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Common pet poisons in our home environment: Part I


© Clare Moran

Our pets are part of our family. Like us, they can be exposed to toxins and chemicals in our home environment. Some of the top concerns may surprise you. As part of a healthy home environment, you may want to make some changes for the safety of your pet.

In winter, Chicago-area pet owners need to be watchful for antifreeze, an extremely toxic but tasty poison, according to Dr. Robyn Barbiers, President of the The Anti-Cruelty Society, located in Chicago. She recommends that owners stop their pets from licking spots on driveways and streets. It may be that those tasty droplets are remnants of antifreeze from radiators.

There are other toxins to be watchful for. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reported the top ten categories of pet poisons in the home environment. The list is based on the how often each category was the concern in national poison control center hotline phone calls during 2009.

This article is the first of two articles on pet poisons in the home. The top 5 concerns are described in this article, Part I. The other 5 concerns will be described in the next article, Part II.

  • Human Medications For several years, human medications have been number one on the ASPCA’s list of common hazards. The ASPCA managed 45,816 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements. Pets can grab medications from counters and nightstands, or pick up medications that were dropped on the floor. Dogs and puppies that are inclined to eat any morsel in sight are the pets to watch. Be sure to keep all medications out of the reach of your pets.
  • Insecticides Misuse of products meant to kill insects is second on the list. In 2009, ASPCA fielded 29,020 calls related to insecticides. One of the most common incidents involved the misuse of flea and tick products—such as applying the wrong topical treatment to the wrong species (cat versus dog). Be sure to follow instructions carefully and check with your veterinarian when using these products.
  • People Food Some foods that we eat contain compounds that can make pets sick. Chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocado and products containing xylitol, like gum, accounted for more than 17,453 calls to the hotline in 2009.
  • Plants Common houseplants were the subject of 7,858 calls to the ASPCA in 2009. Your plant-loving cats are the pets to watch for this concern. Varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, lilies, kalanchoe and schefflera are often found in homes and can be harmful to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, and can cause life-threatening kidney failure even in small amounts.
  • Veterinary Medications Some pets require medications, and well-intentioned pet owners have made mistakes when giving them to their pets. In 2009, the ASPCA managed 7,680 cases involving problems with animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventatives, de-wormers, antibiotics, vaccines and nutritional supplements. Follow directions carefully.

If you are worried about possible poisoning, call your veterinarian. Be sure to post the phone number of your veterinarian and your local emergency animal hospital for easy access in case of emergency. You may call the national poison control hotline (888-426-4435), but they are likely to tell pet owners to call their vet and may charge a $65 fee.

What are the next 5 categories of poisoning concerns? Check out Part II tomorrow.

For more info: ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center; The Anti-Cruelty Society pet health information page; searchable database of plants that may be toxic to animals.

Suggestions, comments, questions? Anything about environmental health that you would like to know about? Email your Chicago Environmental Health Examiner at Follow me on Twitter @chicagoenviron.


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