Toxins & Your Pet: When to Call the Vet

by: Dr. Barb Eatock

At one time or another most pets, especially dogs, have eaten something that they weren’t supposed to eat.  Many of these things are harmless but some can be very toxic.  In this post we will discuss some common toxicities and what to do about them.
Some foods that can be toxic to your pet include chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions and garlic.

  • Dark chocolate and/or Baker’s chocolate is especially toxic.  Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity include:
    •  vomiting
    • restlessness
    • ataxia
    • muscle rigidity
    • seizures

part of bar

Death may result if enough chocolate was ingested.  Immediate veterinary care is required if clinical signs occur.  If you know that your dog got into chocolate, phone your veterinarian to see if the amount of chocolate consumed is a concern.


  • Grapes and raisins may cause kidney failure.  It is not known whether the toxic principle is the type of grape, a pesticide or whether there are genetic factors that make some dogs susceptible.  Clinical signs include
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • not eating
    • lethargy
    • and increased drinking and urination.

Call your veterinarian immediately if you know that your dog ate some grapes or raisins.

  • Onions and garlic are toxic if large amounts are ingested.  They can cause gastrointestinal upset or anemia; clinical signs include
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • lethargy
    • inappetance


  • There are many plants that are toxic if ingested.  Some, such as poinsettia just cause mild gastrointestinal upset, whereas others such as lilies are much more serious if ingested.  Eating any part of a lily can cause kidney failure; signs are
    • not eating
    • vomiting
    • diarrhea
    • lethargy
    • increased drinking and urination

Some common household items that can cause toxicities if ingested are:

  • ibuprofen(such as Advil)pills
  • naproxen (such as Aleve)
  • Xylitol (read more about Xyltiol poisoning in our previous post)
  • batteries
  • fabric softener sheets that haven’t been in the dryer
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol) (in cats)

Call your veterinarian IMMEDIATELY if you suspect that your pet has gotten into any of these items.

In some cases, it may be possible to induce vomiting at home.  Never induce vomiting without first checking with your veterinarian.  It is dangerous to induce vomiting after the ingestion of caustic items (gasoline, chemicals, oil) or if the animal is seizuring, extremely depressed/listless or unconscious.  If it has been over 2 hours since ingestion of the toxic item, it is not helpful to induce vomiting as most of it will be digested at this point.  In order to induce vomiting at home, hydrogen peroxide or table salt work best.

H2O2 and NaCl

  • The dose of hydrogen peroxide is 1-5mL/kg by mouth with a maximum dose of 50mL for dogs and 10mL for cats.  The dose can be repeated after 20 minutes if necessary.
  • The dose of salt is 1-3 tsp orally.

In a situation where toxins are involved, speed is of the essence.

  • Phone your veterinarian immediately rather than searching the internet for answers.
  • If it is necessary to bring your pet in please bring in the drug or toxin container if at all possible.
  • If your pet has eaten ANYTHING that you are uncertain of, contact your veterinarian.

In general, the sooner you act, the better the outcome!

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