9 min read
Top 10 Most Common Poisonous Substances for Dogs
By Adam Lee-Smith
Published: 03/21/2022, edited: 04/01/2022
Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
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Whether they’re digging through trash or begging for table scraps, our mutts often meddle where they don't belong. Unfortunately, because so many human foods, medications, and household items are toxic to pups, accidental poisoning in dogs is relatively common. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) alone deals with around 400,000 queries a year regarding poisoned pets.
This Pet Poison Prevention Week, we're taking a closer look at APCC's list of top 10 pet toxins to help you keep poisonous substances away from prying paws and curious noses. (Although the APCC list was published in 2020, it’s the most recent at the time of writing.)
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for humans are the number-one cause of pet poisonings, making up 17% of the cases reported by the APCC. Over-the-counter medications include cold and flu medications, joint rubs, supplements, and acetaminophen.
Symptoms of ibuprofen poisoning in dogs
Several nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are made exclusively for pets, including Metacam, Rimadyl, and Previcox. However, you shouldn't give your dog ibuprofen products made for human use (including Advil, Midol, and Motrin) without consulting your vet.
Symptoms of ibuprofen poisoning in dogs include:
- Stomach ulcers
- Pale gums
- Black, tarry stool
- Loss of appetite
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
Treatment for ibuprofen poisoning in dogs
The quicker you seek veterinary care for your dog after they ingest ibuprofen, the better. If you’re able to seek medical attention within the first 2 to 4 hours of ingestion, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to remove some of the toxins from your dog’s body.
After the vomiting is under control, your vet may give your dog activated charcoal to reduce the absorption of toxins. Your vet may also monitor your dog's sodium levels and breathing, supplying medication as needed. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary, along with blood work to monitor your dog's liver and kidneys.
Average cost of treating ibuprofen poisoning: $2,100
Antidepressants, typically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are occasionally used in veterinary medicine but are potentially dangerous even at low dosages. Less common examples of antidepressants include noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
Symptoms of antidepressant poisoning in dogs
Examples of name-brand antidepressants available include Prozac, Cipramil, and Zoloft. Many symptoms associated with antidepressant poisoning result from serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of antidepressant poisoning in dogs are varied and include:
- Behavioral changes
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal pain
Treatment for antidepressant poisoning in dogs
If you suspect your dog has accidentally ingested antidepressants, take them to the vet immediately. If you can, try to determine how many pills your dog ate.
Your vet may decontaminate your dog by inducing vomiting, which will help prevent further absorption of the medication. Sedation and thermoregulation may be necessary. Your dog may also require IV fluids and other supportive and preventative care.
Average cost of treating antidepressant poisoning in dogs: $650
You might feel that Fido deserves the odd table scrap every once in a while, but this could have severe consequences. Human foods rank third on APCC's toxin list, making up 13% of annual pet poisoning cases.
Common human foods that are toxic to dogs include grapes, chocolate, garlic, and onions. However, it's the sugar-free sweetener xylitol that’s a real worry. Between 2015 and 2020, reports of xylitol pet poisonings went up by 108%. Xylitol is commonly used to sweeten peanut butter, mints, candies, syrups, chewable vitamins, and more.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs
Xylitol is an increasingly common product, used in everything from fish oil to clothing. Therefore, pet parents should take great care when giving their dog food or another item. Common symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Extremely low blood sugar
- Acute liver failure
Treatment for xylitol poisoning in dogs
If you suspect your dog has ingested xylitol, take them to a vet immediately. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning set in rapidly and can quickly become life-threatening.
If your dog has not yet developed any symptoms with 2 to 4 hours of ingestion, your vet may induce vomiting. Your vet may also order blood tests to check your dog's glucose and potassium levels. Your dog will likely be hospitalized to receive supportive and preventative treatments like IV fluids, glucose level monitoring, and liver protectants.
Average cost of treating xylitol poisoning in dogs: $2,500
Perhaps the most famous poisonous substance for dogs is chocolate. Despite numerous public service ad campaigns over the years, chocolate poisoning in dogs is still common. The APCC reportedly deals with around 76 cases a day.
Regardless of the festive season, chocolate often takes center stage, and pups seem fond of this sweet treat, even though it has potentially deadly side effects.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs
It's worth noting that the toxicity of chocolate varies depending on the type and cocoa content. The darker the chocolate is, the more dangerous it is for dogs. That said, you should avoid feeding your dog any chocolate, as it is not an appropriate snack.
At the very least, chocolate will cause mild symptoms. Common symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs include:
- Increased heart rate
Treatment for chocolate poisoning in dogs
If you think your dog has ingested even a small amount of chocolate, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet may induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to prevent further absorption. Depending on their condition, your dog may be hospitalized and given IV fluids, cardiac medication, antacids, and anticonvulsants.
Average cost of treating chocolate poisoning in dogs: $2,500
Flowers and other plants may brighten up your home and yard, but they could also spell danger for your dog. The APCC ranked flowers and plants number 5 on its list of top pet toxins in 2020 — a jump up from number 8 in 2019.
Tulips are among the most common household plants, and they’re also one of the top searches on the APCC’s toxic plants list. Other household plants that are toxic to dogs include lilies, sago palms, and jade plants.
Symptoms of tulip poisoning in dogs
Tulips and other garden plants contain alkaloids and allergenic lactones that could cause severe poisoning. Common symptoms of tulip poisoning in dogs include:
- Mouth irritation
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing difficulties
Treatment for tulip poisoning in dogs
Treatment of tulip poisoning for dogs depends on how much of the plant they've eaten. Symptoms are most severe when a dog has eaten one or several of the plant's bulbs.
Depending on how quickly your dog receives vet care, the vet may induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to stop absorption. Your vet may also administer supportive and preventative medicines like IV fluids, gastroprotectants, and anti-nausea medication.
Average cost of treating tulip poisoning: $600
Household items are another cause of concern for pet parents. Many home improvement items, car supplies, and cleaning chemicals are incredibly toxic to pets.
Hydrocarbons, including gasoline, paint thinner, and motor oil, all pose a risk to dogs who manage to get into a garage. These chemicals are usually harmful to people as well and should be secured in a locked cabinet out of reach of pets and children.
Symptoms of hydrocarbon poisoning in dogs
It'll come as no surprise that hydrocarbons are poisonous to pets. Many hydrocarbons can cause life-threatening illnesses, and some are mixed with antifreeze, which compounds the problem for pet parents. Common symptoms of hydrocarbon poisoning include:
- Skin irritation
- Mouth ulcers
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of consciousness
Treatment for hydrocarbon poisoning in dogs
Dogs that have ingested hydrocarbons need to see a vet immediately. Do not induce vomiting — this increases the risk of aspiration pneumonia and can damage the gastrointestinal tract.
Hospitalization after ingesting hydrocarbons is almost guaranteed. Your vet may give your dog activated charcoal to stop absorption. A stomach tube may also be used to release pressure in the gastrointestinal tract and expel the stomach contents.
Oxygen therapy and antibiotics may be recommended to treat symptoms of pneumonia and respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.
Average cost of treating hydrocarbon poisoning: $2,100
Number 7 on APCC’s list of top 10 pet toxins is rodenticides. Used to control rat and mouse populations, rodenticides — like brodifacoum, bromethalin, and cholecalciferol — are tasty to dogs in the same way they are to rodents. Problems can arise when neighbors put out rodenticides without your knowledge and your dog sees them as a tasty treat. Another concern is when a dog hunts and eats vermin that has recently ingested poison.
Anyone using rodenticides should ensure pets can’t access rat poison products or treated areas. If you’re considering using rodenticides in your home, consider other, more humane pest control methods first. Contrary to popular belief, dogs can’t get rabies from rats and mice.
Symptoms of rodenticide poisoning in dogs
Symptoms of rodenticide poisoning in dogs vary depending on the rodenticide's toxic ingredient.
Cholecalciferol is considered one of the most dangerous rat poisons, while bromethalin is less dangerous but can still cause long-lasting, serious side effects. Symptoms related to cholecalciferol don't show up for 2 to 3 days, by which time severe damage to the kidneys has already occurred. Common symptoms of rodenticide poisoning in dogs include:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Decreased appetite
- Lack of coordination
- Kidney failure
- Pale gums
Treatment for rodenticide poisoning in dogs
Treatment for rodenticide poisoning in dogs changes depending on the type of rat poison. If possible, identify the rodenticide your dog has ingested and bring the product packaging with you to the vet.
If your dog has ingested an anticoagulant rodenticide like brodifacoum, your vet may induce vomiting if ingestion occurred within the last 2 to 4 hours. Afterward, your vet may administer activated charcoal to stop absorption. Hospitalization is common, with IV fluids, blood/plasma transfusions, oxygen therapy, and blood work often necessary. Vitamin K is the antidote and will be given as injection followed by oral tablets.
Poisons like bromethalin that attack the central nervous system will require other treatment methods. Decontamination and IV fluids are usually administered, as well as medication to reduce swelling of the brain.
Average cost of treating rodenticide poisoning: $4,000
Flavored chewables for dogs
Coming in at number 8 on the APCC list is a category that might surprise many pet parents: veterinary products and medicines. Flavored chewables in particular can pose problems.
Many chewable tablets for dogs — including joint supplements like glucosamine and pain relievers like carpofen — contain added flavors like beef and chicken. While these flavors make medication easier for pet parents to administer, dogs may develop a taste for these tablets and will happily eat them by the pawful.
Symptoms of drug overdose in dogs
Symptoms will vary depending on the type and amount of medication ingested. For example, a carpofen overdose typically causes gastrointestinal symptoms, while ingesting extreme amounts of glucosamine could lead to severe symptoms, including kidney failure.
Common signs of drug overdose in dogs include:
- Black and tarry stool
- Abnormal urination and thirst
Treatment for drug overdose in dogs
Decontamination is the best treatment for drug poisoning. Your vet will induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal to stop further absorption.
Depending on the amount of flavored chewables ingested, your dog may be hospitalized and monitored. Supportive treatments like IV fluids, gastroprotectants, and antibiotics may be necessary. Your vet may also give your dog vitamin K1 for the liver and diazepam to prevent seizures.
Average cost of treating drug overdose in dogs: $500
From bug sprays to ant bait, insecticides vary and can be toxic to your dog. Carbamates and organophosphates are two common substances that can severely poison both cats and dogs.
While cases of insecticide poisoning are in decline thanks to increased regulation, The Pet Poison Helpline still receives hundreds of calls concerning insecticides annually.
Symptoms of insecticide poisoning in dogs
Many insecticides are incredibly poisonous to dogs, so symptoms of insecticide poisoning can be severe. Common symptoms of insecticide poisoning include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of coordination
Treatment for insecticide poisoning in dogs
If possible, bring the product packaging along with you to the vet, as the ingredients will determine the best course of treatment. For example, if your dog ate an insecticide containing chlorinated hydrocarbons, inducing vomiting could worsen their symptoms and condition.
Depending on the insecticide and how quickly your dog receives treatment, your vet may induce vomiting and pump your dog's stomach. They may also administer activated charcoal to prevent absorption. Your dog will likely be hospitalized and monitored.
With organophosphates, antidotal drugs like atropine may be used to counteract effects on the nervous system. Your vet may also give your dog supportive and preventative care, including oxygen therapy, anti-seizure medication, and thermoregulation.
Average cost of treating insecticide poisoning: $1,600
Fertilizers routinely land on the APCC’s list of top 10 pet poisons. Your dog spends lots of time running around in your yard, and if you've sprinkled fertilizer on your lawn recently, your dog could easily ingest it; whether by eating fertilized plant matter or licking their paws after a romp.
As a general rule, you should avoid letting your dog around a fertilized yard for between 24 and 72 hours. Fertilizers contain high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as herbicides and pesticides that can cause severe symptoms.
Symptoms of fertilizer poisoning in dogs
Fertilizers contain a variety of ingredients, so toxicity levels vary greatly. Fertilizers containing bone meal are especially dangerous — they can cause iron toxicity and cement-like obstructions in the stomach and bowels. Common symptoms of fertilizer poisoning in dogs include:
- Acute vomiting
- Discolored gums
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
Treatment for fertilizer poisoning in dogs
As no two fertilizers are the same, treatment will vary. If possible, let your vet know the ingredients of the fertilizer your dog ingested. Depending on the fertilizer and how quickly your dog receives treatment, your vet may induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal to stop absorption.
The severity of fertilizer poisoning can vary from mild stomach upset to a life-threatening illness. If your pet has severe symptoms, your vet will likely hospitalize your dog and monitor their heart rate and breathing. They may also give your dog gastroprotectants and medication to induce urination and bowel movements.
Average cost of treating fertilizer poisoning: $600
Worried your dog has eaten something toxic? Chat with a veterinary professional today to get the lowdown on poisonous substances in dogs.