Shay enjoys Internet research, silly crafts, and keeping her very stubborn Beagle-Cattle Dog alive through training and anxious vigilance.
What You Don't Know Could Kill Your Dog
This is a guide to common household items, plants and foods that are poisonous, toxic or deadly in dogs. As there are literally hundreds of poisonous items out there, I'm limiting this list to things that are found in many homes, with an emphasis on things that are often considered harmless.
I will be including some links at the end of this article if you're looking for more exhaustive lists of things that are poisonous to dogs and cats.
I initially wrote this guide because of my dog's near-death experience with zinc toxicity, but I realize that not all dogs like to eat coins; some have an affinity for specific, non-conventional foods, plants or other objects around the house. Read on for 12 common, yet seemingly harmless items that could make your dog sick.
Pennies Containing Zinc
Many dogs have an affinity for metal. Many owners believe the greatest risk to their dog eating a small metal object, such as a coin, is if it gets caught in their intestines. For pennies, this is not the case.
Are pennies toxic to dogs?
US pennies minted on or after 1982 are made of over 95% zinc and when ingested, can cause zinc toxicity. My dog, Penny (yes her name is actually Penny) almost died after ingesting 6 pennies.
Keep coins off the floor and out of reach from pets and toddlers. It is important to learn the signs and symptoms of zinc toxicity so you can get your pet or child help before it's too late. View the video below to learn more about this little known subject and feel free to share it with fellow dog owners and parents.
Most people have heard that chocolate can be poisonous to dogs, but why is this? The specific ingredients in chocolate that are problematic are caffeine and theobromine (a substance similar to caffeine that is found in the cocoa plant). The human body is easily able to metabolize caffeine and theobromine, but for dogs, the process is much much slower.
When consumed by dogs, chocolate can cause vomiting and digestive problems, seizures, heart problems and death (often from heart failure). Chocolate that is higher in cocoa (i.e. dark, semi-sweet or baker's chocolate) is more dangerous than milk or white chocolate, but all chocolate can be poisonous in dogs.
An ounce per pound of bodyweight of milk chocolate can cause toxicity, whereas about a 100 milligrams of dark chocolate per pound of bodyweight is poisonous. So, if you have a 20-pound dog, 20 ounces of milk chocolate, 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, or just over 2 ounces of baker's chocolate can be toxic.
Be careful with this if you are a dog owner. Dogs eat everything, and chocolate is one of the most common causes of poisoning in dogs.
Also, because caffeine is a major problem with chocolate, other caffeine-containing foods and supplements can be poisonous to your dog, such as:
- Coffee or Espresso (and Chocolate-Covered Espresso Beans)
- Tea (Black, Green, etc.)
- Energy Drinks, Pills, and Supplements
- Items Containing Guarana
Raisins and Grapes
While I had heard of chocolate being poisonous to dogs, I had never heard of raisin or grape toxicity until recently. The actual mechanism behind the toxicity and ingredient in grapes/raisins that causes problems is uncertain at this time, but the problem itself is becoming well known.
Over the last decade or so, doctors have been seeing a trend of dogs suffering from kidney failure (acute renal failure) after consuming grapes or raisins. A serving of raisins (ie one of those little boxes) or a pound of grapes can cause serious problems.
I actually used to give my dog a grape from time to time to play with—I definitely don't do that anymore!
Onion and Garlic
Onions, garlic, and other members of the onion family (such as leeks and green onions) are poisonous to dogs because of the sulfur they contain. Even in small amounts, this sulfur reacts with the cell membranes of a dog or cat's red blood cells (RBCs) and causes them to burst. We all need RBCs because they deliver oxygen to our organs; less functioning RBCs can result in anemia and cause major problems.
Also, know that cats are especially susceptible to the toxic effects of onions. It's best to avoid feeding your dog or cat even a small bit of onion or garlic or foods that have been cooked with onion or garlic.
Macadamia nuts can cause muscle weakness, tremors, problems walking, vomiting, and raised body temperature. If chocolate-covered macadamia nuts are eaten by dogs, chocolate toxicity may also be observed.
If your dog is suffering from macadamia nut poisoning (and has no underlying problems such as chocolate toxicity), the prognosis is quite good.
As always, when in doubt, take your pet to the vet!
Non-Sugar Sweeteners in Gum and Candy
Xylitol is a non-sugar sweetener commonly found in sugar-free gum, candy, lozenges, vitamins and liquid medicines. Because Xylitol is sugar free, it is often marketed toward diabetics or used in tooth care products such as toothpaste and mouthwashes.
While Xylitol is harmless in humans, it can be very poisonous to dogs. As little as 2 pieces of sugar-free gum or small candies can cause a 13-pound dog to experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). 10 pieces for the same sized dog could cause liver failure and death.
Other Foods to Avoid Giving Your Dog
- Avocado: Persin (which is found in every part of the Avocado: fruit, bark, seed, leaves) is poisonous to dogs, but is especially dangerous in birds and rodents (Thank you, Pitaya!).
- Wild Mushrooms: The kind you should be most concerned about are the kind you'd find growing in your yard or anywhere else in the wild. Certain wild mushrooms are very toxic, so it is best to remove them from your yard or garden if you have a dog or cat that likes to "forage." Most store-bought mushrooms (that we all eat) are should be non-toxic to dogs in small portions, but larger portions can cause GI upset. Canned mushrooms can be problematic because of the spices/salt/etc that comes on them. Additionally, if your dog gets a taste for edible mushrooms, they may be more likely to eat the poisonous ones in the yard. If it was my dog, I'd avoid mushrooms.
- Raw Dough: The yeast in dough can cause it to expand in the digestive tract and can even cause the intestines to rupture. Fully cooked bread is fine in small portions (don't carbo-load your pooch!).
- Cooked Bone and Raw Eggs: Cooked bone can splinter and pierce the mouth or gut. Raw eggs contain salmonella, which can make your pet sick. Many owners feed their dog raw meat, but this is a decision each pet owner can discuss with their vet.
- Milk and Dairy: While it is common to see images of cats drinking milk, the truth is most cats and dogs do not have the proper enzymes to digest normal milk. Many are lactose intolerant, just like people can be. While milk isn't likely to kill your dog, it could give them nasty stomach upset and diarrhea.
- Salt: A small amount of salt can cause minor problems, but a large amount can cause sodium poisoning which can be deadly. Keep your pets away from salty foods!
Common Plants Toxic to Pets
There are many plants that can be poisonous or toxic in pets. Here are a few common but dangerous plants, flowers and succulents and the symptoms your dog may experience on ingesting them:
- Lilies: very poisonous in cats (they can cause kidney failure)
- Aloe: vomiting and diarrhea, depression, reduced appetite, tremors, changes in urine color
- Azalea: digestive problems, drooling, weakness, paralysis in the legs, coma, death
- Daffodil: vomiting and diarrhea, drooling, tremors, heart arrhythmia
- Sago Palm: (the whole plant is very toxic, but especially the seeds) vomiting, jaundice, thirst, bruising, liver problems, death
- Castor Bean: (common in landscaping) vomiting and diarrhea, drooling, thirst, seizures, coma, death
- Dumb Cane: (a very common house plant) it will burn the mouth and can cause the throat to close up, resulting in suffocation
Flea and Tick Medications
Over-the-counter flea-and-tick medications such as Frontline or Advantix are essentially pesticides, so it's no surprise that they can be poisonous to dogs as well. Symptoms are often neurological and can include: excess salivation, tremors or shaking, dilated pupils, vomiting, and skin irritation. Animals that are most at risk are the very young, very small, old or sick. If you choose to treat your pet with these products, follow these steps to reduce the risk of toxicity:
- Only use dog products for dogs and cat products for cats.
- Make sure you know your pet's weight and buy the appropriate product for the size of your animal.
- Do not split the use of a single large dose for a smaller dog or combine smaller doses for a large dog.
- Follow all packaged instructions and instructions from your vet.
- Avoid using the medication on old, pregnant or sick dogs or cats.
If in doubt about these medications, be sure to talk to your vet. Visit the Humane Society's website to learn more about flea & tick medication toxicity.
Medications for People
Medication for yourself should not be given to your pet. The following medications are the most poisonous to dogs:
- Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatories (Advil, Aleve, or Motrin)
- Acetominophen (Tylenol)
- Antidepressants (Prozac, Cymbalta)
- ADD or ADHD medication (Ritalin, Adderall)
- Sleep Aids (Xanax, Ambien, Lunesta)
- Birth Control Pills
- ACE Inhibitors and Beta Blockers for high blood pressure
- Cholesterol-lowering medications (Lipitor, Crestor)
All members of your household (and house guests) must know that they need to keep medications out of reach from pets. It's best to store pills in hard containers (rather than Ziploc bags) so that if they do happen to find it, they will have less of a chance of getting into it (although dog owners know that hard plastic may not necessarily be a deterrent!).
The only time I've ever given my dog human medication was at the advice of a vet; he had recommended Benadryl for an allergic reaction. Be sure to ask your veterinarian for advice and dosage information if you are considering giving your pet an anti-histamine.
Oral Care Water Additives
I bought a bottle of Tropiclean Fresh Breath Oral Care Water Additive for my pup about a year ago. You add a little to your pet's water on a daily basis to control bad breath and dental plaque. It made her breath so ridiculously fresh, but it also made her throw up so I stopped using it.
I researched this topic a bit and learned that some of these water additives and products for doggy tooth care contain Xylitol (which is toxic). It's also a good reason to never use human toothpaste on a dog, as many contain Xylitol (which is harmless to humans).
Additionally, there is the thought that many dental products kill bacteria in the mouth, but unlike people who can spit out their dental washes/toothpastes, dogs simply swallow it. This means whatever bacteria-killing product you give your dog for oral care could be killing friendly bacteria in their digestive tract, and because they drink water often, you are constantly "dosing" them. In my opinion, these additives have not been researched sufficiently to ascertain their safety.
Moth balls release vapors that repel insects and moths. Cats are especially vulnerable to these vapors, but dogs are more likely to actually eat the moth balls. Symptoms of mothball poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea, lethargy, excessive thirst and urination, water retention, and seizures. They can also result in kidney damage, coma and death. To read more about mothball poisoning in dogs, visit this website.
For Melting Snow in Cold Weather Areas
If you live in an area that sees snow, and use de-icing salts on your driveway or entryway, make sure you know the dangers the salt poses to dogs and cats. When an animal walks on a de-iced patch of ground, some of the salt may stick to their paws. If they lick it off, it can make them sick. Salt can cause excessive drooling, paw irritation or burns, vomiting and nausea, and if your pet consumes enough, the salt can result in weakness, lethargy and tremors.
The best way to avoid this is to use a pet friendly de-icer (such those that contain calcium chloride or potassium chloride, rather than sodium chloride), clean your pet's feet after they go outside, and/or use pet boots.
Call the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 if you think your pet has ingested a poisonous substance.
- Poisonous Plants
A guide to common toxic plants by the ASPCA.
- Poisonous Foods
Foods that are toxic in pets by The Humane Society.
- Toxic Household Products
8 common household products and chemicals that are poisonous to dogs with safe alternatives.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Shay Marie
Comments - If I've missed anything or if you have a story to share, please feel free to leave a comment below!
Alex on May 04, 2015:
Hi my puppy mimmi the chihuahua has been vomiting for 1 night not sure what it is but im grateful for your website and the information that you have shared its very helpful thank you
Shay Marie (author) from Southern California on September 23, 2014:
I'm sorry to hear about your Schnauzer - I hope she's okay now! I've also read that some dogs have a problem with the teeth cleaning treats because of how quickly they eat them, ie if the dog is a really fast eater, they may not chew the treat up well enough to digest it properly (causing vomiting, diarrhea, etc). I definitely agree that there hasn't been enough research done on animal foods and treats. I stick to treats made in the US to try to mitigate the issue.
joyce on September 23, 2014:
my little Schnauzer ate a rather large package of the green chewable bones that are supposed to freshen her breath. Consequently she threw up all night long. Even though she ate the entire package there was something in them that was toxic to her (and should be looked into). The amount she consumed was not any more than she normally eats. I'm not sure there is enough research done on the foods,etc we give our animals. I've learned NOT to give my dog any dog food that has color/dyes in it. Never.
Colonel2013 on August 14, 2014:
Great article! You have some great information here!! Thanks for sharing!!
aliciadonley on August 07, 2014:
So, my baby is getting older and eating less random things, but he is like a cat and will jump onto counters and eat stuff! He had some toothpaste and neosporin... ugh. One time he ate something, we assume, while my parents were babysitting for like an hour, we got back and he was barely responding ... a couple hours later and $300 dollars later, he was just dehydrated. The vet did say she had never seen a dog walk so funny - he kind of trots like a horse. Also that dumb cane stuff is nasty, I didn't know it was called that but it just looks poisonous.
Anna from chichester on April 27, 2014:
Wow this is really good to know. Some of the things you have written about I had no idea were poisonous so I will definitely make sure my two boys stay away from the things on your list! Thank you
LoriBeninger on September 22, 2013:
I knew most of these, but this is an excellent reminder and convenient collection. Thank you.
Anja Toetenel from The Hague, the Netherlands on August 19, 2013:
I had no idea about the raisins and grapes, thank you, I won't give it to my dogs anymore. It never caused any problems, but it's better to be safe than sorry ;-)
Kevin_NC on May 29, 2013:
Do not use a Tagworks dog tag for your pet. My dog Lucky swallowed his last week and has been in the animal hospital for 5 days now with zinc toxicity. The tags are 95% zinc and there is no warning in the packaging to inform pet owners about the risk their pets are facing. Lucky's condition deteriorated quickly. After 5 days in the hospital, he still cannot lift his head on his own or stand up and has developed pneumonia because he is constantly regurgitating fluids out of his stomach and they are getting into his lungs. I have contacted both the manufacturer and PetSmart to get them to take responsibility for what they have done to Lucky and to do something about this dangerous product.
Shay Marie (author) from Southern California on April 17, 2013:
@Rosetta Slone: Thank you! I'll add this with my next update!
Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on April 06, 2013:
Very very useful page. I've got one to add to your list - avocados!
Carpenter76 on March 28, 2013:
Wow I never knew leek and union were not safe to my pets. They always eat our leftovers :S Thanks for sharing this information!