illness. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, damage to the liver, blood cells, and kidneys, brain swelling, seizures, coma, and even death.

Note: If you suspect your pet has eaten or come into contact with any of these products or chemicals, please note the amount ingested and call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.


Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.

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