Skip to the content

Kansas State University

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
  1. K-State Home >
  2. Media Relations >
  3. January news releases
Print This Article  

Source: Dr. Susan Nelson, 785-532-5690,
News release prepared by: Nellie Ryan, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Household products that people use every day can pose threats to a pet's health, according to Dr. Susan Nelson, a Kansas State University veterinarian.

Commonly used products like bleach, all-purpose cleaners and other disinfectants can cause chemical burns on pets' skin and can be toxic if ingested. Nelson said this often happens because pets come into contact with the cleanser after the bottle spills on them or they walk on a freshly washed floor or bathtub. Dogs or cats that walk on these types of surfaces can get burns on their paws. Also, when they lick their paws or fur it can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus, she said.

The best way to prevent such burns is to make sure that surfaces are completely dry before letting pets on them and to tightly recap cleaning product bottles after using them, Nelson said. And, just as with children, she also said to not forget to put such products where pets can't get to them.

"All dogs are prone to chewing on objects; and dogs with separation anxiety and puppies have even more of a tendency to do this," Nelson said. "They may even chew on cleaning product bottles. The best thing to do is make sure that all cleaning products are put away and out of reach of pets. And, always remember to read the warning labels and instructions on all household cleansers before using them."

Nelson said it is important to remember that pets, especially dogs, are not discriminating about what they will try to eat. It is not uncommon for dogs to swallow human medications, like anti-anxiety pills or pain medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Sometimes pets may just want to chew on the medicine's bottle and end up accidentally swallowing some of the pills, which can lead to gastrointestinal issues and organ failure.

"Call your veterinarian first before taking any type of action when this happens," Nelson said. "Know the exact type of medication the pet swallowed and how much they ingested, if possible. Sometimes we will advise owners to induce vomiting at home, but it is done on a case-by-case basis, so always call before doing anything."

Nelson also warns pet owners to be cautious of any flavored medication that their pet may currently be taking. These medications smell and taste good for pets, so if they are left out they will most surely be eaten.

Many human foods are dangerous for pets. The top foods on this list are chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, onions and garlic, according to Nelson.

"Also be aware of moldy and spoiled food, too," she said. "Keep trash cans covered because dogs will eat anything."

Other common household dangers that owners might not think about are things like electrical cords, batteries, cigarettes and certain houseplants. Electrical cords can be especially hazardous to young pets who like to chew on things. If a pet gets a hold of batteries, the battery acid can burn their mouths and be toxic if ingested, Nelson said.

Common houseplants like philodendron and dieffenbachia are also toxic to pets if ingested, she said Lilies can be especially dangerous to cats. Even the pollen of a lily can be harmful if it falls on a cat's fur and is then licked off.

"Another thing to worry about is secondhand smoke," Nelson said. "Cats who have owners that smoke are twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma than cats who have non-smoking owners. Also be aware of cigarette butts that are left out because pets can develop nicotine poisoning if these are ingested."

Antifreeze is another potential danger for pets, especially for those who spend a lot of time outdoors or in the garage, Nelson said. Sometimes antifreeze will leak from a car onto the floor or into an existing puddle of water and pets may unintentionally drink it. A small amount of ingested antifreeze can be fatal to a dog or cat, causing the kidneys to shutdown.

"Always keep antifreeze tightly sealed and out of reach from pets," Nelson said. "You also should check your vehicle frequently for antifreeze leaks. One should always make sure your pet has fresh drinking water available. However, the temptation to drink antifreeze will still be there, so prevention is key."

Other harmful products that may be found outside the home or in the garage include fertilizer and insecticides. Certain types of fertilizer can cause skin irritation to pets. If a pet ingests fertilizer or insecticides, there is a risk of gastrointestinal distress or even death in some instances, Nelson said.

"Again, follow the label instructions and keep these products out of reach," she said. "If you think your dog or cat has been exposed, be sure to bring in the product label to the veterinarian. It is much easier to treat a pet if we know exactly what chemical they got into."

If your pet does come in contact with a dangerous material and you cannot reach your veterinarian, there are poison control hotlines specifically for pets. Nelson suggests the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals poison control hotline at 888-426-4435. You can also visit the society's Web site at for more information.