- Cullman, Alabama


November 3, 2012

PET TALK: Common household toxins poisonous to pets

Texas A&M University — In recent columns, Pet Talk has addressed poisonous foods and medications common in most homes. This week the focus is on miscellaneous poisonous items around the house including plants, pennies, and insecticides.


There are several plants that can be toxic to pets. Lilies, for example, are toxic to cats. The ingestion of any part of any type of lily can lead to kidney failure. The clinical signs can include vomiting, depression, or loss of appetite. If you suspect your cat of ingesting lilies, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

There is no antidote, and intense supportive care is needed for cats to recover.

Also, sago palms are a common decorative house plant that is toxic to pets. The seeds, leaves, and cones of the plant can cause acute liver failure. The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of the skin and eyes.

“If your pet ingests sago, and it shows the clinical signs of poisoning, the prognosis is guarded to poor,” said Dr. Dorothy Black, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “There is no antidote and supportive care is extensive and includes blood transfusions.”

Black explained that poinsettias are usually “non” to “mildly” toxic. Pets ingesting this plant either have no clinical signs or gastrointestinal discomfort.

“Poinsettias are usually referred to as highly toxic, but they really aren’t,” Black said. “So feel free to display the poinsettias at Christmas!”


It may be surprising to some people, but pennies minted after 1981 contain significant quantities of the metal zinc. When ingested,excess zinc is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and causes red blood cells to break apart. Pets, then, become anemic showing signs of lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, port/wine colored urine, and yellowing of the skin and gums.

“Removal of the penny and aggressive supportive care with blood transfusions usually allows for a successful recovery,” Black said.

Chemicals and Insecticides

A dangerous chemical common in many garages is Ethylene glycol. It is found in radiator coolants, brake fluids, and many other household products. When ingested it causes the pet to appear intoxicated and, as the toxin is metabolized, it leads to kidney failure. Although there are medications that can inhibit the toxin and prevent kidney failure, it must be administered within the first three to six hours post-ingestion. If kidney injury is already present prognosis is guarded, but with immediate treatment prognosis is good.

Ant bait is used extensively in Texas, especially pyrethrin and pyrethroid containing products. When ingested in significant quantities, these chemicals can cause total body tremors and seizures in cats and dogs, and their body temperatures can become markedly elevated. Supportive care, including muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, are required until the pet can metabolize the drug.

Other insecticides that contain organophosphates are highly toxic substances. When ingested these insecticides can cause severe clinical reactions, including salivation, tearing, urination, defecation, vomiting, respiratorydistress, tremors, seizures, and paralysis.

“Drugs exist to counteract the toxin and are used in addition to extensive supportive care,” Black said. “But successful recoveries require prompt treatment.”

Rat bait is another household danger. Although there is no antidote, if the pet is brought immediately to the veterinarian, treatment and decontamination can prevent bleeding from accidental ingestion.

Dialysis can be attempted if clinical signs are present.

"Treating your pet quickly after ingestion is key to a successful recovery,” Black said.

For additional information on substances that are toxic to pets, please consult the resources below.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center


$65 consultation fee

Pet Poison Hotline


$39 consultation fee per incident

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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