Protect Your Pet From These Poisonous Substances

Beware of spring flowers, chocolate bunnies and other human treats that may be toxic to furry family members.
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Hide those Easter baskets. Chocolate is one of many human foods that’s toxic to your pooch. (Adobe stock image)

Spring is in the air, which means you may have pretty flowers sitting on your kitchen countertop, and the grocery store shelves are stocked with Easter candy. If you’re a pet owner, it’s a time to be extra mindful about keeping certain flora, people foods and other poisonous substances out of your fur baby’s reach.  Heed this advice from two Arlington vets:

Flowers and Bulbs

“The biggest thing we have a concern about with cats is going to be lilies,” says veterinarian Jeff Newman, co-owner of Caring Hands Animal Hospital of Arlington. “People oftentimes get flower arrangements—a bouquet of flowers—and the vast majority are going to have a lily in there. Even if a cat hops up on a table and gets the pollen on their feet, the pollen can be a problem.”

Asiatic lilies and Easter lilies are particularly dangerous, adds Noon Kampani, the veterinarian at Heart + Paw’s Ballston Quarter location. “The whole plant and everything associated with it is toxic to cats and can put them in acute renal failure,” she warns.

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Lilies are gorgeous and fragrant, but they could buy your cat a trip to the ER. (Photo by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash)

Canine caregivers, meanwhile, need to watch out for azaleas, a common flowering shrub that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even cardiac failure in dogs. If you’re out for a walk or playing in the yard, it’s also best to keep Rover from digging up bulbous plants like tulips, onions and garlic, all of which can also be harmful.

Unfortunately, pet poisoning from flowers and greenery is becoming more prevalent. Between 2019 and 2020, bouquets and plants went from No. 8 to No. 5 on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ list of the top 10 pet toxins. ASPCA offers an online guidebook of toxic and non-toxic plants, plus a hotline to call if pet owners suspect poisoning.

Human Foods

Plants aren’t the only offenders. Human foods made up about 13% of pet poisoning cases in 2020, according to ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). Most of the calls were about grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and xylitol, a sugar substitute found in certain candies, gum, mints, nut spreads and dental care products.

All of those are particularly worrisome for dogs, Kampani says. Xylitol can cause vomiting, lethargy, lack of motor control and seizures that show up almost immediately or up to 12 hours after ingestion.

“The thing about raisins and grapes is, you don’t know the toxic dose,” she says. “Your pet may be fine at one, or fine at 100, or really sick at one or really sick at 100.”

For dogs that have eaten grapes or raisins, she induces vomiting regardless of the amount, and may put the dog on IV fluids to flush out the kidneys.

red round fruits on brown wooden table

Packing kids’ lunches? Beware of wayward grapes that may have landed on the floor. (Photo by Jene Yeo on Unsplash)

Chocolate poisoning is also common in dogs, Newman says. “The darker the chocolate, the more worrisome it is because it’s more concentrated in the toxic component, which is theobromine.” In other words, ingesting bittersweet baker’s chocolate is a lot worse for your pooch than eating a chocolate chip cookie or milk-chocolate candy, though all of those scenarios should be avoided.

Friends of felines may be surprised to learn that consuming dairy can actually be tough on cats’ tummies—and on dogs’ bellies, too, for that matter. If you’re inclined to spoil your pet, go for chin scratches and belly rubs in lieu of that bowl of milk. This is especially true for adult pets, who have an even harder time digesting cow’s milk than their younger counterparts.


Another dose-based toxin? Cannabis. With medical marijuana now legal in Virginia, vets are seeing more and more pets that have gotten into their owners’ stash.  In the first few months of 2019, calls to APCC about pets eating weed products jumped 765% over the same time period in 2018. The Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 448% increase in cannabis cases in the past six years.

Signs of cannabis poisoning in pets include incontinence, dilated pupils and uncharacteristic lethargy or agitation.

Not quite sure what your furry friend has gotten into? The bottom line is, if you see something off about your pet, say something to a vet. “Time is of the essence,” Newman says. “The sooner you can get the potential toxin out of their body, the less likely it is to have been absorbed.”

Worried your pet may have ingested something poisonous? Call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.

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Categories: Health