Spring’s pet toxins have sprung

dvm360dvm360 March 2023
Volume 54
Issue 3
Pages: 18

Keep companion animals safe this season by educating clients about common dangers

AnetaPics / stock.adobe.com

AnetaPics / stock.adobe.com

With springtime comes the opportunity to do some house cleaning, enjoy balmy weather, and spend special time with family, friends, and pets. Amid all these exciting activities, it can be easy to forget the importance of keeping companion animals safe from dangers. This month is National Pet Poison Prevention Month, so we’re raising awareness about common spring toxins. This awareness is vital for clients to help keep their furry friends happy and healthy.

Cleaning gone wrong

Spring cleaning offers a chance to start fresh but may uncover hidden items that are not pet friendly from under the couch or other places. “Household medications are one of the bigger risks when they are uncovered in these types of cleanings, and cats and dogs can get into that. Some of the more common ones include things like antidepressants or pain medications, both of which can be toxic to both dogs and cats,” Erik Zager, DVM, DACVECC, said in an interview with dvm360®. Zager is a veterinary criticalist at Philadelphia Animal Specialty & Emergency in Pennsylvania.

Additionally, Zager noted that cleaning products themselves can be dangerous to pets, resulting in caustic injury to the mouth or throat if ingested. Clients should be reminded to keep these products out of reach and to place pets in separate rooms when using them.

Renee Schmid, DVM, DABT, DABVT, senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline, added that an increase in companion animal rodenticide poisoning seems to occur in the spring as companion pet owners use these products to ward off pests. “As the weather warms up, [pet owners] will begin to open their sheds or open up their camping equipment and those types of things. And so there may be more rodenticides out there that animals can be exposed to,” she said in an interview with dvm360®.

Plants: beautiful but deadly

As plants start blooming and pet owners begin selecting flowers to display in their garden, it’s essential they know which plants are safe for their animals. The list of plants toxic to pets is extensive, so Zager advised referring clients to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) webpage dedicated to toxic and nontoxic plants affecting dogs, cats, and horses.1 Additionally, mobile apps can help identify plants by simply using a photo. “These 2 [resources] together are very powerful and can help you avoid toxic plants in the house or around the neighborhood,” Zager said.

One plant to bear in mind during spring celebrations such as Easter and Passover is the lily, which tends to be a common seasonal decoration in house- holds.“ [Easter lilies can cause] kidney failure in cats. Fortunately, dogs don’t have that same concern, just upset stomach. But we get a lot of calls [at the Pet Poison Helpline] with cats being exposed to Easter lilies and any other type of lily that time of year when they’re using beautiful bouquets for Easter and Passover,” Schmid explained. For those who have cats, these types of lilies should not be kept in the house at all because even a small exposure to the pollen can cause significant kidney injury.

Supervision during outdoor time is key

When taking pets for a stroll, Zager’s No. 1 recommendation is to avoid using extendable leashes. “Making sure you have good control of your pets is super important. [Have] a leash that you always have control over. Avoiding extendable leashes is very good. The last thing you want is for your dog to [eat] something [when] you have no ability to correct them and get them away from it.”

Pet owners should also supervise their pets when letting them out to play. In case pets do encounter something hazardous, owners can be present and take immediate action.

Signs and symptoms

According to the American Kennel Club, symptoms of poisoning differ based on the substance and quantity of what a pet has ingested or breathed in. Some common signs include the following2:

  • Diarrhea or blood in the stool (either bright red blood or dark black, tarry stools)
  • Unusual material found in dog’s stool (eg, green or corn-like substances, which might be signs of rodenticide poisoning)
  • Vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Behavioral changes (eg, lethargy, unsteadiness when standing or walking, hyperactivity)
  • Bruising or bleeding (typically seen in areas of little to no hair, such as the gums, inside the ear flaps, and inside the groin; nose bleeds or bloody urine)

“Often, gastrointestinal signs are the first ones that we see, so vomiting, diarrhea, or not wanting to eat. With household medications or drugs, [we usually see] abnormal mentation, so they’re acting funny. They’re more lethargic or more reactive than normal,” Zager explained.

If a pet ingests a toxin

The first thing clients should do if they suspect their pet has ingested a toxin is remain calm and call their veterinarian. If a veterinarian is not available, there are 2 poison control options to call that offer expert advice and guidance, including the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

“Google isn’t always your friend in these situations. A lot of times it can send you down the wrong path,” Schmid said. “When you’re looking at a potential toxin concern that may be life threatening for your pet, [it’s ideal to receive advice from] a professional, somebody who knows what these different toxin concerns can be. If the pet gets into something that has a package with it, maybe a medication or food product, it’s always great to have that information so we can look at that and evaluate to see [whether] what they got into is going to be problematic and what treatment needs may be necessary.”

If the pet owner is close to an emergency veterinarian, they should take their pet there immediately. Zager concluded, “If it is a toxin that’s spent some time in the stomach, [the veterinarian] might be able to induce vomiting, get those toxins out, and start treatment right away.”


  1. Poisonous plants. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Accessed January 24, 2023. aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/ toxic-and-non-toxic-plants
  2. Gibeault S. The common signs and symptoms of poisoning in dogs. American Kennel Club. February 25, 2022. Accessed January 24, 2023. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/ the-common-signs-and-symptoms-of-poisoning-in-dogs
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