Quashing common toxicology myths

dvm360dvm360 March 2022
Volume 53
Issue 3
Pages: 33

Veterinary toxicologists debunk misconceptions about pet poisons.

SunRayBRICatteryRU / stock.adobe.com

SunRayBRICatteryRU / stock.adobe.com

As we prepare for National Poison Prevention Week taking place the third week of March, we are addressing common myths about toxins that may lead pet parents down the wrong path when caring for their fur babies.

Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline, told us about a dog that had been given too much hydrogen peroxide after ingesting motor oil. Although the compound is often used to induce emesis in dogs, there is a maximum amount that should not be exceeded, she said.

In this case, the cure was worse than the disease: “The motor oil wasn’t going to be a large issue other than potential stomach upset or aspiration if vomiting occurred, but the hydrogen peroxide amount was excessive, and [the pet was] at high risk of developing gastritis and stomach ulcerations," she explained.

"So the pet had to go . . . [for] veterinary care because of the hydrogen peroxide, as opposed to the motor oil,” she continued, adding that such accidents are common in cases of poisoning, when people panic as they rush to do what they think is best for their pet.

That is why she and her colleagues are eager to highlight a few myths about poisons, including those surrounding:


Myth: Poinsettias are extremely toxic to pets.

Fact: Poinsettias are only mildly toxic to pets.

“The milky sap [of these plants] causes [gastrointestinal] upset but that’s really all; it’s not life-threatening,” Schmid pointed out. “An animal might have an episode or 2 of vomiting, but it isn’t going to be a big issue.”

The Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also downplays the danger of poinsettias. They irritate the stomach and mouth but are “generally overrated in toxicity,” the center says on its website.1


Myth: When a pet ingests something it “shouldn’t have,” it must vomit it, regardless of what that something may be.

Fact: Certain items should be allowed to pass through the pet’s gastrointestinal tract.

According to Schmid, toxic products that should not be vomited include motor oil, brake fluid, and corrosive products like oven and toilet bowl cleaners, among others.


Myth: Salt may be used as an emetic.

Fact: Salt is toxic to pets, so if given in the amount often required to make an animal vomit, it can be harmful.

The ASPCA warns that large amounts of salt can cause excessive thirst, urination, and even sodium ion poisoning.2 In addition to not using salt to induce vomiting, the organization suggests not giving pets salty snacks like potato chips, popcorn, and pretzels.


Myth: All lilies are toxic to cats.

Fact: Although many plants have “lily” in their name, only true lilies (those in the genus Lilium) and daylilies (Hemerocallis) cause renal toxicity and can lead to kidney failure in cats.

The whole plant in these genera—the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen, even the vase water—is dangerous for felines. Dogs that eat lilies, on the other hand, may experience a minor stomach upset but won’t develop kidney failure, according to the FDA.3

“Peruvian lilies, which are [in the genus] Alstroemeria, peace lilies, lily of the valley and other plants with lily in the name can [also] potentially have other [unpleasant] effects,” Schmid said.

Human products

Myth: Human products are safe for animals.

Fact: Human products are often unsafe for animals.

“A lot of people will...give their...medication to their pet[s] thinking that it’s just as safe as it would be [for humans]. Sometimes that’s true, but a lot of times it isn’t, especially when you think about pain medications like Ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen,” Schmid explained. “A lot of those things...really have a narrow margin of safety in animals.”

What makes a myth?

The internet plays a major role in the spread of inaccurate information about toxins because online “anything gets picked up and can just spread like wildfire,” Schmid said. “One wrong word, 1 wrong statement can really spread nationally and even internationally. It can really be difficult then to...repair that misinformation.”

Moreover, well-intentioned pet owners and veterinarians may also be responsible for misconceptions. They may see a specific outcome and mention it to a friend, who then mentions it to someone else and so on, and the story becomes distorted along the way.

“Something [else that] can happen, and we probably see [it] a lot more frequently with pet owners, is that they...make an inaccurate correlation: This happened to my friend’s Labrador, which means any Labrador that gets into this particular product is going to have the same effect,” she observed.

According to Schmid, pet parents should remember that “the dose makes the poison” and take into account “the amount [the pet] got into [and] the type of animal [it is] and a lot of different things come into play.”

What’s the solution?

Because many everyday items can harm companion animals, it is important to tell clients that pet-proofing their homes is an important step in preventing poisoning and that they should store cleaning products, medications, and other potential toxins in hard-to-reach places. According to the Drake Center for Veterinary Care, this is particularly important when people are welcoming home a new animal that will naturally be curious and want to sniff and taste its new environment.4 They should also reevaluate the safety of their house and garage every year so that they remain pet-friendly.

Schmid also suggested that veterinary professionals let clients know where they can find reliable information, like the poisons list available on Pet Poison Helpline’s website. Other poison control centers, various university websites and publications for veterinary professionals, also have information on this subject.


  1. Toxic and non-toxic plants: Poinsettia. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/poinsettia
  2. People foods to avoid feeding your pets. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/people-foods-avoid-feeding-your-pets
  3. Lovely lilies and curious cats: A dangerous combination. US Food & Drug Administration. September 16, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/lovely-lilies-and-curious-cats-dangerous-combination#:~:text=The%20entire%20lily%20plant%20is,the%20water%20in%20a%20vase.&text=Dogs%20that%20eat%20lilies%20may,vomiting%2C%20and%20loss%20of%20appetite.
  4. Protecting your pets from common poisons. Drake Center for Veterinary Care. March 19, 2019. Accessed February 16, 2022. https://www.thedrakecenter.com/services/cats/blog/protecting-your-pets-common-poisons

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