Poison prevention: Household hazards - BC SPCA
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Poison prevention: Household hazards

February 29, 2024

Many of us have “pet-proofed” our homes at some point, stashing medications in locked cabinets, tucking away electrical cords and storing cleaning products high up on shelves but despite our vigilance, household dangers may still lurk in unexpected places. The following are some common but harmful household toxins and symptoms to watch for in your pet.

Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets contain corrosive substances known as cationic detergents. Cationic detergents can cause eye, skin and gastrointestinal irritation. Unused dryer sheets are particularly harmful. Some cats like to roll in and play with the sheets, but unfortunately, cats are especially sensitive to cationic detergents. Effects of exposure include eye ulcers, skin rashes, drooling and loss of appetite, as well as burns to the mouth and throat.

Sick young white cat lies on brown blanket

Ornamental bulbs

Bulbs such as those from lilies, daffodils and tulips, contain a variety of toxic chemicals. Dogs can get into bags of unplanted bulbs or dig up and eat freshly planted bulbs, especially when tasty blood or bone meal fertilizers have been used. Symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to seizures. In severe cases, ingestion can lead to death.

Liquid potpourris

These are made from essential oils. Ingestion can cause loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle tremors.Compared to other pets, cats may be more at risk of poisoning because potpourri containers are often kept in areas where they like to hang out, such as on countertops. Cats may lap the liquid up directly. Exposure can also occur when cats groom themselves after a spill or leak.


Sugar-free gum contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener toxic to dogs. Xylitol has a wide margin of safety in humans, however in dogs, ingestion can be fatal. Xylitol is absorbed more rapidly in dogs than in people, leading to hypoglycemia and acute liver failure.

There has been an increase in the use of xylitol in baking which means larger amounts of it are now found in households. Make sure it is stored out of a dog’s reach – if a dog gets into a bag of xylitol and ingests a large amount, it could be lethal. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of muscle coordination, collapse and seizures.

Tired and sleepy dog lying down on their side on carpet being pet by person


Spot-on flea control products sold over-the-counter for use in dogs contain permethrin, an insecticide that can cause life-threatening seizure activity in cats. Some people mistakenly use these products on their cats. Cats may also be exposed when they come into contact – by sleeping, grooming or playing – with recently-treated dogs.

Should you suspect your pet has had contact with something potentially poisonous, call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic immediately. How quickly treatment is started can mean the difference between life and death.

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