Hidden Hazards: keeping your pets safe

Toxic Foods

Lots of food that we consider a tasty treat can be deadly for our pets. This includes:

  • Chocolate: human chocolates contains theobromine, a chemical that can be fatal to pets. The darker the chocolate, the higher the risk. Keep pets away from any foods containing chocolate, such as cakes, sweets, cookies and cocoa powder.
  • Caffeine: in large quantities it can affect a pet’s heart. Keep tea bags and coffee out of reach of cats and dogs. Caffeine is also in many energy drinks, chocolate and even human painkillers, so keep all these away from curious paws.
  • Grapes, Currants, Raisins and Sultanas: toxins in these fruits are potentially fatal to dogs. Make sure your pets don’t eat any food with these ingredients, e.g. cakes.
  • Onions, Garlic and Chives: they have chemicals called organosulphoxides, which can poison dogs and cats if enough is eaten over a number of days.
  • Avocados: these can affect birds as they contain the chemical persin. Throw away the avocado stone as it can obstruct a pet’s intestines.
  • Macadamia Nuts and Peanuts: they can cause weakness and tremors. Macadamia butter can also affect pets. Peanuts can cause upset tummies and occasionally lead to fits. This might be due to the salt on the peanut.
  • Salt: salt, or sodium chloride, is extremely poisonous to pets. It’s common in human food and can also be found in dishwasher tablets and salts, bath salts, rock salt for de-icing roads and pavements, play dough and, of course, sea water.
  • Vitamin D: this vitamin is in supplement tablets, cod liver oil, human medicines and rat poisons. It’s also in skin creams and can be very poisonous as it affects a pet’s heart, liver and kidneys.
  • Alcohol: alcoholic drinks are toxic to pets so keep them well away from prying paws. Some household products also contain alcohol, including mouthwashes, perfumes, aftershaves, colognes and glues.
  • Iron: foods rich in iron can be fatal to pets. Watch out for human supplements and iron tablets. Iron is also usually in lawn moss killers and lawn ‘feed and weed’.
  • Xylitol: is extremely harmful to dogs. It’s in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets – and increasingly used in medications and nicotine replacement chewing gums.


Household hazards

Cleaning products, medicine, and batteries – all common household items that can cause big problems for your pets:

  • Antifreeze: this is very poisonous to pets. It can be very tempting, especially for cats as it has a sweet taste. It’s in screen washes, brake fluids and inks – so wipe up any spills when topping your car up in the cold winter months.
  • Rat and mouse poisons: as you’d imagine, many of these are highly poisonous to pets.
  • Human Painkillers: they can be poisonous to dogs and cats. Never give human medication to your pet. Always seek your vet’s advice if you suspect that your pet is ill or in pain. Store medicine well out of reach of your pets.
  • Batteries: batteries contain strong acids and lots of metal. If your pet eats a battery it could cause burns to their mouth, throat and stomach, as well as causing difficulties breathing and swallowing.
  • Ethanol: Ethanol is a type of alcohol found in many household products, such as mouthwashes, perfumes, aftershaves, colognes and glues. Alcoholic drinks like wine, beer and spirits are also toxic to pets.
  • Dustbins: Bins can be very enticing for dogs and cats, with all their food smells. Given a chance, they’ll rip open bin liners and eat whatever’s inside. Cats often find it hard to resist bin bags with meat or fish in them. Dogs will eat anything that takes their fancy. Make sure bins are sealed and can’t easily be knocked over.


Poisonous plants

They might look beautiful but some plants and flowers are best kept well away from pets. Here are some of the most common poisonous plants, but there are others. If in doubt, ask your local nursery or florist for advice before bringing a new plant into your home.

  • Azalea/Rhododendron: (Rhododendron spp) Highly poisonous to cats and dogs, even if just a few leaves are eaten.
  • Cherry laurel: (Prunus laurocerasus) This hedging plant is often used in gardens and public parks. Be careful how you dispose of hedge cuttings as the most common cause of dog poisoning is from eating or chewing these leaves.
  • Castor oil bush: (Ricinus communis) The seeds, or more frequently oil cakes used as fertiliser, are very attractive to dogs, but can be fatal.
  • Daffodil: (Narcissus) All parts of the daffodil are harmful. Dogs sometimes eat the bulbs, but even a small bite can kill a small animal. Even drinking the water in which cut daffodils have stood is potentially hazardous.
  • Laburnum: (Cytisus alpinus) All parts of this plant are poisonous, but especially the seeds. Even chewing laburnum bark or twigs can affect a dog.
  • Yew: (Taxus baccata and related species) Nearly all parts of the plant are harmful, including dried clippings. A mere 30g of leaves can kill a dog.
  • Lily of the valley: (Convallaria majalis) Lily of the valley flowers and leaves, often used in bouquets, contain a toxin that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, heart problems, fits and collapsing in dogs and cats.
  • Lilies: (Lilium) Some lilies, such as Tiger, Easter, Stargazer and Arum, are potentially poisonous, especially to cats. Pets can be poisoned by eating or chewing the leaves, stems or flower heads. Even the pollen can be harmful, as cats may lick this off their fur after brushing against the flower head. Always seek advice from your florist or garden centre.
  • Philodendron: (Philodendron and related species) All parts of this ornamental houseplant are poisonous, but pets usually just chew or eat the leaves. Contact with the plant can irritate the eyes and mouth causing excessive dribbling. This can be fatal for cats.


Garden dangers

Our pets often spend a lot of time out and about in the garden, so how can we make is a safe place for them?

  • Dangerous garden chemicals: Store garden chemicals safely out of the way of children and pets. Liquids such as white spirit and barbecue lighter fluids can cause serious poisoning if swallowed, licked off fur, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled.
  • Weedkillers (herbicides): Follow the instructions very carefully, before using them. Some can harm pets if accidentally swallowed and plants treated with them may also be poisonous if eaten. Some pets absorb chemicals through their skin, through spillages or even from a walk through treated plants.
  • Pestkillers (pesticides): Many garden chemical pesticides can harm pets. Always follow the instructions carefully and keep pets away from the treated areas.
  • Slug pellets: Slug and snail pellets containing metaldehyde can poison and kill a dog or cat within hours. We highly recommend not using these in gardens where pets play. Try using pet-proof slug traps or organic alternatives to poisons. Ask your local nursery for expert advice about traditional and organic chemical-free pest controls.
  • Foxes and other predators: Urban foxes are especially successful at sneaking into your garden and could kill outdoor pets like rabbits, guinea pigs or chickens if they aren’t kept out of harm’s way. Keep small pets safely in their hutches at night and always supervise them when they’re out of their cages. Regularly check that your chicken coop is secure from foxes, rats and other predators.
  • Bees, wasps and hornets: These can give pets a nasty sting. This can be very dangerous if they’re stung several times at once, or stung in the throat while eating one. Check gardens for nests and contact your local pest control.
  • Toads: When threatened, toads give off a poison that can hurt a curious pet’s tongue or skin. If this happens, rinse the affected area with plenty of water and phone the vet immediately.
  • Physical objects: Remove broken bottles, sharp stones and other obvious hazards.
  • Grass seeds: Check your pet regularly, as grass seeds can pierce a pet’s skin or become lodged in ears, eyes or toes.
  • Lawnmowers and strimmers: Check your garden before using hedge-trimmers, strimmers and lawnmowers. These can injure small pets and wildlife. Tortoises and hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable, as they are easy to miss in long grass and can’t escape fast enough. Avoid trimming hedges between 1 March and 31 August when birds could be nesting and raising young.
  • Bonfires: Hedgehogs find unlit bonfires an irresistible place to shelter and sleep. Always check for prickly visitors and other creatures before lighting your bonfire.


Out and about

It’s great to get out and about with your dog, taking long walks together and exploring the countryside. Here are a couple of hazards to watch out for:

  • Adder bites: Adder bites are extremely dangerous to pets, especially if they’re bitten on the face. Bites can cause severe swelling, bleeding, fever and shock. If you think your pet has been bitten, contact your vet immediately.

    Adders are the only poisonous snake in the UK and are mostly seen in spring and summer. They’re not aggressive and only bite when they feel threatened, so if you spot one put your dog on a lead and keep well away.

    If you’re walking your dog in an area that’s know to have adders, keep them on a lead and stick to footpaths. Adders are protected by law so it’s illegal to kill or harm them.

  • Blue green algae: This algae is really toxic and can kill pets quickly if they eat it. The symptoms of poisoning include severe vomiting and diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, coma and fits. If you are worried, call your vet immediately. 

    It’s found in fresh, brackish and sea water in the UK. It blooms from late spring to early autumn and looks like blue-green scum on the surface of the water. The best way to avoid your pet getting poisoned is to keep them out of any water that looks like it’s got algae growing in it.


Pet treatments

Always make sure you’re using the right treatments for your pet, to avoid accidental poisoning:

  • Permethrin: This is a chemical in some dog flea treatments. It’s highly toxic to cats. Never use dog flea treatments on cats. Always read and follow the instructions on flea treatments, including household sprays. Ask your vet what’s best for you and your pets.

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