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An Essential Guide to Toxins and Poisons

Blog Header Toxins and Poisons

There are a number of things that are completely harmless to us, including human food, that may make your pet ill or prove fatal.

Please remember that, just like us, pets may suffer from intolerances and allergies to certain things, and not just the general toxins on this list. You know them best, so look out for signs of them being unwell or not their normal self.


Alcohol has the same effects on pets as it does on us. However, it affects pets much more quickly, even if they only drink a tiny amount. This doesn’t just mean that they will start slurring their barks! Just as alcohol can cause liver damage and other serious health problems to us, the same applies to our pets.


The sweet taste of antifreeze is irresistible to cats and dogs but it is hugely toxic, causing kidney damage. This is due to the presence of ethylene glycol. Drinking only a couple of teaspoons worth is enough to kill a cat.

There is a petition calling for antifreeze manufacturers to put a bitter agent into the liquid so it is unpalatable to animals:


Caffeine in large enough quantities can kill your dog. There is no antidote.


You’re probably well aware that chocolate is poisonous to dogs. The toxic ingredient is called theobromine, which is found in all kinds of chocolate. Dark chocolate is the most dangerous.


As well as normal cigarettes, e-cigarettes pose a serious threat to your pet’s health. The liquid capsules contain nicotine, which makes them toxic. They may be flavoured, making their aroma enticing to pets. The e-cigarettes themselves also represent a health threat if ingested.

Fat Trimmings and Bones

Although it may seem natural to give your dog or cat the leftovers from a joint of meat, both fat trimmings and bones can make your pet ill. Fat trimmings can cause pancreatitis, whilst cooked bones can become lodged in your pet’s throat or splinter and cause internal damage.

Garden Plants and Ivy

Many garden plants are moderately toxic to cats and can make them seriously ill if enough is ingested. Jolly festive plants, mistletoe and holly are also toxic.

Grapes and Raisins

Nobody is quite sure why, but both grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. A small amount is enough to cause illness.


Lilies are extremely toxic to cats, with lily poisoning causing kidney failure. All parts of the lily are poisonous if eaten, whilst some cats may become ill after licking off pollen from the flower that has been brushed onto their coat.

Macadamia Nuts

These are so bad for dogs that they even have their own poisoning term – Macadamia Nut Toxicosis. Eating the nuts can cause tremors and paralysis.


The image of a cat drinking a bowl of milk may exist, but in reality, milk and other dairy products can make cats very ill. Many cats are lactose-intolerant; drinking milk can cause stomach upsets and cramps.


Pets don’t like the taste of nicotine, so they should theoretically avoid eating anything containing it. However, we all know how puppies like to chew, so if you find yourself mysteriously missing a packet of cigarettes, please consider it an emergency – the prognosis for animals with nicotine poisoning is poor so the first few hours are key.

Onions and Garlic

These both affect cats and dogs, as ingestion of ANY form of these destroys red blood cells, causing anaemia. Eating a large quantity can make your pet very sick.

Paracetamol and Ibuprofen

It’s always best to assume all human medications are poisonous to your pets, unless told otherwise by your vet. Medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can lead to stomach ulceration, kidney and liver failure or death.


Permethrin is found in a number of dog flea products. Unfortunately, these products are often responsible for poisoning cats when they are accidentally used on cats, or even when cats come into close contact with recently treated dogs. Small dogs may also be susceptible to Permethrin. Signs of poisoning include severe muscle tremors and seizures.

Rat Poison

Pets frequently ingest poison when they are exposed to rats and other pests. This is dangerous because rat poison contains warfarin, an anti-coagulant. This acts slowly to reduce clotting mechanisms in the blood. Pets who ingest it will bleed to death and there may not even be any initial symptoms to let you know there’s something wrong. It’s important to remember that eating an infected rat can also poison your pet.

Slug Pellets

Slug pellet poisoning will make the affected pet appear ‘drunk’ and affect their co-ordination. If left untreated, it will result in rapid paralysis and death.


Xylitol is manufactured into a white powder that looks and tastes similar to sugar. Products that may contain xylitol include sugar-free gum, candies, breath mints, baked goods, cough syrup, chewable vitamins, mouthwash, toothpaste and more. Xylitol is extremely toxic to cats and dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), vomiting, liver failure, seizures leading to a coma, or even death in dogs.

If you think your pet’s been poisoned:

  1. Stay calm. Remove pets from the source of the poison.
  2. Contact your vet immediately.  Inform them when, where and how the poisoning occurred. If appropriate, take the packaging, plant or substance to the vet. Don’t expose yourself to any harm.
  3. Follow your vet’s advice.
  4. Never attempt to make your pet vomit.
  5. Never watch and wait.

Download a copy of our Essential Guide to Toxins and Poisons leaflet so you will always have the information at hand!

Posted August 4, 2015 in Pet Care Advice

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