January 2024

Small Animal Toxins for Winter

By Drs. Savannah Charnas, Scott Fritz and Steve Ensley

Antifreeze – aka ethylene glycol; Winter season is when products containing ethylene glycol are commonly used. It can be found in antifreeze, windshield deicing agents, brake fluid/motor oil, and potentially even snow globes! Animals exposed to this will develop kidney failure, so seek veterinary attention as soon as possible if your pet is exposed.

Alcohol – Animals can become intoxicated from alcohol just like people. Due to their low body weight, less alcohol is needed to cause inebriation and other deleterious effects.

Bones, Broth, and Brine – These are the ingredients needed for tasty dishes this Winter, but not for our pets! With overconsumption it’s easy for animals to ingest a dangerous amount of salt, especially when there is limited water available. Cooked bones are also more easily splintered, and can cause injury as well as intestinal blockages that require surgery!

Chocolate – Pets should never be fed chocolate in any form. In general, the darker the chocolate the more of the toxin it contains. The toxin in chocolate is a stimulant, which can also be found in caffeinated drinks such as coffees and teas.

Grapes/Raisins – Dogs that ingest these can damage their kidneys, through a still undetermined mechanism. Raisins are more concentrated and therefore cause more damage, but both should never be fed to pets!

Holiday Plants – Plants commonly seen around the holiday season such as holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, and more can cause gastrointestinal upset and potentially heart problems if ingested. Although not specific to the holidays, owners should be especially mindful of lilies around their cats. Tiger, Asiatic, stargazer, Easter, and day lilies can cause renal failure in any feline if any part of the plant is consumed. Make sure to keep these decorations in areas your pet can’t access!

Human Food – It’s a good rule of thumb to forgo giving any kind of human food to pets, as tempting as it may be! While not every food is toxic, some can cause stomach upset leading to vomiting/diarrhea or even pancreatitis. It’s safest to stick to pet-only treats to reward our buddies.

Macadamia Nuts and Walnuts – While healthy in moderation for people, these snacks can cause temporary paralysis in dogs and should not be fed.

Moth Balls – Ingestion of these, especially those containing naphthalene, can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If left untreated these can progress to severe blood loss and seizures.

Onions, Garlics, Chives, and Leaks (Allium genus) – Whether cooked or raw, these will cause damage to our pet’s red blood cells which can lead to anemia. If enough is ingested, veterinary treatment is recommended.

Rising Bread Dough – If ingested the dough will continue to ferment and rise inside the animal’s stomach. This can cause blockages in the GI system that may need to be surgically treated, as well as alcohol poisoning if enough is ingested.

Rodenticides – These are a problem all year round, but rodents seeking shelter during the colder months may increase the amount of potential pet exposures. The active ingredient can be different depending on the product, and different treatments are needed for each one. The same product name can include formulations with different active ingredients, so if your pet is exposed make sure to bring in the product package if you can! Immediate veterinary attention should be sought if exposed, as these can be quickly lethal.

Tree Decorations – Whether it’s lights, tinsel, string popcorn, or ornaments, tree decorations can potentially cause problems if ingested by your pet. Intestinal damage can occur due to their stringed nature, and surgery may be required! It’s important to note if your pet does eat string, don’t try to fix it by pulling it out yourself (that includes both ends!). This can cause more damage and is best left to professionals.

Xylitol – This is an artificial sweetener that is found in common products such as peanut butter, mints, chewing gum, toothpaste, and more! Animals that ingest this toxin will develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) as quickly as 10 minutes if enough is consumed, which can lead to seizures. Additionally, this toxin also causes liver damage which can be lethal if left untreated. Make sure to check the product label to see if this ingredient is included.



Pet Poison Helpline. Winter Holiday Poisons to Pets | Pet Poison Helpline®. Pet Poison Helpline. Published November 17, 2023.

Savannah Charnas, DVM, is a toxicology resident at the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

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