By Eileen Mitchell


There’s a world of people out there just like me–devoted guardians who strive to maintain the health, happiness and welfare of our goofy, loyal, and loving canine companions. We drop mega bucks on premium dog food and pricey supplemental oils and vitamins, indulge in silly squeaky toys and treats, and don’t flinch (well, too much anyway) at the sight of yet another astronomical vet bill. That’s because we know our efforts and dollars are worth it to ensure a happy, healthy dog.

And yet. For all our good intentions there are hidden dangers that might not even cross our minds. That is, until we learn of the tragic outcome of someone else’s dog. While many hazards are known and easily avoided with common sense, there are others that slide under the radar.

Purses and Knapsacks

If a bored or curious Fido starts poking around a bag left on the floor and finds a tasty pack of gum or mints, he’s at risk of poisoning due to Xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Normally found in sugar-free gums and candies, Xylitol is now also added to many peanut butter brands, so read the label before treating Fido to a spoonful. Pennies floating at the bottom of a bag are another canine risk. A dog that ingests this copper coin can face health issues because pennies minted after 1983 pose a serious threat. When they settle in the stomach, acids break down the copper, exposing the toxic zinc center that can result in a potentially fatal blood disorder. Who knew?

Your Backyard

The leaves from your lovely ornamental Sago palm can cause severe damage to the liver, resulting in death. Just one seed can kill a dog, which explains why the Sago palm has a mortality rate of 30%. Have decorative cocoa mulch on the ground? This chocolate-scented mulch is appealing—and deadly—to dogs. Other backyard toxins include Azaleas, Lily-of-the-valley, Foxgloves, and Oleanders, not to mention the ever-dreaded “scourge of the earth” the Foxtail. If you have pockets of water lying around, such as an abandoned kiddie pool or non-operating water fountain, don’t let your dog drink from standing water because certain parasites (giardia, clostridium and leptospirosis) thrive in these stale pools. And if you have a walnut tree, beware of walnut toxicity (caused from a mold that grows if walnuts are left on the ground). Of course, you’re already cautious with rat and snail bait, right? Because by now you know that dogs will eat anything. Anything.

To learn about additional household plants and backyard dangers, visit The Humane Society.

Your Garage

Beware of antifreeze. Tasty to dogs, antifreeze poisoning typically happens when it drips from a car’s radiator and a delighted Fido licks the sweet elixir off the floor. It takes less than three ounces to poison a medium-sized dog and fatally attack their brain, liver, and kidneys. To learn about additional common household dangers, visit The Humane Society.

Your Kitchen

Edible toxins include mushrooms, grapes and raisins; onions, garlic, and chocolate. You know about chocolate, right? I thought everyone did until the time I mentioned the death of a friend’s German Shepard after he devoured a pan of brownies. Someone said, “You seemed to imply that the chocolate had something to do with his death. I give my dog chocolate all the time.” I responded that yes, indeedy, chocolate is toxic to dogs. I assumed that was common knowledge until this person mentioned that she indulged her cocker spaniel with See’s Candy all the time. I’m sure the look of horror on my face conveyed the message that she should stop doing so immediately. Better yet, give the See’s candy to me for (cough cough) proper disposal.

To learn about additional toxic people foods, check out the ASPCA.

When in Doubt, Get it Out

When your dog indicates signs of a toxic ingestion (vomiting, weakness, tremors, seizures) the natural instinct is to induce vomiting, but this may not always be the case. It depends on what was ingested, how much, and how long it’s been since the material was ingested. If it’s been more than three or four hours, the chances of the toxin still being in the stomach are much lower and the benefits of vomiting lessen. In absence of a known Vet ER to call, or not getting a direct answer from a veterinary ER, a great first suggestion is to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center [1.800.426.4435]. There’s a fee for this service, but many times they can give pet owners the complete story on the toxin and provide direction. In the meantime, gather as much information as possible. This includes estimating the time of ingestion, taking photos of the offending item, noting inscriptions, colors, and shapes, and saving the container or remnants of the product. The more information, the better.

The Rule of Thumb?

When in doubt, get it out. And get to Emergency immediately. If possible, call ahead so they can prepare for your arrival. If you aren’t certain that your dog has ingested a toxin, just remember that old adage: better safe than sorry.


Eileen Mitchell is a freelance writer for publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and The Bark Magazine. Visit her blog by clicking here .