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Toxicity Dangers for Our Pets

Cronulla Veterinary Clinic provides support for pet owners in Cronulla, Caringbah, Woolooware, Kurnell and the Sutherland Shire.

From time to time pets are presented to the Cronulla Vet Clinic with poisonings. Many different products can pose a danger to our pets, which can make it hard to know when something has gone wrong.There are many substances that most pet owners don’t recognise as being dangerous.

The best outcomes generally result when the owner has realised early on their pet may have ingested something dangerous, and contacts us straight away. In other cases, owners may not realise anything has happened until the pet starts showing signs of being unwell. Sometimes this is too late and the damage is done.

To protect your pet against common household poisons/dangers, let’s discuss the more common risky items that your pet may encounter in several different categories.

Toxic foods

Chocolate – the toxic ingredient in chocolate is theobromine. Any product with theobromine in it is toxic, including cocoa powder, baking chocolate, or cocoa mulch. The darker the chocolate the more toxic it is. Signs of toxicity include anxiety, vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness, muscle tremors, high temperature, seizures, irregular heart rate,  and coma.

Poisoned Pets - Cronulla, Caringbah, Woolooware, Kurnell and the Sutherland Shire.Grapes, raisins and sultanas – the toxic component is unclear, but eating these foods can cause kidney failure. Signs of toxicity can include vomiting, high heart rate, rapid breathing and dullness.

Xylitol – found in human “sugar free” products such as dental products, sugar free mints, sugar free gum and low carb baked goods. It causes low blood sugar and liver failure, and symptoms include vomiting, weakness, incoordination, depression, tremors, collapse, seizures and coma.

The onion family – includes onions, leeks, garlic, and onion powder. The toxic components are called organosulfoxides. These can cause damage to red blood cells and signs can include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, lethargy, weakness, pale mucous membranes (gums), blood in urine and collapse.

Macadamia nuts (and walnuts) – The nut contains a toxin and can become become lodged in the throat or digestive system as well.

Avocado – is particularly toxic to birds and rodents, but also to dogs and cats. Toxic parts include leaves, fruit, seeds and bark as they contain an oil soluble toxin within the cells. They are also a very fatty food, which many animals can’t digest well. Avocado can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and damage to the heart leading to breathing problems and other heart issues.

Coffee – coffee beans, ground coffee (and tea leaves) contain caffeine, which is toxic with symptoms similar to chocolate toxicity.

Playdough – especially homemade playdough contains a lot of salt and is toxic to our pets, causing excessive drinking and urinating, vomiting, incoordination, tremors, seizures and high temperature.

Alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs – all of these are toxic to pets as well.

Insecticides, pesticides and rodenticides

These are poisons used to kill insects, pests (such as snails and slugs in the garden) and rodents such as rats and mice.  These products can be dangerous to our pets when they are attracted to the smell or taste of the poison (especially in the case of rodenticides, but even “pet friendly snail baits” can still be eaten by our pet and cause harm).

Young animals especially will chew on anything, tasty or not. Another risk is when our pet catches and eats a poisoned rat or mouse, as the poisoned body can affect the pet as well. Even if you don’t use poisons in or around the home, poisons in the neighbourhood can still affect your pets.

Insecticides and pesticides usually have an effect on the nervous system, (tremoring, convulsions etc.) and most rat baits contain a strong warfarin-like ingredient which causes blood clotting problems and excessive bleeding.

A word of warning on flea and tick treatments: it is very important to read the instructions on the labels of parasite control treatments very carefully, as some of them can be very species-specific. If used on the wrong species they can be very toxic. For example pyrethrins and pyrethroids in flea treatments for dogs are poisonous for cats, and fipronil (a common spot on treatment for dogs and cats) is toxic to rabbits.


Never give your pet human medication, and make sure your prescription or over the counter medication is locked away safely in a cupboard or medicine cabinet. Pets are like toddlers, they are very curious and can easily chew on and ingest readily available medications.

Examples of common dangerous human medications include paracetamol (such as panadol), ibuprofen (such as nurofen), antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medication, etc.

Even medication meant for other pets should be kept under lock and key,  to avoid accidental ingestion, and should never be shared between pets without first checking with your vet!

Dose ranges depend on the patient species, size and health status. One pet’s medicine can be another pet’s poison.

Household/garage cleaners and chemicals

Common household cleaners such as bleach, detergents, disinfectants, drain cleaners, rust removers, and other chemicals such as antifreeze (used for example in car radiator fluids in colder climates, the toxic ingredient ethylene glycol is sweet and causes kidney failure even in small quantities), paint thinners, pool/spa chemicals, etc. are toxic.

Also garden products such as fertilisers can pose dangers to animals. Apart from the three main nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which can cause gastrointestinal upsets and possibly skin irritations, fertilizers can contain additives such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, heavy metals, and may also contain bacterial and fungal toxins.

Blood meal and bone meal fertilizers in particular can be very attractive to our pets, and can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, pancreatitis and even turn into intestinal obstructions.

Fumes from non-stick Teflon pans and self-cleaning ovens can be toxic to birds.


Many indoor and outdoor plants can be toxic. This is because the production of toxins is one of the plant’s defence mechanisms to deter animals who may eat them in nature.

The list of toxic plants and trees is too long to list in this article, but common plants to be aware of include:

  • The lily family – all parts of the plant are toxic, especially to cats. Cats don’t even have to chew the plant, grooming pollen off their fur or drinking water from a vase of lilies can be enough to cause kidney failure!
  • Brunfelsia (yesterday today and tomorrow)
  • Oleanders
  • Daffodils
  • Potato and tomato plants (and green potatoes)
  • Bird of Paradise plants
  • Poinsettia plants
  • Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
  • Wild mushrooms

It is important to check what indoor and outdoor plants are present and to check if they are safe or not, before allowing your pets access to them (especially young puppies, as they tend to chew on lots of things).

In summary

  1. Be aware that human foods can be toxic to your pet. Make sure to feed your pet a nutritionally balanced diet, and make sure they can’t access human food.
  2. If using insecticides, pesticides or rat baits, keep them well out of reach of pets. Wherever possible use alternative methods. Be aware that if neighbours are using rat bait your pet may eat a poisoned rodent.
  3. If using poisons or fertilizers in your house or garden, prevent your pet from entering the treated area until it is safe.
  4. Only give your pet medication that has been prescribed for that pet. Don’t share medications between pets unless first checking with your vet. Don’t share human medications and make sure all medicine, chemicals, and cleaners are locked away safely in cupboards.
  5. Do research on the indoor and outdoor vegetation in and around your home before allowing your pet access to them.

If you suspect your pet may have had access to poisons, contact your vet as soon as possible, and bring the packaging with you to the vet so the most appropriate treatment can be started.

It is impossible to include all toxic products in this article but I hope we have touched on the most common problem products, and if you have any concerns, please contact the Cronulla Veterinary Clinic or visit us at 41 Kingsway Cronulla 2230 (between the Masonic Hall and Domino’s).