“Is This Safe?” Our Top Five Most Commonly Asked Questions about Pets

November 15, 2018

two kittens

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) gets a lot of questions—and we mean, a lot. We put together a list of our top five most commonly asked questions (and answers) concerning pet safety and toxicities. Some of these may surprise you. See the full list below!  

1. How much chocolate is too much for my pet, and does the type of chocolate matter?

a dog with a cone on a couch

In order to understand how much chocolate is dangerous for our four-legged friends, it’s important to understand what makes chocolate a danger in the first place. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine—a stimulant in the same family as caffeine. When pets ingest too much theobromine it can make them hyperactive, increase their heart rate and, in severe cases, cause tremors and seizures.  Our dog friends are more sensitive to theobromine than people because they don’t metabolize it as quickly and they are more likely to over indulge.  

The amount of chocolate necessary to cause a concern depends on three things: the type of chocolate consumed, the amount consumed and the size of your pet. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it will contain, making dark chocolates more dangerous. For a large-breed dog, a small amount of chocolate may not cause any issues. But for a smaller breed, like a Chihuahua, even a small amount could be considered dangerous. All of these factors should be taken into account.

If you think your pet ingested any type of chocolate, you should call your veterinarian or APCC to determine what next steps, if any, need to be taken. 

2. All the food in my house is organic and natural; that means it’s okay for my pet, too, right?

a woman touching a dog

In general, just because something is labelled as “natural” doesn’t always means it’s safe. Ricin, oleander and strychnine are all natural, but they are all also serious toxins that can be fatal to our furry friends. Pets’ bodies are different than ours, so they aren’t able to consume the same things we are—no matter if they are organic or not. Foods such as onions and garlic, chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocados and macadamia nuts should all be avoided despite any natural or organic labels.

3. I don’t want mice or insects in my house. How can I keep my home free of pests while still keeping my pet safe from insecticides and rodenticides?

a cat licking its paw

This is a good question because APCC gets a lot of calls from worried pet parents after their pet has ingested a chemical meant for pests. When using these products, it helps to remember a few key things. First, rodenticides and some insecticides use attractants to attract the mice or insect to the poison. Unfortunately your pets find these attractants very tasty, too. When using a rodenticide or an insecticide that have an attractant, like ant baits, it is best to avoid using them in an area a pet has access to. Second, check back on the areas often to make sure no chemicals are being moved and always remember to ask if any chemicals have been used or placed out when bringing a pet somewhere new. For products like bug spray or granules, make sure the pet is not in the area when the product is being applied or used. Remember to always follow directions for application and keep your pets out of the treated area until the product is dry or watered in. NEVER use any chemical products near your pet’s food or water bowls. 

When not in use, products should be stored in an area out of paws’ reach. While containers may be child-proof, that does not mean they are pet-proof.  

4. I take Prozac for depression, and I heard it’s safe for cats. Can I share my prescription with my pets to save money?

a kitten

It’s true that Prozac, or fluoxetine, may be prescribed to your pet by your veterinarian for a variety of behavior disorders. However, it is not a good idea to give any of your medication to your pet for a couple of reasons.  First, medication for your pet should always be prescribed by a veterinarian. If a pet is on other medications or has certain medical conditions, your medication may not be appropriate for your pet. Also, a dose that is appropriate for a person very well may be too much for a pet. Second, some human medications have xylitol in them, which can be life-threatening to dogs. It is always best to talk to your veterinarian before giving your pets ANY medication and follow their advice for proper care for your pet.

5. Your top ten list said that “veterinary products” are the number four top toxin. Does this mean my pet isn’t safe, even at the vet?

a cat at the vet

While adverse reactions to medications do occur, most of the calls APCC receives are not about exposure to appropriately prescribed medication or treatments. Accidents happen. A pet can get the wrong medication, perhaps their medication is accidentally double dosed, or due to the tasty nature of some veterinary products, pets may sniff out a treatment and gobble it all up. To avoid any concern with veterinary products, it is best to treat them like your own medications, and keep them up and out of paws’ reach.