Our pets can get themselves into all sorts of mischief. Although we don’t want to think about them eating things they shouldn’t, accidental cat and dog poisoning cases are quite common. In fact, these are some of the most common medical emergencies we encounter in our hospital. Did you know your home and even your backyard contain items harmful to your pet? From a dog discovering some Easter eggs to accidentally consuming rat bait, resulting in a case of poisoning that could be fatal.

It’s crucial to be aware of the various poisons, as well as what to do if your pet encounters them. Our guide will teach you about the sorts of poisons your pet may come in contact with, common cat and dog poisoning symptoms, treatment, and prevention tips.

What you’ll learn

Cat and dog poisoning (toxicity), what is it?

A natural or manufactured substance, a poison or toxin comes either in the form of a gas, liquid, or solid. These materials may cause significant damage and even death if breathed in, ingested, absorbed through the skin, or injected. It’s not unusual for our pets to become poisoned by consuming something they shouldn’t. However, they don’t have to ingest a hazardous substance to become ill. Even being exposed to poison through skin contact can be enough to induce a severe case of poisoning. For example, the accidental application of dog tick and flea medication on a cat’s skin is extremely harmful.

Poisoning occurs when a large enough dose enters the body, causing significant damage to the cells, tissues, or organs, resulting in death if treatment isn’t given quickly. The dose may just be a small amount depending on the substance. Reactions from poisoning may include:

  • Attacking blood cells, which can cause internal bleeding
  • Limiting cellular functions, such as the ability to process protein
  • Attacking the central nervous system, which can affect the brain and heart
  • Slowly shut down organs, such as the lungs, liver, or kidneys

What is poisonous to my pet?

The most common pet toxins are items found in our homes. While they’re not hazardous to us, they can be harmful to our pets. Our pets are inquisitive creatures, which can be dangerous when a cupboard door is left open or the lid to a container is left off.

A great majority of common pet toxins fall into one of three categories: human food, environmental, or household items.

Common pet toxins

Human food

Who else is guilty of feeding their dog from their dinner plate? While it may be difficult to refuse those sad eyes when they ask for scraps, it’s vital to keep in mind most human food isn’t suitable for our pets. Even the blandest and basic ingredients can be harmful. The following are some of the most common toxic foods:

  • Begal looking in fridgeChocolate
  • Sultanas, raisins, and grapes
  • Onion and garlic
  • Xylitol
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Dairy
  • Salt
  • Fatty meat scraps

For a full list of toxic foods, see our A-Z guide of toxic foods for pets.

Environmental

Pet poisoning can happen anywhere, even in our own backyards. You might be surprised to discover how many poisons your pet may be exposed to.

Plants

Black dog sniffing a plantWhile they certainly add beauty to our homes and gardens, there are numerous indoor and outdoor flora harmful to our pets. The list of toxic plants and flowers is lengthy, but the following are among the most common:

  • Sago palms
  • Yesterday-today-tomorrow
  • Moses in a cradle
  • Lilies
  • Azaleas and rhodoendrons

You’re not alone if you’re concerned about your pets eating poisonous plants. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden or even bring the outside inside – there are just as many non-toxic and beautiful plants to be found. Visit our list of pet-friendly flora to learn more.

Animal toxins

Puffer fish out of water

Puffer fish contain one of the world’s deadliest natural poisons

Fauna can also be harmful to our pets. Some animals can release a toxin if they feel they are under threat, causing our furry companions to become poisoned. In Australia and Western Australia alone, there are many species with this defensive capability. The following are the most serious and common animal poisonings we see:

  • Snake bites
  • Blowfish, also known as toad fish or puffer fish
  • Insect bites or stings

Household items

Consider the items you use daily at home – detergent to wash the dishes, headache medicine, bait to rid the yard of pesky snails. We frequently overlook how hazardous these day-to-day items may be to our pets should they ingest them. What our dogs and cats find appealing and attempt to eat even surprises us! Below are some examples of common household items pets have ingested.

Human drugs and medications

Pets, particularly cats, are no strangers to finding and eating pills that have fallen on the floor. Our pets process and respond to human medications differently to us.

Prescription drugs aren’t the only ones to avoid. More and more pets are being treated at our hospital after ingesting illicit drugs. Marijuana ingestion is a common poisoning we see all too often.

Dog looking at tablet capsulesCommonly ingested medications and drugs include:

  • Painkillers, such as Panadol and Nurofen – paracetamol is particularly toxic to cats even in very small amounts
  • Ventolin from asthma puffers
  • Anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications, such as Prozac and sleeping tablets
  • Illicit drugs, such as marijuana
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol

Pet medications

As well as human medications, non-human medications must also be kept out of reach of furry paws. Pet medications are meant to taste pleasant so our pets will take them willingly. As a result, it’s always a good idea to dispose of or hide any spare pet medications from prying paws! If pets do get into their medications, the consequences can be extreme, especially if they consume a large amount.

You should never medicate your pet without first seeking veterinary advice. Always follow your veterinarian’s instructions as well as the label instructions when administering medication to your pet. This is especially crucial when using flea and worming treatments. Always double-check the instructions as some dog flea treatments contain permethrin which while safe for dogs, is highly poisonous to cats.

Cleaning products, chemicals, and poisons

Household cleaning products can be potentially harmful to our pets. It’s critical any substances we use are stored securely after use. Although some household cleaners claim to be ‘natural’ or ‘environmentally friendly’, this does not mean they are safe for pets. These cleaners might still induce a reaction if our pets come into contact with them. General cleaners, such as glass and surface cleaners are usually harmless, but it’s best to keep them out of reach of your pet.

Cleaning products to keep out of reach are:

  • Jack Russell Terrier looking at cleaning productsBleach and detergents – one of the most common causes of pet poisonings
  • Coolant and anti-freeze – our pets find its sweet smell and taste irresistible, but when ingested leads to acute kidney failure
  • Paint thinner and stripper
  • Fertiliser
  • Batteries – if chewed, the acidic substance in the battery may leak out causing burns to the mouth, esophagus, and/or stomach
  • Hand sanitiser – while the alcohol in sanitiser is toxic to our pets, poisoning is uncommon as they would have to consume a large amount
  • Insecticides and pesticides, such as snail and rat bait
  • Gases, such as carbon monoxide

What are the cat and dog poisoning symptoms?

Depending on what and how much of the toxic item your pet has consumed, the symptoms of poisoning will differ. Cat and dog poisoning symptoms can range from anywhere between general and mild to severe.

General and mild signs of poisoning in dogs and cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Drooling
  • Lack of appetite
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Skin irritation, swelling, or inflammation
  • Increased or unable to urinate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pale gums

The more severe signs of pet poisoning include:

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Shaking and muscle tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Trouble breathing
  • Seizures
  • Extreme excitability or agitation

Some signs and symptoms a pet is suffering from poisoning might not appear immediately. This may be for one of two reasons. Some reactions take longer to manifest than others, and some poisons are only hazardous if consumed in large doses. For these reasons, avoid taking the ‘wait and see’ approach as in most cases the outcome is organ failure within 72 hours.

Open containers, rips in packaging, and empty wrappers are the most telling indicators your pet has eaten something dangerous. If it’s even possible your pet has been in contact with something hazardous, always assume they are at risk of a case of poisoning.

Can pets recover from poisoning?

The type of poisoning, the dose, and how soon treatment begins will all influence the rate of recovery for your pet. The sooner any sort of poisoning treatment beings, the better the chance both cats and dogs will recover. As the poison would have had very little time to spread through your pet’s system and wreak havoc on their cells, tissues, and/or organs. This also allows for the greatest amount of time for treatment to be administered in order to minimise toxicity effects. However, the age, size, and overall health of your pet can have a big impact on their recovery.

Cats can experience longer recoveries from poisonings depending on the toxin they ingest. There are a few reasons for these longer recoveries, including:

  • Size – even the tiniest dose can be deadly for their small bodies
  • Grooming – as cats frequently groom themselves, it places them at risk of ingesting hazardous chemicals from their coats
  • Ability to process chemicals – cats process chemicals differently from dogs, and there are some chemicals they aren’t able to process at all
  • Lifestyle – if you have an outdoor cat who has the freedom to roam, you are unlikely to discover if they have been poisoned or what the substance was

Overall, any cat or dog poisoning case has the potential to be devastating. Generally, moderate poisonings have a good prognosis. However, the chance of recovery is extremely poor in severe poisoning incidents or ones where there is a delay in treatment. Pets who do recover from severe poisoning may have long-term health issues.

What should I do if my pet has been poisoned?

Many toxic substances will only cause unpleasant symptoms, however, some may be deadly without treatment. We always recommend to err on the side of caution. If you suspect your pet is suffering from a case of poisoning, move them away from any potential poison.

Always seek vet treatment as soon as possible if your cat or dog is showing signs of poisoning. If there are no outward indications or symptoms and your pet appears normal, we still advise you to contact your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if it’s necessary to bring your pet straight to them or whether you should do anything else.

Never try to induce vomiting. If the substance or item causing the poisoning is caustic, severe inflammation and irritation of the esophagus can occur from inducing vomiting.

If you believe a poisonous substance may have come into contact with your pet’s fur or paws, wash them with pet shampoo to prevent them from grooming themselves.

How do vets treat cat and dog poisoning cases?

Treatment for cat and dog poisoning incident is dependent on what your pet has come in contact with or ingested. As toxins come in many forms, determining what has caused the poisoning incident can make diagnosis difficult. To treat effectively, your veterinarian needs to know what and how much your pet has consumed or come in contact with. They’ll also need to know when it occurred. Even if you just have the wrapper or container, bring it along with you for identification and testing.

Your veterinarian will treat poisoning in two ways. They’ll neutralise and remove the poison to prevent any further absorption into your pet’s body. Then they’ll give supportive care to assist with recovery.

When you arrive, your veterinarian will first conduct a physical examination and perform tests to establish the poisoning diagnosis in order to start treatment. This includes:

  • An antidote to counter the effect of the toxin if available, however not all poisons have an antidote
  • Fluid therapy will be used to maintain hydration and dilute the poison and flush it from the body faster, as well as maintain blood flow
  • Anti-seizure medication or muscle relaxants
  • Decontamination through washing if the hazardous substance came into direct contact with their coat or skin
  • Inducing vomiting to remove the toxic substance from the stomach
  • Administering activated charcoal to bind with the poison, preventing it from absorbing further
  • Blood or plasma transfusions
  • Oxygen therapy if there are breathing difficulties
  • Dialysis for filtering the kidneys in severe cases
  • Other medications, such as for regulating the heart rate
  • To manage the symptoms and adjust treatment, vital signs will be checked on a regular basis
  • Additional tests will be conducted in order to monitor improvement or deterioration

In severe poisoning cases, hospitalisation may be required for an extended period.

What can I do to prevent accidental cat and dog poisoning?

The best way to keep your pet safe from any accidental poisoning incidents is to implement pet poison prevention measures. For example, keep any potentially toxic items out of reach. Pet-proof your house both inside and outside, like you would child-proof it for toddlers. Also, keep in mind while placing something high up, cats with their jumping ability will be able to still gain access. To be safe, store all potentially hazardous and poisonous items behind closed doors or draws.

What else can you do to keep your pet safe from poisoning? There are a number of precautions you may take to minimise any accidental poisonings. Here are a few of our pet poison prevention tips:

  • Medicine cabinet on bathroom wall

    Keep medications in closed cabinets away from pets

    Make sure toxic items are disposed of safely and securely, especially if your pet has a habit of taking items from the bin

  • If you are using any cleaning chemicals or poisons in your house or garden, keep your pet out of this area until it’s safe
  • Try alternatives to baits, such as mice traps
  • Only give medication prescribed by your vet to your pet
  • To avoid giving your pet the wrong medication, store their medicines in a location separate from your own
  • Keep your pets away from areas where chemicals are kept
  • Keep your garage floor free of potentially harmful chemicals in case your pet manages to get inside
  • Only feed your pet a balanced pet food diet
  • Clean up any spills immediately, no matter how small they are
  • Keep chemicals in clearly labeled, sealed containers

What can I do to prevent my pet from being intentionally poisoned?

Most pet poisoning incidents are accidental, but on rare occasions, pets may be the targets of malicious poisoning. Why do people commit such acts of cruelty? In some instances, acts of deliberate poisonings make no sense, such as tainted meat being discovered in dog parks. Others happen because of neighbourly disputes.

What can you do as a pet owner to avoid a case of intentional cat or dog poisoning?

  • Keep your pet away from places they aren’t supposed to be, such as next-door-neighbour yards
  • Train dogs not to bark unnecessarily through crate and reward-based training
  • Supervision – don’t let your pet run loose unsupervised
  • Always walk your dog on a lead
  • For their own safety, teach your dog not to accept food from anybody except you

Should you suspect your pet may be in danger of being poisoned, keep an eye out for any food or unusual objects in your yard.

If you think a poisoning has occurred, or have any information about a deliberate poisoning, please contact your local police station or the RSPCA WA.

If you believe your pet has been poisoned or has swallowed an item you are worried about, visit Perth Vet Emergency or your local veterinarian immediately.