Poison prevention is an essential aspect of pet ownership. 

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), poisoning is a leading cause of injury and death in companion animals in the USA. In 2021 alone, 401,550 calls were made to their Animal Poison Control Center. It's important to note that these statistics are based on reported cases, and it is likely that there are many more cases of poisoning that go unreported. 

Poisoning is a leading cause of injury and death in companion animals in the USA. It's essential to stay informed about the most common causes of poisoning and to take steps to prevent it. By being vigilant and taking steps to protect your pet from toxic substances, you can help keep them safe and healthy.

As part of National Pet Poison Prevention Month, here are five tips to keep your pet safe. 

1. Be wary of houseplants

Many houseplants are toxic to pets, so make sure to keep them out of reach or replace them with pet-safe alternatives. For many houseplants, ingestion will cause your pet gastrointestinal upset and vomiting, but some plants have more dangerous effects. 

Certain lilies like daylilies and tiger lilies are highly toxic to cats — even ingesting pollen from these lilies can cause kidney failure. A bouquet makes a beautiful decoration, but make sure that the flowers you bring home are safe for your cat. 

2. Be careful in the kitchen

There are many substances that are perfectly healthy for humans but toxic for pets. You probably already know that chocolate is bad for dogs, but another common example is xylitol, a sugar substitute found in chewing gums, candies, and some kinds of peanut butter. Xylitol causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar when ingested in small amounts, and in larger amounts it can cause liver failure. 

Other human foods that are toxic to pets include:

  • Coffee beans
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions
  • Alcohol 
  • Macadamia nuts

3. Keep medications in a safe place

Keep all medications, cleaning products, and chemicals out of reach of your pets. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as vitamins and supplements. For example, NSAIDs and acetaminophen, two common types of human pain reliever, can cause severe health problems. NSAIDs and acetaminophen are often in cold medicines, which include other ingredients that are toxic to pets. 

“NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, can cause severe bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract of animals and even renal failure and seizures at high enough doses. One reason for this is the size of the tablets - a two tablet dose appropriate for people would represent 25 times the dose that is safe for a chihuahua! Additionally, animals often metabolize drugs differently than people. People rapidly metabolize acetaminophen (Tylenol) to a non-toxic metabolite, but cats lack that metabolic pathway. Any ingestion of Tylenol in a cat could be fatal. It is important for pet owners to know the potential consequences of animals ingesting these medications and they should never administer any drug to their pet without veterinary oversight,” said Jennifer Davis, associate professor of clinical pharmacology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Always store these items in a locked cabinet or on a high shelf away from your pet. Pets often come into contact with toxic medications by nosing through purses or bags, so make sure that you and your houseguests keep their purses in a safe place. 

4. Keep an eye on your pet outdoors

Be aware of the potential hazards in your yard or outdoor area. This includes fencing off any pools or ponds, securing trash cans, and keeping your pets away from any chemicals or fertilizers you may use in your lawn or garden. Always supervise your pets outside, especially if they tend to explore or wander.

Your garage may also be full of pet poisons — make sure that antifreeze and fertilizer is out of reach of your pet. Baits used get rid of household pests are also toxic, such as: 

  • Rat, mouse, and mole bait
  • Slug and snail bait
  • Ant bait

5. Prepare for emergencies 

Keep the phone number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or other pet poison hotline in a visible place so you will have the number handy if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic substance. 

If your pet’s behavior has changed and you notice symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea (particularly if blood is present), or changes in appetite or behavior, seek veterinary care immediately. Make a plan in case of an emergency so if your pet does ingest something poisonous, you have steps you can follow. 

Dogs and cats are curious by nature and may accidentally ingest harmful substances, so it's vital to be aware of the potential hazards in your home and take steps to prevent accidental poisoning. Taking these precautions can help protect your pets from accidental poisoning and ensure they live happy and healthy lives! 

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing