Every year vets receive countless calls regarding accidental ingestion of commonly found household poisons; many are obvious but pet owners are often surprised that some seemingly harmless things found in any household can be poisonous. In part it is sometimes due to the differing metabolism of pets from humans, but many are due to the strange items that dogs and cats sometimes find interesting to eat!


The commonest regular call at our clinic is from clients deliberate administration of Ibuprofen to dogs, by owners attempting to reduce pain levels, unaware that this regularly causes renal failure. Only certain painkillers can be used in dogs and cats, and these are generally licenced animal specific products.

Ethylene Glycol (antifreeze)

At this time of year, in preparation for winter, motorists often change their vehicles coolant- spilt antifreeze may be attractive to dogs and cats, and causes renal failure by the formation of crystals within the delicate filtration mechanism of the kidney tissue.

The initial signs of poisoning in pets include inability to walk, vomiting, and lethargy, followed some time later by renal failure. The simple message- clear up spillages and keep antifreeze in pet proof containers.


Commonly seen in dogs, particularly around Christmas, especially after ingestion of dark chocolate which contains more theobromine( the toxic agent) than milk chocolate. Fatalities do occur- generally dogs demonstrate vomiting and diarrhoea, bladder weakness,seizuring and sometimes coma. Keep chocolate out of reach;if you have to give chocolate buy the dog variety!


Usually unpalatable to dogs and cats, but seen occasionally in puppies- cigars, cigarettes, nicotine gum/patches etc- all contain nicotine; triggers vomiting, tremoring, diarrhoea, excitation and can result in fatal cardiac problems.

Lillies and Spider plants

Even small amounts can cause fatal poisoning in cats and kittens- ingestion of any part of the plant is poisonous, but occasionally cats grooming behaviour means that just brushing past the plant can prove poisonous. If you have cats don’t have Lillies. Cats that chew on spider plant leaves can vomit and salivate and again should be best avoided if you have cats.

Grapes and raisins and Macademia nuts

Whether the toxin in grapes and raisins is due to mycotoxins or the fruit itself, this can cause poisoning in dogs. Renal failure occurs quickly once ingested and it is best to avoid these fruits altogether. Macademia nuts cause weakness and vomiting in dogs, and should similarly be avoided.

Rat Poison

Particularly older types of vermin control products- trigger bleeding due to vitamin k deficiency. These products should be used away from pet access, following the manufacturers instructions carefully. Can prove very expensive to treat dogs affected as treatment may be required for weeks to counteract this poison.

Human medications

Antidepressants, cardiac medications as well as painkillers all feature regularly in day to day clinic enquiries from concerned pet owners. Remember even child proof containers are not pet proof!! Keep them out of reach preferably locked up.

If your pet is poisoned telephone your vet for advice immediately – many toxins can be treated quickly by inducing vomiting if reported fast enough, and antidotes and supportive care may help survival.