By Jodi Reed, DVM

If there’s one thing I can say about every single case of pet poisoning I’ve treated, it’s that the owners of the pet were responsible, caring, careful people that never imagined they’d ever need to seek treatment for poisoning.

It’s a pet owner’s worst nightmare: arriving home to an empty bag of Hershey’s Kisses on the floor and your dog smiling like he just won the lottery! Did he eat enough to get sick from this? What will the symptoms be if he does get sick? Should you take him to the vet? Make him throw up? You call your vet in a panic. What if you get a voicemail message that they just closed?

We understand the panic, but there are steps you can take to avoid this situation and get help if it does happen.

Top Ten Toxins

Toxic ingestion is one of the things we veterinarians see almost daily. Below is the ASPCA’s list of the most common toxins:

  1. Human Prescription Medications. Most of us have a bottle or 2 of prescriptions meds around the house and these are the most likely culprit of accidental pet poisoning according to research conducted in 2014.
  2. OTC Medications. This might surprise you, but common over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamins and many herbal and natural remedies can be highly toxic to cats, dogs and other pets.
  3. Veterinary Medications. Pets can overdose, even on helpful pet-friendly medication, just like humans can suffer ill effects from too much medication. Like every other drug in your home, pet-friendly meds should be kept well out of reach.
  4. Pesticides. These account for a little less than 10 percent of all pet poisoning cases. Whether it’s a roach motel or ant poison, pesticides should be locked up well away from areas where pets have access.
  5. Household Items. Paint, glue, cleaning products, cosmetics and more can all be toxic to pets, and they account for a little over 8 percent of all poisoning cases.
  6. Plants. Nearly 5 percent of all poisoning cases seen by vets are due to plants. Many houseplants, while beautiful, are highly toxic to dogs and cats. Exercise extreme caution when choosing houseplants for a home that has furry inhabitants.
  7. Rodent Killer. Rodenticides are common and easy to come by, but they’re really not a great idea if you have pets. Not only are rodenticides (particularly anticoagulants) a big problem when ingested by your pet, your dog or cat can have secondary effects if they eat dead rodents killed by rodenticides. Avoid rodenticides altogether if possible.
  8. Lawn and Garden Products. At a little under 3 percent of calls, garden chemicals are the last of the major risks on this list, but they’re still a significant concern. Most pet parents are good at keeping these toxins locked away, but remember your pet can still suffer ill effects if they are allowed onto a treated lawn or find garden chemicals in the garden itself.
  9. People Food. Most domesticated animals are allergic to many human foods, and the ASPCA has a list of the top toxic people foods to avoid feeding your pets. For dogs, the list includes chocolate, raisins, onions and more. Cats are allergic to many of the same foods, and certain parts of avocados, chocolate and even salt can be toxic to birds.
  10. Chocolate. Yes, it’s a human food, but it’s so toxic to so many companion animals that it deserves its own mention. Pets love chocolate, but it’s very, very bad for them. Keep it somewhere your pets can’t get to it. If you must offer chocolatey treats, invest in pet-friendly versions, which are usually made from carob.

Poisoning 101

If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin, don’t wait and see. The quicker you take action, the better the likely outcome. Here’s what you need to do when you think your pet may have been poisoned:


Call your veterinarian or a poison control center. An online search should point you toward local options, but you can also contact the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426 4435. Consultation fees may apply. If you’re calling Harmony Animal Hospital, we do have an after-hours number you can call, but if you don’t make contact right away it’s essential that you call your nearest emergency clinic.


If your pet is not suffering seizures or unconsciousness, seems able to stand and breathe normally, and has not ingested acid or alkali, petroleum or cleaning products, and it’s been less than three hours, you could try to induce vomiting. Keep the vomit in a zip-close bag for inspection by your veterinarian. If you keep hydrogen peroxide in the house, this should only be given to your pet under the direct instruction of your veterinarian, because used improperly it could become a toxin too.

Consult a Veterinarian

Whether you manage to induce vomiting or not, you need to get your pet to the veterinarian to have a thorough examination after any poisoning or suspected poisoning. Depending on the substance ingested, there may be further treatment required.

Prevention Is Always Better than Cure

It’s an old saying, but things usually become clichés because they’re true. When it comes to poisoning, this is certainly the case. It is always better to take a little extra care to restrict access to potentially toxic chemicals or substances. Keep them locked away or look for pet-friendly alternatives.

If all else fails and your pet does get into the chocolate chip cookies or finds something else they’re not supposed to eat, get them to the nearest vet as soon as possible. Speed is nearly always a factor when treating poisoning, and it’s important to seek help sooner rather than later.