Preventing common pet poisons – advice for pet owners

1 March 2024

Did you know that many common household items that are safe for people are toxic to pets?

As March is Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to familiarise yourself with these household poisons that your pet may encounter (this is not an exhaustive list, but covers the most common poisons). If your pet ingests anything poisonous, contact your vet immediately – don’t wait for signs of poisoning to appear. In most cases, the sooner your pet receives treatment, the better their chances of recovery.

Chocolate and caffeine

Both chocolate (which contains a stimulant called theobromine) and caffeine (found in coffee and tea, as well as energy drinks and supplements/medication) are poisonous to cats, dogs, ferrets, rabbits and guinea pigs. The darker the chocolate the more toxic it is to pets. Signs of poisoning usually appear within 1 to 4 hours and include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst and urination, lack of coordination, restlessness, tremors, excessive salivating and high heart rate. Treatment is usually successful.

Grapes, raisins and currants

Grapes, raisins and currants, and other food containing these, such as cereal and cakes, are toxic to dogs, cats and ferrets. The most common sign is vomiting, which is usually seen within 24 hours, followed by lethargy, diarrhoea, lack of appetite and abnormal drinking or urination. Odds of recovery depend on the number of grapes or raisins eaten and the speed of treatment. If treated aggressively, the animal can recover well, but if kidney damage occurs, it can potentially be life-threatening.

Onions and garlic

Onions and garlic, as well as chives and leeks, are toxic to pets in any form. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite and diarrhoea, sometimes within 24 hours but more often after several days. With treatment, most pets will recover well.

Human medication

It’s never safe to give pets human medication, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, as this can cause kidney or liver damage or failure. Signs of poisoning usually show within 2 hours and include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst and urination, loss of appetite, lethargy and weakness, abdominal pain, and rapid or laboured breathing. Early treatment usually leads to good recovery, depending on the medication ingested, but it can be fatal.


Ethanol, found in alcoholic drinks as well as hand sanitiser, mouthwash, perfumes and raw fermenting bread dough, is poisonous to pets. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, agitation, lack of coordination and drowsiness, and usually appear within 1-2 hours. In most cases, pets recover well with treatment.


Antifreeze is poisonous to most animals, and even small amounts can cause kidney failure and prove fatal. Signs of poisoning can appear in as little as 30 minutes, with symptoms such as vomiting, lack of coordination, weakness, seizures, rapid breathing, and increased thirst and urination. Antifreeze poisoning can be life threatening, and immediate treatment is required for the best chances of recovery.

Rat/mouse poisons (rodenticides)

Rodent poisons interfere with blood clotting in animals, and different poisons have different toxicity levels. It can take 3 to 5 days for signs to show, which are commonly laboured or rapid breathing, lethargy, weakness, lack of appetite and coordination, and abdominal pain. The recovery rate is good with immediate treatment.

Vitamin D

Excessive doses of vitamin D, commonly found in skin creams, cod liver oil and supplement tablets, can cause weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst and urination, and loss of appetite, usually within 6 to 12 hours. Chances of recovery are mixed, depending on severity of the symptoms and how quicky treatment is started.


Eating too much salt, found in a variety of sources including table salt, rock salt, playdough and bath products, can be dangerous to pets. The first sign of poisoning is vomiting, which can happen within a few minutes, followed by diarrhoea, lethargy and weakness, excessive thirst and urination, lack of coordination, tremors and rapid breathing. Most pets recover well with treatment, but it can be fatal in severe cases.

Plant bulbs/leaves

The bulbs of many plants, including hyacinths, bluebells, daffodils and tulips, contain a toxin that’s poisonous to dogs and cats and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and lethargy within a few hours. Most of the time, these symptoms are mild, and pets recover well. Lilies are particularly toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure and prove fatal if not treated quickly.

Garden chemicals

Common garden chemicals such as fertilisers and weedkiller contact compounds like glyphosate which are harmful to animals. Signs of poisoning can appear within 30 minutes and include excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, lack of coordination, lethargy and eye and skin irritation. Most pets recover well with treatment.

Cigarettes and e-cigarettes

Nicotine is very harmful to pets. Signs of ingestion usually appear in a little as 15 to 90 minutes, and include vomiting, excessive salivation, lack of coordination, tremors, rapid breathing followed by slower or shallow breathing. Chances of recovery are generally good.


Xylitol is an artificial sweetener commonly used in chewing gum, toothpaste and some sweet baked goods (like biscuits and cakes), and is highly toxic to dogs. It causes low blood sugar, which often results in disorientation, vomiting, high heart rate, drowsiness and seizures, typically within 1 to 12 hours, and can lead to liver failure. Pets can recover well with aggressive treatment, and resulting liver failure is thankfully less common, but can be potentially fatal.

Household cleaners and DIY products

Most cleaning and DIY products, such as paint and paint thinner, have the potential to be dangerous to pets, who can come into contact with them directly through licking and swallowing a product, or indirectly through their coat, skin or paws, or inhaling chemical fumes. Symptoms include vomiting, increased salivation, lack of coordination, loss of appetite and lethargy. Most pets respond well to treatment.