Pet Poisons: 5 Myths And Facts

31 March 2021 - 5 min read

This article was written for the United States market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United Kingdom.

Pet parents are always protective of their four-legged friends, and rightly so. But there are plenty of misconceptions about the foods (and non-foods) that are harmful to our pets.

Here are some of the most common.

A dog and cat reaching for chocoloate

Myth #1: Chocolate is only dangerous for dogs — and only if it’s dark

The facts: Chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats, and even milk chocolate can be dangerous.

So here’s the deal: Chocolate is chock full of two chemicals that you can probably handle, but your furry fam most definitely can’t. You’re no doubt familiar with caffeine — it’s probably coursing through your veins at this very moment. But a dose of caffeine that’s fit to sustain a human throughout a long workday would almost certainly be toxic to a dog or cat. In the worst cases, caffeine can cause symptoms such as muscle tremors or seizures.

And caffeine isn’t even the most toxic substance in chocolate; that would be a different stimulant called theobromine. Theobromine can spike your pet’s heart rate, cause high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias, or even be fatal in large enough doses.

By the way, this is all true whether your pet is of the feline or canine persuasion. Yes, the vast majority of chocolate-related poison control calls are for dogs — but that’s just because cats are less likely to gobble down a heaping portion of chocolate. But if your feline friend is a little less discerning than the usual cat, choco-mergencies can still happen.

So what kind of chocolate should you keep away from your pet? The short answer: All kinds.

Yes, darker chocolates have more theobromine; the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is. Unsweetened baking chocolate is the most dangerous.

But this part’s important: Milk chocolate has caffeine and theobromine too. It’s not about the color of the chocolate — it’s about the dose of toxins. If your furry friend goes hog-wild on a trick-or-treat bag full of milk chocolate candy bars, that can be just as bad as a small amount of dark chocolate. And the smaller your pet is, the less chocolate they’ll need to eat before they get sick.

White chocolate is the least dangerous type, FYI, but its high-fat content can still cause problems like vomiting, diarrhea, weakness or lethargy, and even pancreatitis. At the end of the day, your best bet is simply to keep all chocolate out of paw’s reach.

A cat sniffing an onion

Myth #2: Other than chocolate, human food is A-OK for your pet

The facts: Chocolate may be especially dangerous — but other foods can harm your pet.

Look, we’re not trying to fan the flames of your pet-lovers’ hypochondria. You don’t need to spend your life combing through the rug in search of that one speck of food the vacuum cleaner left behind. But certain foods, if eaten in large enough quantities, can make your furry friend ill. So just be careful with...

  • Dairy. Unlike you, your pets don’t have the proper enzymes to break down cow’s milk. No, not even cats (so put away your saucer). Dairy products – yes, even cheese – can cause digestive problems in cats and dogs, including diarrhea.

  • Nuts. Oil and fat are the culprits here, and they can cause vomiting and diarrhea, or even pancreatitis in the most extreme cases. Macadamia nuts are especially toxic, with the potential to cause tremors or hyperthermia in both dogs and cats.

  • Raisins and grapes. Nobody’s quite sure which chemical substance in grapes and raisins is bad for pups and kitties, but the devil is in the details: Grapes and raisins have been known to cause kidney failure if eaten in large enough quantities.

  • Garlic, onions and chives. Any of these can cause stomach issues, intestinal discomfort, or even anemia. They’re especially damaging to cats, though dogs can also be affected if they eat enough.

  • Anything with xylitol. Ah yes, xylitol, a household word if there ever was one. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in a bunch of different products ranging from chewing gum to toothpaste. And it’s really bad for your pets: Xylitol can trigger an insulin release in both cats and dogs, leading to seizures and even liver failure. Make sure you keep it away from your furry fam.

In all likelihood, a tiny scrap of one of these foods isn’t going to be your four-legged friend’s undoing. Nonetheless, try to make sure they never get their jaws around them.

A dog with a flower collar

Myth #3: Only certain plants are bad for cats and dogs

The facts: Even non-toxic plants can harm your furry friends

Okay, sure, it’s true that certain plants are particularly dangerous. Plants like castor bean, oleander, and yew are incredibly toxic to both dogs and cats. The full list of toxic plants is pretty darn long, but here's a helpful graphic of the top 12 plants that are poisonous for pets:

12 poisonous plant for pets

But if you suspect your furry friend might have eaten a toxic plant, look for symptoms of poisoning like mouth irritation, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, or seizures. And if you spot any of these red flags, call your nearest veterinarian, or the ASPCA’s animal poison control center (APCC) as soon as possible.

With all that being said: Dogs and cats shouldn’t be eating plants, period! Even grass or common ferns can cause gastrointestinal distress and vomiting if your pet eats too much of them. Your safest bet is to make sure your four-legged friends eat their food — and nothing else.

Woman dialing a Vet with her dog

Myth #4: If you think your pet ate something toxic, you should induce vomiting immediately

The facts: You should never induce vomiting in cats, and even with dogs, you should call an expert first

First of all — and we can’t stress this enough — there are no at-home emetics (i.e., medicines that cause vomiting) that are safe for cats. If you’re a cat parent and you think your feline swallowed something poisonous, make a beeline for the nearest emergency veterinary clinic. Your vet can give your cat medications to induce vomiting, or even administer activated charcoal to absorb toxins.

Now, if you’re a dog parent, you do have one at-home option: 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.

A couple of things, though: First of all, it absolutely must be a 3% solution. Anything more can be toxic, and that defeats the purpose. Fortunately, it’s easy to buy in any local pharmacy, and any dog parent should have it on hand.

This is just as important: You should never take matters entirely into your own hands. Like, ever. If you induce vomiting in your dog without contacting your vet or a poison control center first, you’ve done something very wrong. You can’t force a foreign substance into your pup’s already-poisoned body without an expert to guide you through the process.

Vets and poison control experts can tell you things like how much hydrogen peroxide to give your pet based on their size, breed, and what they ate. They can also tell you when it’s prudent just to skip vomit-inducing and rush straight to the vet.

If you try to induce vomiting without talking to an expert first, there’s a good chance you’ll just make things worse.

Woman running with her cat to the Vet

Myth #5: If you think your dog or cat was poisoned, panic!

The facts: It’s super unlikely your pet will die from eating something harmful — just be vigilant and have an action plan

Now that you’ve read this article, you should have a better idea of which foods and plants to keep away from your furry friend. But accidents still happen.

So if you know your pet ate something poisonous, or you recognize common toxicity symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or drooling, then call your vet or the animal poison control center (APCC) to get expert advice. And even if you have to rush your four-legged friend to the vet (and if you think they’ve eaten something toxic, you almost always should), it’s still very rare for anything fatal or irreversible to befall your pet so long as you act immediately.

So yes, you should err on the side of caution, but never panic — just get help as quickly as possible, and it’s overwhelmingly likely your four-legged friend will be frisky again in no-time.