6 min read

3 Things You Didn't Know Are Toxic to Pets


Written by Emily Bayne

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/03/2023, edited: 05/18/2023


Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Did you know poisoning is a leading cause of accidental pet deaths? In 2021 alone, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center¬†received reports of over 401,550 pets ingesting toxic substances ‚ÄĒ and the annual number of calls has risen steadily year after year.¬†The saddest part is many of these incidents were preventable.¬†¬†

We'll explore 3 common but often overlooked categories of toxic substances for dogs and cats that many pet parents don't think about when pet-proofing. You may just be surprised how many of these substances are lurking around your home.

Cannabis and alcohol

With recent legalization, medical and recreational marijuana has become much more accessible to the general public ‚ÄĒ and their pets. Reports of accidental¬†cannabis overdose¬†in pets by the Animal Poison Control Center rose nearly 800% between 2018 and 2019.

Marijuana has earned a reputation as a pretty innocuous substance ‚ÄĒ but this isn't so for our furry friends. You may say, "What about CBD? It's in tons of dog treats!" And you'd be right. But while CBD isn't toxic to pets, the psychoactive cannabinoid THC can spell disaster for your fur-babies.

Sadly, pet parents in states where cannabis remains illegal may be hesitant to tell vets the actual reasons behind their pet's symptoms for fear of prosecution.¬†However, vets are NOT required to report to the authorities.¬†Please be honest with your vet care team if your pet does ingest illegal substances ‚ÄĒ it could save your pet's life.

Your pets may be exposed to cannabis in several ways:

  • Ingesting joints (or stubbed-out filters)
  • Drinking THC-infused beverages
  • Consuming any part of the plant
  • Licking THC ointments or tinctures
  • Inhaling vapor from THC pens
  • Mistaking cannabis edibles for treats
  • Secondhand smoke

Remember that, no matter your pet's ingestion method, there is no safe limit for cannabis or alcohol.

Medical marijuana medicine bottle, dangerous for pets

Vets say THC edibles pose the biggest threat to our pets since many edibles also contain other toxins. Edibles flavored with chocolate or xylitol can be very appealing for pets but very dangerous too. If your dog ingests a cannabis product, experts recommend bringing along the packaging for their appointment ‚ÄĒ that way, the vet will be aware of the ingredients and the potency.

If you're a cannabis user, store your THC-containing products in a locking tote out of your pet's reach. You may even want to restrict use to one room in your home where Fido isn't allowed since secondhand smoke can also cause toxicity. 

Symptoms of cannabis poisoning in pets

Going in and out of consciousness while standing is perhaps the most trademark sign of marijuana ingestion in pets. Other symptoms of cannabis toxicity to look out for include:

If you notice any of these symptoms,¬†seek medical care ASAP ‚ÄĒ¬†whether you witness the signs of exposure or not.

A variety of dangerous alcoholic beverages and spirts for dogs

We've all seen internet videos of people offering their pets beer and laughing, but you may not realize how dangerous this practice is.

Alcohol poisoning can turn symptomatic in minutes and can be deadly without prompt intervention. When dogs consume alcohol, it can cause:

An unattended beer or cocktail isn't the only culprit for alcohol poisoning in dogs. Other common causes include:

Dogs can also develop alcohol poisoning by absorbing alcohol through their skin ‚ÄĒ for instance, by standing in a puddle of antifreeze or rubbing alcohol.¬† ¬†

Raw bread dough with a rolling pin - dough is very poisonous for pets

The prognosis for alcohol poisoning in pets is good if pet parents act quickly. If pets are treated within 2 hours of ingestion, the vet may be able to induce vomiting or pump the animal's stomach. Vets can also treat and prevent dangerous symptoms like low body temperature, dehydration, and convulsions with IV medication and supportive care.

Prevent alcohol poisoning by keeping household chemicals, raw dough, body products, and adult beverages out of your pet's reach. If you enjoy a spirit now and then, keep it with you at all times, and invest in cups with twist-on and spill-proof lids so Fido can't sneak a sip.       

Dog having topical flea and tick medication applied - extremely toxic for cats

Canine flea and tick products (for cats)

Canine flea and tick products, poisonous? You might think that's a typo, but sadly, it's not. Dog flea and tick products are incredibly toxic for felines and are often deadly. That's because canine antiparasitics often contain permethrin, which is safe for dogs but lethal to cats.

It's estimated that between 10% and 40% of cats that are exposed to permethrin-containing drugs succumb to their illness, so you must take precautions to prevent exposure in multi-species households. You don't have to apply dog flea meds directly on your cat for them to be deadly, either.

Cats can get secondhand exposure by rubbing up against or grooming a dog that has been recently treated for fleas. Cats that have come in contact with permethrin may start twitching, drooling, shaking, and convulsing. If your cat shows these symptoms, seek treatment immediately ‚ÄĒ time is of the essence with permethrin poisoning.

The easiest way to prevent your cat from being exposed is to avoid permethrin-based flea preventatives (and preferably any topical treatments) altogether. We recommend getting an oral medication like Trifexis, which is administered by mouth and eliminates the risk of transfer to other surfaces or pets.  

A pile of multi-colored pills that are poisonous for pets

Medications and supplements

Lastly, lock up all your medicines and supplements ‚ÄĒ this goes for over-the-counter meds, supplements, prescriptions, creams, and even your pet's meds.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†

Prescription meds

Prescription meds are some of the most potent toxins pets can get into ‚ÄĒ and they're found in nearly every household. Even scarier is that some drugs (like the psychiatric drug Effexor) have an aroma and flavor that many animals find appealing.

While there are quite a few human meds that vets use off-label to treat conditions in companion animals, they're usually prescribed in much lower dosages. Plus, it's unlikely that an unattended animal will stop at one pill if they find a medication particularly tasty.

Some of the most dangerous prescription drugs for pets include those that treat:

  • Psychiatric conditions¬†
  • Chronic pain¬†
  • ADHD
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Hormone imbalances

How these drugs affect pets depends on many factors, including the type of medication, the dog's weight and age, how much they consume, and whether the animal has any pre-existing conditions. 

Over-the-counter medications, bottles and blister packets, that are poisonous to dogs

OTC ointments and supplements 

Now, let's talk about over-the-counter meds. Since they're unregulated, there's a common misconception that OTC meds pose no risk. But this can't be further from the truth ‚ÄĒ especially when it comes to our pets.

Some toxic OTC drugs that might be lurking in your medicine cabinet include:

  • Skin creams and ointments (especially steroid creams, numbing creams, muscle rubs, and antibacterial creams)¬†
  • Nasal decongestants (like Sudafed)
  • Vitamins (especially those that contain iron, vitamin D, and artificial sweeteners like xylitol)¬†
  • NSAIDs

NSAIDs are some of the most dangerous OTC drugs for dogs since just a few pills can cause an overdose. These include:

There are dog-safe NSAIDs, but even these can be dangerous if a dog eats more than the recommended dosage.         

A medicine bottle with the poison symbol on it and two pills

Pet meds

The risks of unattended meds extend to other pet medications too. Flavored chewables are especially dangerous since pets may seek them out, thinking they're a tasty treat. Plus, pets are more likely to consume a larger dose of flavored pet meds than unflavored human meds (which, let's be honest, aren't very palatable). Pet parents also tend to be more lax about storing pet meds, not realizing they can be just as toxic as human meds.

Downing a large dose of dog vitamins or pet pain relievers such as Rimadyl (carprofen) can cause dogs to overdose, which can even be deadly. The chewable version of this drug is especially risky since it has a liver flavor that many dogs love.

If you keep any of these medications in your household, store them up in a locking tote out of paw's reach.

What to do if your dog or cat is poisoned

If you suspect your dog has ingested dog a known toxin, see a vet ASAP. The sooner the pet gets treatment, the better their survival odds.

If you're unsure if something your pet has come in contact with is dangerous, call a pet poison hotline:

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center ($75 per incident): 888-426-4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline ($85 per incident): 855-764-7661

Looking for a more affordable option? Use Wag! Vet Chat and get answers in 6 minutes on average. Just $30 per chat, or free with Wag! Premium!

The importance of preventing disaster before it strikes

The old adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" couldn't be more fitting when it comes to preventing pet poisoning. Being vigilant, taking measures to lock up toxic substances, and removing toxins such as permethrin-based flea preventatives from your home are simple ways to prevent tragedy.

The sad truth of having pets is that accidents and illnesses are bound to happen at some point. Prepare for the unexpected with pet insurance. Wag!'s pet insurance comparison tool lets you compare plans from leading companies like. Find the "pawfect" plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

Comments (1)

Sarwar Abdullah


This article highlights some surprising household items that can be toxic to pets. It's important for pet owners to be aware of these hazards and take steps to prevent their pets from being exposed to them.

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