Survey Says More Education About Pet Toxins Needed

June 21, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

How knowledgeable is the general public with regard to pet toxins? According to a new study, pet owners think leather is more poisonous to their pets than a macadamia nut.

In a new study, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, veterinary pharmacists from North Carolina State University posed the question: Do pet owners have a baseline knowledge of potential pet toxins?

Survey Method

Participants were provided a list of 25 common household items, including various plants, foods, and over-the-counter medications. Fifteen of the items were toxic to pets; 10 were not.

Each survey participant was then asked to rate their level of concern for each substance—with 0 being unconcerned and 5 extremely concerned—in the event of ingestion for both cats and dogs.


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“Some toxicants are clinically important in both dogs and cats, while others are important in only 1 species,” Natalie Young, PharmD, FACVP, director of veterinary pharmacy at Realo Drugs and lead author of the study, said. “We wanted to see if responses would deviate since the general public wouldn’t necessarily know which substances are poisonous for dogs, but not cats and vice versa.”


While the 825 respondents did show species-specific concerns for some of the toxins—such as chocolate and grapes for dogs and acetaminophen for cats—pet toxicity knowledge overall was low.

Overall, participants, 82% of which were pet owners, were able to correctly identify 13 of the 25 items as toxic to a dog or cat; representing a 52% accuracy rate.

“It was interesting that many of the toxic foods on the list, such as macadamia nuts, grapes, alliums (eg, onions, garlic, chives), artificial sweeteners (xylitol), and caffeine were not sufficiently regarded as toxic,” Kenneth Royal, PhD, assistant professor of educational assessment and outcomes at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine and one of the study authors, said. “Conversely, however, participants were overly concerned about nontoxic substances such as leather, ponytail palm, African violet, and Famotidine (Pepcid-AC).”

Besides rating their level of toxicity concern, each participant was also asked about what resource they would use—calling a veterinarian, searching the internet, or contacting a pharmacy—if a pet consumed a toxic item. According to the results, approximately 46% of participants would consult a veterinarian while approximately 44% said they would search the internet.

Key Takeaways

“The main takeaway here is that there is still a lot of confusion regarding animal toxicity,” Dr. Young said.

While confusion regarding pet toxins is not unheard of by the majority of veterinarians, studies of this nature can help move the conversation forward and highlight the need for more pet owner education.

Dr. Young also stated that this study “points to the need for veterinarians to focus on the internet as a source of information and help for owners in poison-related emergencies.”

Veterinarians who believe that Dr. Google is coming between them and their clients might want to reevaluate their stance and look for ways to work with this growing trend rather than against it.