Guest Post: Good Intentions Can Lead to Pet Poisonings

Sometimes our love for our pets and a desire to make them happy or cure their ills can be the cause of other issues we might not have planned for. Dr Riggs explores several areas where an over-enthusiastic pet parent might cause more harm than good.


Just because it is alright for you does not mean it is alright for you pets.

Do we really ever stop and think of what we are giving to our pets as treats? How many times have you heard “Oh, a little piece of this won’t hurt anyone”? The fact is, it could. 

The human food industry is not mandated to inform of the possible problems with their product for people let alone pets, and they don’t. Besides also making you dog or cat fat with that “little bit” of table scrap you might be passing on, it could also be toxic for your pet.

How many of us try to eat right and eat more “diet” or sugar free foods or drinks? Probably most of us. One of the most popular sweetener nowadays is xylitol, which is actually a natural product made from corncobs but it is very poisonous for your pet. Xylitol is most often found in sugarless gums, candy, and drinks. It is also found in the oddest items such as toothpaste, nasal spray, and even Metamucil!

Once ingested, the xylitol stimulates the dog/cat’s pancreas to increase insulin secretion, which then can cause low blood levels within minutes. This physiological change results in sudden weakness or seizures. If a large amount is ingested, the animal could suffer acute liver failure. It is not 100% fatal as is sometimes reported, but if you suspect your pet has ingested anything wiht xylitol, get him/her to your vet right away.

In a similar way, human medicines may not be appropriate for your pet. As a veterinarian, the thing that make me cringe the most is when a client calls up and asks for a dosage of their own medication for their dog or cat.  What makes us think dogs and cats are little people…they aren’t!

Dog eatingThe way animals, especially cats, metabolize drugs and toxins is completely different from humans.  They lack some of the liver enzymes and processes common to human livers to detoxify some toxins. Things that are completely safe and harmless to humans can be fatal to our fury friends. Unless you look at every ingredient on the label and understand all the chemical names, you just won’t know what is harmful to your pet.

How many of us take aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen like they are M&Ms! Don’t get me wrong, I need my ibuprofen as much as the next aging weekend athlete, but did you know that Tylenol is the # 1 cause of liver failure in people? Consider cats though. If a cat were to be given or ingest just one Tylenol pill, he would most likely to be dead in the morning. The acetaminophen poisons the cat’s red blood cells so they can’t carry enough oxygen - basically the cat suffocates in the presence of oxygen. Not nice, not nice at all.

Ibuprofen also can cause liver problems in large doses but more commonly causes stomach ulcers, similar to aspirin. I know “So and So” said “aspirin can be given to dogs for pain and if you really want to be safe, just use the enteric coats tablets”. Guess what? You have just made your dog’s poop look like M&M cookie dough. The dog’s intestinal tract moves quicker then humans and the enteric coated tablets come out whole - not exactly what you had in mind I'm sure. On the other hand, uncoated aspirin is the easiest way to cause stomach ulcers in dogs. Never add aspirin to any medication your vet prescribes, as this can just enhance this problem.

CcidogsWe all know how prevalent antidepressants have become in modern life and that's true for our pets as well as for us humans. Probably a hint to all of us to slow down and smell the roses…but I digress. Unfortunatley, antidepressants are becoming one of our most frequently seen toxicities in pets.

Most antidepressants are what are called seritonin uptake inhibitors. They increase the level of serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is one of the “happy hormones”, influencing our sense of well-being; however, too much of a good thing can be bad.

When animals ingest these pills they can become over-stimulated and have what is called a serotonin surge. Not a happy time. The good news is your veterinarian has an antidote called cyproheptidine that brings everything back to normal but still, this is not something you ever want to go though. Be careful where you leave your medications and those of your pet.

After all this talk of pet poisoning, I want to end on some very good news!!

After years and years of legal battles fought by the nation’s humane and veterinary organizations, the makers of antifreeze in the US have been convinced to make their product bitter tasting. Antifreeze is a sweet smelling and tasting liquid that dogs, cats and even children like to drink. As little as a teaspoon spilled on the garage floor can kill a dog or cat from acute kidney failure. The bitter additive, which has been used by the rest of the world for years, makes it much less likely our pets will want to lick it. Thank goodness for that! Why it took so long…who knows… just saying.

Related Posts:
March is Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Good Intentions Can Lead to Pet Poisonings

Other posts by Dr Riggs


Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

Call to action: Dr Riggs is participating in Pelotonia, raising money for cancer research. In fact, in its first four rides, Pelotonia has attracted over 11,100 riders and raised over $42 million for cancer research. Check out Dr Riggs' profile page where you can learn about and support his efforts. Thank you!