Danger, Beware! Top Toxins for Pets May Surprise You

We all know our pets like to share what we eat … if you’ve ever gone through a fast food drive-thru and ordered a hamburger with your dog in the car, you KNOW you’re expected to share. Some foods are okay, like the occasional bite of burger, or a carrot, but other foods, like raisins, grapes, and chocolate, can be really hazardous to your pet’s health.

The experts at the Pet Poison Helpline deal with thousands of calls each year. While human foods that are bad for pets are often the reason for the call, the biggest offender isn’t food: it’s medicine.

“We get the most calls about human medications,” explains Dr. Ahna Brutlag, associate director of veterinary services for the Helpline. “About half the calls deal with over-the-counter or prescription medicines.”

Sometimes, it’s inadvertent: perhaps you’ve dropped your bottle of medication on the floor and thought you’d picked them all up, or you set your daily dose down for just one second and your dog snatched it from the table.

“Sometimes, however, it’s well-intentioned pet owners giving their pets medications,” says Dr. Brutlag. “Certain medications, such as Tylenol or Advil can be very toxic to dogs.”

Every year, the Helpline puts out a list of the 10 Most Poisonous Household Items, and lists the culprits that threaten your dog or cat.

In 2013, No. 1 and 2 respectively on the dog list were the favorite human treats, dark chocolate and xylitol (the sweetener used in some sugar-free gums.

Coming in next were NSAIDs, which are found in numerous OTC pain relievers. According to a release from the Helpline, “dogs don’t metabolize these drugs well and ingestion can result in stomach ulcers and kidney failure.”

Other common culprits include over-the-counter cough, cold and allergy medications. Those containing acetaminophen (Tylenol) or decongestants, such as pseudophedrine or phenylephrine, are particularly toxic, notes the Helpline.

Rodenticides (rat/mouse poisons), grapes and raisins, and insect bait stations are next on the list.

Coming in at No. 8 are prescription ADD/ADHD medications, such as Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine and Vyvanse, which can cause tremors, seizures, cardiac problems and death.

On the 2013 “cat list,” lilies, household cleaners, and flea and tick spot-ons for dogs are among the top three toxins. (Here at Pet Health Central, we stress that flea and tick treatments for dogs should NEVER be used on cats.)

However, coming in at No. 4 are anti-depressants (such as Cymbalta and Effexor). Continuing at Nos. 5 through 7 are NSAIDS; prescription ADD/ADHD medications; and OTC cough, cold and allergy medications.

The main thing to remember, according to Dr. Brutlag, is that “you can’t make generalizations across species.” In other words, just because something is safe for you, it isn’t safe for your dog or cat.

If in doubt, check out the poison listing at the Pet Poison Helpline. Should your pet get into something dangerous, the faster you act, the better your chances at helping your pet recover.

Editor’s note: The Pet Poison Helpline can be reached 24/7 at 800-213-6680. There is a fee per poisoning incident, but the helpline does provide follow-up consultation with your veterinarian(s) and pet owners. The site also provides a comprehensive searchable poison list.

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