March Poison Month Blog


Check out our Facebook Live interview below with Dr. Mark Stephenson, our Chief Veterinary Officer, answering questions about poison prevention.

Most pet owners know that chocolate is poisonous to pets, yet many are unaware that certain common household products and plants can be just as deadly. To protect pets during National Poison Prevention Month (and every month!), here is some valuable information for you to share with pet owners:

Essential Oils and Liquid Potpourri

Aromatherapy may offer us a physical and psychological feeling of well-being, but many of the essential oils and liquid potpourri products that we use as home air fresheners and fragrances are poisonous to pets, including:

  • cinnamon
  • citrus
  • pennyroyal
  • peppermint
  • pine
  • sweet birch
  • tea tree (melaleuca)
  • wintergreen
  • yang-ylang

Also known as volatile oils and ethereal oils, essential oils can be found as additives in cleaning products, foods, drinks, herbal remedies, perfumes, and personal care products as well.

Signs of essential oil poisoning may include:

  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • pawing at the mouth or face
  • redness or burns on the lips, gums, tongue, or skin
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty walking
  • lethargy or weakness
  • muscle tremors

Just a few licks or small amount on the skin can be harmful to pets.

Cats are particularly sensitive to essential oils. They lack the liver enzymes that are necessary to metabolize these oils. Younger pets (puppies and kittens) and pets with liver disease are also more sensitive.


Though relatively safe for people as an over-the-counter pain reliever, ibuprofen – known under dozens of brand names, including Advil, Motrin, and Midol – can be extremely harmful to pets. Even a small amount can cause adverse effects.

When ingested, ibuprofen is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, it blocks the enzymes that are used to control normal gastrointestinal and kidney function. What makes it worse, is that in dogs and cats, ibuprofen gets repeatedly recycled via the liver instead of being removed from the body. This repeated exposure exacerbates the toxic effects.

Ibuprofen can cause many signs of toxicity because it can affect many organ systems. The signs and symptoms depend on how much ibuprofen is consumed.

Signs of ibuprofen poisoning may include:

  • reduced appetite
  • vomiting (sometimes with blood)
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • lethargy
  • depression
  • increased drinking and urination
  • drastically decreased urination
  • dark tarry stools
  • bloody stools

Cats are far more sensitive to ibuprofen than dogs since they are unable to metabolize the drug as efficiently.


Acetaminophen, most commonly known as Tylenol, is also an ingredient in many over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Although it is relatively safe for human consumption, it is toxic to pets. Many cases of acetaminophen toxicity in pets are accidental. A pet may find and chew on a bottle of pills or eat a pill that has fallen to the floor. Sadly, some cases occur because pet owners give medication intended for people to their pets without being instructed to do so by a veterinarian.

Signs of acetaminophen toxicity may occur within one to four hours of ingestion. Acetaminophen damages the liver, leading to liver failure, and changes the hemoglobin in red blood cells to methemoglobin, making it unable to carry oxygen. Dogs and cats may develop swelling of the face, paws, and front legs. The may also develop a brownish or bluish discoloration of the gums and eyelids. The urine may become darker yellow or chocolate-colored.

Other signs of acetaminophen poisoning may include:

  • progressive depression
  • rapid breathing
  • drooling
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • shock, collapse, and death

Cats are at much greater risk of poisoning than dogs because they lack the enzymes necessary for the liver to safely metabolize acetaminophen.


While many pet owners know that garlic is toxic to pets, chives pose an equal risk. As members of the allium family of plants (which includes garlic, onions, and leeks—all toxic to pets), chives can be toxic as well.

The consumption of chives (or any plants in the allium family) causes inflammation of the digestive tract (gastroenteritis), resulting in irritation of the mouth, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Although these symptoms often occur soon after consumption, other symptoms take days to appear. Toxic doses of chives can cause the red blood cells to rupture, and lead to anemia, which, when severe, can result in the following signs of allium poisoning:

  • pale gumsPoison Month Chives
  • foul breath
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing lethargy and weakness
  • ataxia (wobbly gait)
  • exercise intolerance
  • collapse
  • reddish discoloration of urine

Allium poisoning can even be fatal. Cats and certain breeds of dogs, specifically the Japanese breeds (e.g. Akita, Shiba Inu), are more sensitive to allium toxins, and thus at higher risk.

Sago Palms

Sago palms are beautiful for landscaping and indoor display, but they pack a deadly punch for pets. Readily available in nurseries and the gardening centers of many home improvement stores, sago palms (the common name for a family of palm species) contain cycasin, a compound that causes liver and nervous system toxicity.

Signs of sago palm poisoning may include:

  • reduced appetite
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • lethargy
  • increased thirst and urination
  • nose bleeds
  • bruising of the skin
  • blood in feces (black tarry stool)
  • icterus (yellow coloration of skin and gums)
  • ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen)
  • neurological signs (depression, circling, paralysis, seizures, coma)

All parts of the sago palm are poisonous, but the seeds (nuts) are the most toxic and are easier for pets to eat than the prickly fronds.


If you see your pet eating anything that could be toxic or exhibiting any unusual signs, immediately call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline, available in North America by calling 800-213-6680.


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