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Your Pet Ate What?!

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A gray cat eats a plant leaf

Do you know what common household items are toxic to pets? Do you know which of these items you have in your home and where they are?

Your Pet Ate What?!

Cats and dogs can be enticed to get into things they shouldn’t—whether because they’re hungry, it smells good, or they’re bored. Unfortunately, most homes are full of materials, plants, and foods that are toxic to animals, plus items that, if ingested, could cause a blockage in the digestive tract. For some cats and dogs, it’s not a matter of if but when they will eat something they shouldn’t. Before this ever happens, educating yourself about which items to keep out of your pet’s reach can be beneficial, even lifesaving.

What Foods Are Toxic to Dogs?

Many dogs are food motivated and will do whatever it takes to get a sample of what’s on your plate. However, before you give in to their begging puppy eyes, think twice about whether the food you’re about to give your dog could harm them. Some of the most common toxic foods to dogs include,

  • Onions and garlic

    No matter the form, whether powdered, cooked, dehydrated, or raw, these ingredients should be kept far away from your pup.

  • Alcohol

    This includes any form, whether wine, beer, a cocktail, straight liquor, or foods with alcohol. Alcohol can have the same effects on dogs as it does on people, except it takes a lot less and can cause many more problems.

  • Xylitol

    This sweetener can be found in gum, candy, toothpaste, medications, supplements, and some peanut butter—always check peanut butter’s ingredients before giving it to your dog. Too much xylitol can lead to symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, and low blood sugar, which can consequently cause seizures. In some severe cases, too much consumption of xylitol can also cause liver failure.

  • Caffeinated beverages

    Caffeine is in many drinks, such as coffee, tea, pop, and energy drinks. Anytime you have a drink with caffeine, ensure that it’s in a cup with a lid or set in a spot where your dog can’t reach it. Though it would be convenient to let your dog lick up the mess in the case of a spill, it’s best to clean up the drink before your pup can get a taste since caffeine can be fatal to dogs.

  • Grapes and raisins

    A small amount of either of these foods can cause your dog to vomit and become sluggish. Consumption of grapes or raisins could also lead to kidney failure. Since most toxins are dose-dependent, how much the food affects your pet will be influenced by how much your pet weighs.

  • Chocolate

    All types of chocolate are harmful to dogs, including white chocolate, but dark chocolate and cocoa powder are even more detrimental. Not to mention, chocolate also contains caffeine.

  • Macadamia nuts

    Whether the nuts are raw, roasted, or baked into food like cookies, it only takes a few to make your dog ill.

Generally, the smaller the dog, the more toxic food can affect them. For instance, if a Labrador consumes one grape, they may be OK, but if a Chihuahua eats one, the ratio of toxicity to body weight will be much higher, so they could begin showing signs roughly within the next 24 hours.

What Foods Are Toxic to Cats?

In nearly all instances, it’s safe to assume that if there’s food your dog shouldn’t have, your cat shouldn’t have it either, such as chocolate, alcohol, and onions. Other items on the list of foods toxic to cats include,

  • Onions

    Onions, and any item in the onion family, such as leeks, garlic, and chives, should never be given to your feline friend. Whether cooked or raw, onions in any form can be harmful—powdered onion even more so. If this vegetable is consumed, it could initially cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling, but more severe symptoms can include anemia and liver and kidney damage.

  • Raw food

    Raw eggs and meat could give your cat salmonella or E. coli poisoning, leading to vomiting or diarrhea. You should also avoid giving your feline (and canine) friend any bones, as they could splinter and cause significant issues if ingested. Raw dough of any kind can also cause multiple problems, even if your cat eats only a little bit.

  • Salt

    If your cat accidentally consumes too much salt or salty food such as chips or pretzels, they could experience serious health problems like tremors or seizures.

  • Caffeine

    Whether it’s in the form of pop, coffee or coffee grounds, an energy drink, or caffeine pills, any form of this stimulant can be harmful to cats. If you leave caffeine pills sitting out, an open drink on the table, or don’t clean up a spilled drink, these are all easy ways your feline friend could consume caffeine. Though how much the caffeine affects your pet will be determined by how much they consume versus how much they weigh, some initial symptoms can include increased heart rate and jittery behavior. More severe symptoms can cause damage to the liver, heart, kidneys, lungs, and central nervous system.

Since, on average, most cats are smaller than dogs, with many of these toxic foods, a cat wouldn’t need to eat much before it negatively affects them. Sometimes, symptoms may not be present for a few hours or a full day.

A puppy reaches their paws into a potted plant

Dangerous Household Items for Pets

In addition to toxic foods, there are many other everyday household items that, if consumed, can pose a danger to your best pal.

Plants

Whether you have plants inside, on your patio, or out in your garden, it’s essential that you’re aware of which ones are toxic to your pets—you never know when your pal may take a nibble out of a leaf or flower. A great way to keep your pet out of toxic plants is not to keep any in the house. Instead, try only to purchase plants that won’t pose any dangers if your pet were to get ahold of them.

If you still don’t want your pet sniffing around your plants, even the non-toxic ones, consider placing them on higher shelves where they can’t be reached or use a hanging planter. While this could work great for canines, remember that your feline could do some tricky jumping and still get the plant. Other options include keeping plants on your deck, porch, or patio, where your pet may not be as often.

With gardens, a fence may be most helpful in keeping your dog (and wildlife) out of your produce. If a dog eats a tomato plant, it could cause severe symptoms such as hypersalivation, upset stomach, and weakness, so be sure your pup is never left unsupervised around your produce.

Chemicals

Anything from cleaning sprays and detergents to car oil and pool chemicals is relatively common in a home. However, the list can be extensive and include other items such as paint, bug spray, perfume or cologne, nail polish, fertilizers, gasoline, and batteries. Just as these chemicals harm people if they are ingested or come into contact with someone’s eyes, the same hazards also exist for pets.

Medication

Any topical, oral, prescribed, or over-the-counter medication should never be given to your cat or dog. Only medication prescribed by your veterinarian specifically for your pet is safe for them to consume. Although many pill bottles have a tricky child-proof cap, that doesn’t mean with a bit of chewing, they can’t still get into the bottle.

Depending on what medicines you have in your home, you may be good with putting them away in a cupboard or medicine cabinet. However, don’t forget about allergy or pain-relief pills sitting around or in an open bag. All medications should be securely stored where your cat or dog cannot access them. If you accidentally spill some pills or medication on the floor, block off the area from your pet until you ensure that the floor has been thoroughly cleaned of all medicines.

Inedible Objects

Although, arguably, anything that isn’t pet food or pet-safe human food is technically inedible to pets, dangerous household items go beyond food, plants, chemicals, and medications. As some parents are already well aware, if your pet is determined enough, they could ingest nearly anything they can get ahold of. Toys, cushion stuffing, clothing (especially socks), television remotes, books, curtains, plastic, corn cobs, and shoes are all possible.

Even though these items aren’t toxic, per se, they are not digestible and could lead to major internal issues, including blockage. Some things, like tissues, may be able to pass through your cat or dog’s system within a few days, but others, like rocks or clothes, may need to be surgically removed.

Foreign body ingestion in dogs is not uncommon. If you believe your dog has consumed something they shouldn’t have, watch for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal tenderness, decreased appetite, lethargy, difficulties going potty, and changes in behavior. Foreign body ingestion in cats can include many of the same items that dogs consume, though cats may get a bit more creative with smaller objects. Rubber bands, thread, dirt, soap, hair ties, blind chords, tinsel, ribbon, buttons, and coins are all items of which you should be mindful.

How To Help Your Pet

If your cat or dog has ingested something that could harm their health, there are a few ways you can help. Although it’s recommended that you first contact your veterinarian, they may advise you to take a few steps at home first before moving your pet to the veterinarian’s office or an emergency animal clinic.

How To Induce Vomiting in Your Pet

Your veterinarian may recommend you induce vomiting in your pet as soon as possible. This method can be helpful in instances where your pet has eaten something toxic, like chocolate or grapes, the ingestion was recent, or they are still asymptomatic after consuming something harmful.

That said, there are many times when inducing vomiting could make the situation worse. These could include,

  • If your pet is brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced like Pugs or French Bulldogs)

  • If they aren’t fully awake

  • If you are unsure what they swallowed

  • If your pet is having seizures

  • If they ingested something sharp

  • If they swallowed a corrosive chemical

You will mainly want to avoid causing additional issues to the esophagus with something harmful (if it comes back up) or your pet accidentally inhaling something into their lungs. In some instances, like with brachycephalic breeds, inducing vomiting will only be done at a veterinary hospital where your pet can be under medical supervision.

However, if it’s recommended that you induce vomiting before taking your pet to the clinic, you will want to use 3% hydrogen peroxide. It can be helpful to have a syringe without a needle, an eye dropper, or even a turkey baster to ensure your pet is ingesting the peroxide. You can repeat this process two or three times, but you will need to wait five minutes between doses. It’s essential that you do not give more than 0.5-1ml of 3% hydrogen peroxide per pound to your dog. With some ingestions, a maximum of 45ml can be given, but its essential that you first check with a medical professional on the correct dose for your pet’s case.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs and Cats

The Heimlich maneuver is used when someone’s airway is blocked due to something being stuck in their throat. Although most people are already familiar with how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on another person, many people may not know that this method can also be used on dogs and cats.

You will first want to look for signs that your pet is choking. These can include panicked behavior, pawing at their face, loud or gasping breathing, or difficulty breathing. With large dogs, you will want to stand behind your dog and wrap your arms around their abdomen, under their ribs, lifting them slightly so that their back is against your chest.

Making a fist with one hand, use your other hand to cup your fist and quickly push inward into your dog’s belly and up towards their ribs. Quickly and successively, try this five times. If that does not work to dislodge the item, you can try using the palm of your hand to give five sharp hits on your dog’s back between their shoulder blades. You can also carefully lift your dog’s hind legs to be in a wheelbarrow position, which may encourage whatever is stuck in their throat to slide forward. After each attempt, check if the item has become dislodged enough that you can reach in and carefully remove it.

If your dog is lying down or is too large to be picked up to your chest, use one hand to brace their back and, making a fist with the other hand, push in and upward into their belly and toward their ribs. With smaller dogs, you can use the same methods of pushing your fist into the abdomen and doing smacks between your dog’s shoulder blades while being mindful not to use as much force on more petite pups. In addition to these methods, you can lift your dog entirely into the air from their hips or thighs and carefully swing them from side to side.

With felines, you will want to pick them up so their back is to your chest and their feet are dangling. Using your hands, you will want to push inward and upward gently but firmly from your cat’s tummy to their ribs. These quick motions should be done only five times before you check to see if the item in their throat has become dislodged. If it has not, you will want to pick your cat up from their hind legs with their head facing downward, helping the object naturally move out of their throat. You can also try giving your feline friend five quick and firm smacks on the back between their shoulder blades to help the process.

How To Keep Pets Safe

As you pet-proof your home so that your best pal will be as safe as possible, there are three things you should keep in mind.

  1. Keep harmful items out of reach

    One of the best ways to rest assured that your pet will not consume something harmful is to make sure they can’t even get ahold of the items in the first place.

  2. Securely store hazardous materials

    Consider the items around your home that your pet could get into or that you aren’t able to store in an out-of-reach area. For instance, purchasing trashcans and recycling bins with secure lids can be helpful. If you have a cookout and food that’s poisonous to pets is out on the table, consider keeping those items in a container that can be securely shut.

  3. Be aware and have an emergency plan

    Pay attention if you think your pet is acting differently than normal. It may be beneficial to do a quick sweep of your home, considering if there are any leftover messes, bins overturned, or items missing—this could give you a clue if they ate anything.

You should never wait for an emergency to figure out a plan. Instead, before something occurs, take a moment to discuss with everyone living in your home who to call and where to take your pet if they ingest something they shouldn’t have. It can be even more helpful to save the emergency veterinarian clinic or poison control center numbers in your phone or have them posted on your refrigerator.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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