The Top Ten Toxins of 2013

My tail is between my legs. I am a week late with this blog post. It was meant to time out in conjunction with National Poison Prevention Week which happens to have just ended! Here is some belated, but hopefully interesting and useful information gleaned from the call logs of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Here is their list of the top ten pet toxins in 2013. They are ranked below based on call volume.

1. Prescription human medications: The Animal Poison Control Center received a whopping 27,673 calls regarding exposure to human medications in 2013. The three categories of drugs most commonly implicated included heart medications (including blood pressure pills), antidepressants, and pain medications (opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications). Honestly, I’m surprised that medicinal marijuana wasn’t a front-runner on this list!

2. Insecticides: More than half of the calls pertaining to insecticides involved cats. I certainly know from experience, that many people unwittingly apply “canine only” insecticides to their kitties, thinking that one size fits all. The important lesson here is to always carefully and thoroughly read the product label before applying an insecticide to any living creature.

3. Over-the-counter human medications: This group of drugs included acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and some herbal and nutraceutical products such as fish oil and joint supplements. I can’t even begin to count the number of dogs I’ve treated over the years for gastrointestinal upset and/or kidney failure caused by ibuprofen. Remember, just because it’s good for us doesn’t mean it’s good for our pets.

4. Household products: The toxins reported ranged from fire logs to cleaning products. Some of the chemicals are corrosive to the gastrointestinal tract. Other products are capable of causing an obstruction if swallowed.

5. People food: The biggees here are onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, and the sugar substitute, xylitol. These food products have the potential to cause kidney failure (grapes and raisins), gastrointestinal upset and damage to red blood cells (onions and garlic), and dangerously low blood sugar levels (xylitol).

6. Veterinary products and medications: These products are often flavored in order to make for a more palatable pilling process. The more delectable the medication, the more likely the animal is to eat as many tablets as possible when inadvertently allowed access to the entire bottle. The containers may be childproof, but they’re certainly not resistant to the gnashing and mashing of canine jowls.

7. Chocolate: I’m not sure why this was not included as a “people food”. It’s certainly one of my favorites! Methylxanthine is the substance in chocolate that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, tremoring, elevation in heart rate, and even seizures. The darker/purer the chocolate is, the greater the potential for toxicity. The lesson here- always be selfish with your chocolate!

8. Rodenticides: These are poisons intended to kill mice and rats. In many cases of accidental pet exposure, the people involved either had no idea how their pet could have been exposed, or they felt certain that there was no way their pet could have accessed the product where it was placed. Pets are pretty darned clever at getting to such tasty stuff. Depending on the type of poison, rodenticide toxicity can present as internal bleeding, seizures, or kidney failure. Here’s the bottom line. If you share your home with a pet, do not use a rodenticide anywhere on your premise. Let your kitties and your terriers do the mousing.

9. Plants: Lilies are the major culprits here. When ingested, they are capable of causing an abrupt onset of kidney failure. The outcome can be favorable, but only with really aggressive therapy that sometimes includes dialysis. Spare yourself this heartache- get rid of any lilies in your yard, and don’t bring any lily containing bouquets or plants into the house. Kitties just love to nibble on them.

10. Lawn and Garden Products: What dog doesn’t love what fertilizers contain- bone meal, manure from all kinds of critters, and, sometimes, even some dried blood. Dogs that eat enough of the stuff will develop some rip roaring gastrointestinal symptoms, and potentially even an obstruction.

Have you ever had to deal with a pet-related toxicity? What happened and how did everything turn out?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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10 Comments on “The Top Ten Toxins of 2013

  1. I absentmindedly gave my 11 pound Maltese phenobarbitol intended for my 90 pound Greyhound. Thank goodness for our local veterinary emergency room and the ASPCA Poison Control.

    I have worked for nine years at an animal hospital in Pensacola. I can’t tell you how many dogs I have seen poisoned by Sago Palms, a very popular shrub-like palm. We have saved a number of them, but, generally speaking, the prognosis is never good. It is often the young, curious pups who die after munching on the plant. It’s so difficult to watch them die so quickly of liver failure.

  2. One of those calls to poison hotline is ours.

    My beloved senior dog enjoys playing “Death by Chocolate”, literally, by eating suicidal doses of chocolate. I think the last go around was some bags of Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, but maybe that was New Years Eve the year before.

    Animal Poison Control is a really good service

  3. \\\\\the ONLY pet toxicity I have ever had was a cat’s reaction to something (vaccine?) given by the vet.

  4. I have dealt with a good share of toxins having worked in a small animal ER – including marijuana toxicity. However, I wish you had said more about Coumadin/warfarin/rat poison. I’ve had 2 DVT’s and will be swallowing poison pills for the rest of my life. I’m always very cautious with them because of the harm they could cause my dogs but I think it bears noting that this is one that can go under the heading of both human medicine and rodenticide as being very dangerous.

  5. Your mention of fish oil worries me. My vet put both of mine on the liquid fish oil (for arthritis) that the vet idispenses, but I’ve since been giving them the grocery store pills for humans. This is the first I’ve heard of fish oil being toxic.

  6. Last month our 7 year old rescue dog became suddenly and violently ill. Never in my life have I ever see an animal or a human vomit so terribly. We rushed him to our Emergency and Specialty Care Center where they gave us little hope due to the extreme level of liver toxicity. At their urging, we raced to the toxicology department at UC Davis Veterinary Medical School. No known toxin was identified. Extraordinary medical care that included numerous units of plasma, at enormous expense, saved our boy. I wish I could tell you what to be fearful of, but we will never know what substance poisoned him. We saw nothing and found nothing. The world is a dangerous place.

  7. We returned home from a Valentines Day dinner to discover our Chihuahua mix Annie had gotten into a box of candy. There was poop and puke all over the house. We called the emergency hospital and then headed there. There was the basic chocolate poisoning to deal with and also the caffeine poisoning. After spending the night in the ER, she was good as new. It is a good policy to know the phone number and address of a local Animal ER Hospital before you actually need it.

  8. Dr. Nancy, please include ANTIFREEZE in your toxic items list. We almost lost a dog to it. We left our husky to be pet-sat by my in-laws and he apparently ingested it from the street. It was fall and neighbors had parked in the street while they serviced their radiators with the stuff. We got back two days later to a very sick dog…a really good vet managed to save him. This was WAY back, years ago, but I don’t think the risk to pets has gone away.

  9. Not a toxicity per se, but the company that made the stuff I put into my blind/deaf dog’s ears had a logo for reading instructions that was almost identical to the logo of the opthamologist’s office. And both the eye drops and ear wash were in similar bottles. I accidentally put the ear cleaner into my dog’s eyes and I was horrified. I rushed her to the ER and they did an eye wash. In teensy tiny letters under the eye on the ear wash it says “not for use in eyes.” I wrote to the company and complained and I asked the opthamologist if she would complain to them too.

  10. About 40 ago my dog ate a pound of Sees Chocolates and was just fine. We did not know then that chocolates were toxic. In fact she loved After Eight mints so much, we would buy her a box for Christmas. We doled those out.