Cats, dogs and other companion animals can be poisoned
by most of the same substances that can harm humans, as
well as materials that don't affect humans. And, because
of their relatively small bodies, household pets can be
harmed by very small amounts of a toxic substance.
A recent caller to UNH Cooperative Extension Family, Home
and Garden Education Center Info Line wanted to know if
cocoa shell mulch was toxic to dogs. She'd recently mulched
her flower garden with cocoa shells, and found her two dogs
eagerly gobbling it up.
Because she knew chocolate could poison dogs, she was concerned,
and had been keeping the animals cooped up indoors, since
they made a beeline for the mulch whenever they were let
We called the national Animal Poison Control Center in search
of more information, not only about cocoa mulch, but about
preventing pet poisoning in general, and talked with Dr.
Michael Knight, the Center's medical director.
Knight said all parts of the cocoa plant contain a compound
called theobromine, a central nervous system and cardiovascular
stimulant. "There are no hard numbers on just how much of
the substance might be in a given batch of cocoa shell mulch,
but the caller's dog was exhibiting symptoms consistent
with theobromine poisoning - restlessness, panting, pacing,
Knight talked about steps pet owners can take to prevent
their animals from being poisoned in their own homes and
back yards, also referring people to the Center's website.
Here is some information gleaned from the website and from
Dr. Knight's comments.
"We need to look at our homes through the
eyes of our pets, seeking out ‘toys' and ‘entertainments'
that may be harmful for them," he said.
Be prepared. You should keep telephone numbers for your
veterinarian, a local emergency veterinary service, and
the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-4
ANI-HELP) in a convenient location. If you suspect your
pet has ingested something poisonous, seek medical attention
- Don't use garden or lawn care chemicals in the presence
of your pet.
- For your own and your animal's safety, read and follow
label directions carefully.
- Keep pets off a lawn or away from other plants treated
with an insecticide or a weed killer at least until the
plants are completely dry.
- Keep your pets out of an area where snail or slug bait
has been applied. Always store such products in areas
inaccessible to your companion animals. Contact the manufacturer
for information concerning product usage around your pets.
Dr. Knight noted the Center receives many calls from dog
owners whose dogs have been poisoned by systemic insecticides
in granular form, incorporated into the soil at the base
of perennial plants along with organic fertilizing materials
such as bone meal, fish meal, blood meal, feather meal or
manure. All of these organic materials are very attractive
to dogs, who see them as a food source.
If you're a dog-owner who hires a professional landscaping
service to care for your shrubs and other plants, be sure
to get the names of all insecticides and fertilizers the
landscaper has used around your plants. Knight says a common
cause of dog poisonings is an insecticide called Disulfoton,
a product restricted for sale and use by licensed pesticide
When you treat a house to kill fleas or other insects, read
the product label and follow all directions carefully. This
is particularly important if a flea control product is to
be applied directly to the pet. Before buying a flea product,
consult your veterinarian, especially when treating sick,
debilitated or pregnant pets.
The insecticide permethrin, a common ingredient in flea
controls for dogs, can be fatal to cats. Read flea control
product labels carefully; never apply a product formulated
for one species of animal to another.
If you put out ant, roach, mouse or rat baits, make sure
they're in a spot inaccessible to your pet. Keep track of
the baits and remove and dispose of them properly when they
are no longer needed. Record on a calendar the date the
bait was put out and the name of the bait used. You'll need
this if your dog eats an entire bait container, or if there
was no label on the container and you need to tell the Center
veterinarian what your pet ingested.
For animal emergencies, call The Animal
Poison Control Center, a service of the American Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at 1-888-426-4435.
Headquartered in Urbana, Illinois, the Center opened its
phone lines in 1978. Today, the phones are staffed 24 hours
a day, every day, by veterinary toxicologists.
Because the center receives no government or private funding,
there's a $45 charge per case, though, at no extra charge,
the Center will do as many follow-up calls as necessary
in critical cases, and at the owner's request will contact
their veterinarian directly. The Center also provides, by
fax, specific treatment protocols and current literature
citations when needed.
This time of year is its peak season, and Center Medical
Director Dr. Knight says they're averaging about 275 calls
each day, including "quite a few from New Hampshire. The
Center also has a well-designed, easy-to-navigate website
which includes tips on preparing an emergency first aid
kit for animals, and a page of tips for veterinarians.
Our homes can contain a wide variety of
potentially harmful compounds. For instance, here are some
common food products that can be toxic, even lethal, to
pets: avocados (toxic to birds, mice, rabbits, horses, cattle,
and dairy goats), alcoholic beverages, chocolate (baker's,
semi-sweet, milk, dark), coffee (grounds, beans, chocolate-covered
espresso beans), hops (used in home beer brewing), macadamia
nuts, moldy foods, onions, onion powder, salt, tea (caffeine)
and yeast dough.
Pet owners' medications are the most common cause of animal
poisonings, according to Dr. Knight. Cats, in particular,
are susceptible because they have a body chemistry quite
different from ours in several important ways.
Don't give any of your medications to a pet. That includes
over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen,
cough or cold medicines and decongestants. Don't give your
dog's medicine to your cat or ferret.
Be careful where you take your own medications. Make sure
a pill doesn't drop within reach of a playful paw or quick,
slurping tongue. Don't put your medications out on a table
or counter to take.
Store medications for all family members and pets in high
cabinets, out of reach. With their curiosity and strong
teeth, dogs can crack open a pill bottle and swallow the
entire contents in a very short time. Even if it's a medicine
prescribed for your pet, too large a dose could cause problems.
Medications that come in tubes may also
pose a large risk. Most pets have sharp teeth and can chew
into a tube within seconds. Creams and ointments that may
be quite safe when applied to the skin can cause serious
problems when eaten.
Pain killers, cold medicines, anti-cancer drugs, anti-depressants,
vitamins and diet pills are all examples of human medications
that can be lethal to animals, even in small doses.
House & Garden
parts of ornamental plants, such as azalea, oleander, castor
bean, lilies or yews can be fatal to your family pet. Lilies
of all types are especially toxic to cats.
In the vegetable garden, rhubarb leaves, potato leaves,
stems and sprouts, and tomato foliage are poisonous to animals.
Chewing on some plants may result in severe irritation to
the mouth and throat. Others, while not quite so deadly,
may cause a severe intestinal upset.
Know the names of all the plants in your home and landscape,
and keep any potentially toxic plants out of areas accessible
to your animal companions.
Most cleaning materials can cause stomach
upset and vomiting if a pet eats them. Dishwasher detergent
can produce burns in the mouth.
When using household chemicals, take special care to make
sure your pets can't get into them. This may mean keeping
your pet out of the room where you are using such materials.
Common household items that can be lethal to an animal are
mothballs, potpourri oils, coffee grounds, homemade play
dough, fabric softener sheets, dishwashing detergent, batteries,
cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages.
Automobile Care Supplies
Like indoor cleaners, car-cleaning compounds
can cause stomach upset and vomiting. Some car-cleaning
agents are stronger than those used indoors.
Car-cleaning products should be kept away from your pet,
who will be safer if he or she is not allowed to "help"
you clean your automobile.
Antifreeze and windshield washer fluid can be harmful to
your pet. Your pet shouldn't be allowed to drink water from
a car radiator. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze
can be deadly to a cat; less than one tablespoon can be
deadly to a 10-pound dog. Safer antifreeze products are
now available and should be used.
From an article entitled "Protect Your Pet From Common
Household Poisons" By: Peg Boyles, Extension Program
Associate, Agricultural Resources and Margaret Hagen, Extension
Educator, Agricultural Resources UNH Cooperative Extension.
Used with permission.
Would Like to thank Faye E. Cragin for generously allowing
us to use this informative article on our website.
E. Cragin UNHCE WWW and Media Specialist
59 College Rd., Room 111 Taylor Hall
Durham, NH 03824