Common Toxin Ingestion in Pets

February 16, 2020 | 5:59 PM

Common Toxin Ingestion in Pets

There are few things more panic-inducing for a pet owner than a pet eating something they shouldn’t. For many, this is one of the most stressful parts of owning a dog. Despite best efforts, dogs seem to always finds a way to get into things! Luckily, they're often neither quiet nor subtle in the mess they leave behind, so catching toxin ingestion early is possible. However, sometimes we as pet owners aren’t so lucky, and our pets may begin to show symptoms before we even realize that they got into something. Oftentimes, owners may not even realize that something their dog or cat ate was toxic. Because all of these scenarios are so common, here are some things you should know about the most common household intoxicants for dogs and cats.


According to the Pet Poison Helpline, this is the most common emergency call they receive for dogs. As someone whose dog ingested a large amount of chocolate that resulted in a multiple-day hospital stay, we can relate to the fear and anxiety that comes with coming home to a multitude of chewed-up chocolate wrappers strewn across the floor. When you know your dog has ingested chocolate, it is important to make note of the type of chocolate (brand and product are helpful if you know them), the quantity that your pet ingested, and any symptoms that your pet is already experiencing. These things are good to note for any toxin, but are especially important for chocolate, as dark chocolates contain higher concentrations of methylxanthines (the toxic substance in chocolate) than milk or white chocolate.

The clinical signs and symptoms we see with chocolate toxicity are related to the stimulant-like effects of methylxanthines. Symptoms you may see your pet exhibiting if they have ingested chocolate are vomiting/diarrhea, restlessness, hyperactivity, or muscle twitches. It is best to consult your veterinarian immediately if you think or know that your pet has ingested chocolate. Depending on how long it has been or how much they have ingested, your pet may need to be hospitalized to monitor for or treat cardiac arrhythmias or neurologic symptoms.


Ingestion of these flowers is frequently a reason for emergency calls to the Pet Poison Hotline for cats, and with good reason. Lillies have the capacity to induce an acute and severe kidney failure in cats, a fact that many cat owners are unaware of. This kidney failure can happen from a cat eating part of the lilly, rubbing up against the pollen and grooming it off, or even just from drinking the water the lilies are sitting in. Because of this potential for an often-deadly disease, cat-owning households should NEVER have lilies present in the house! If you know your cat has ingested lilies, contact your veterinarian immediately. Monitoring of renal values or supportive care for renal failure may be necessary. Unfortunately, without dialysis therapy, the prognosis for renal failure caused by lilies is guarded to poor. For this reason, prevention by informing cat owners about the dangers of lilies is extremely important.


Grapes are another culprit in acute kidney injury and kidney failure in dogs and cats.  Not every pet who eats grapes or raisins will be affected, and the reason why they cause renal failure in pets is not well understood. For this reason, it is important to notify your veterinarian if you know or suspect that your pet has eaten raisins or grapes. Your veterinarian may want to monitor your pet’s kidney values for 72 hours to see if signs of acute kidney injury or kidney failure develop. If renal failure does develop, supportive care in a hospital is very important, as the prognosis can be guarded.

Rat Poison

Rat poison, or rodenticides, are another toxin on Pet Poison Helpline’s top emergencies for both dogs and cats. Maybe the most well-known of these are the anticoagulant rodenticides, which cause death through inhibition of certain clotting factors, leading to excessive bleeding. First-generation anticoagulants like warfarin and coumadin are less common now than the more potent second-generation anticoagulants. These include products such as Tomcat and d-Con. If you know your pet has ingested these products, it is important to contact your veterinarian right away. They may be able to quickly induce vomiting and prevent systemic absorption of the rodenticide through the gastrointestinal tract. It generally takes 3-5 days after ingestion of these products for symptoms of internal bleeding to occur. Symptoms noticed by owners are generally related to blood loss, and include lethargy, anorexia, pale gums/mucous membranes, vomiting, and trouble breathing. Luckily, there is a specific antidote to these types of rodenticides; Vitamin K1 is given orally or subcutaneously to restore the clotting factors inhibited by the rodenticide.

Recent regulations on the anticoagulant rodenticides have led companies to create other rat poisons that act by different mechanisms and, unfortunately, do not have a specific antidote. These products include bromethalin and cholecalciferol. Bromethalin exposure may result in muscle twitches/tremors and seizures. Cholecalciferol causes a dangerous rise in blood calcium and phosphorus levels, leading to dangerous effects on the kidneys and heart. If possible, it is important to note the product that was ingested by your pet when you call your veterinarian, since different types of rodenticide toxicity are treated differently.

What to do if you think your pet has ingested a toxin: 

It is important NOT to induce emesis (vomiting) in your pet yourself without consulting with a veterinarian first! Inducing vomiting can cause further harm when your pet has ingested acidic, corrosive, or other substances. Your veterinarian has certain drugs they will use to induce vomiting in your dog or cat that will be more effective when given intravenously. 

In any sort of confirmed or possible toxin ingestion, your veterinarian is your best source of information. If your pet is exhibiting concerning symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, or lethargy, and you are unsure if they have ingested anything toxic, it is always best to have them evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Other resources include the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) and Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661).