10 household items poisonous to cats and dogs

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« 10 household items poisonous to cats and dogs » | This article presents pet owners with a list of 10 categories of household items poisonous to cats and dogs they might find in their own homes.



  • Please, if you are worried because your pet is currently struggling, don’t read this blog and contact your closest veterinary surgery immediately.
  • This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.

Why are some household items poisonous to pets?

Certain household items are poisonous to cats and dogs because they contain chemical substances leading to a wealth of negative effects for major organs of the body.  


Some of those substances may have an antidote, however some do not. Besides, being able to provide timely emergency treatment is key meanwhile pet owners may remain unaware of their pets’ intoxication, until symptoms start to show. This may impact on quality of recovery and vital prognosis. 


Thus, it is very important for pet owners to be aware of the risks certain household items might pose to their pet’s health . 


When in doubt, pet owners should never hesitate to speak to a qualified vet to obtain further advice and information on what is the best course of action to help their pets. Most of all, in the majority of the situations listed below, prevention remains one of the best cure. 


So, this article introduces 10 categories of household items poisonous to cats and dogs that can be found in their direct living environment.

10 household items poisonous to cats and dogs
Selection of household items poisonous to cats and dogs: fireworks, ethylene glycol, matches, batteries, pot-pourri, cleaning products and oils

Category 1: Acids

The list of household products containing acids is extensive and not limited to:


  • Car batteries (sulfuric acid)
  • Pipe cleaners (nitric acid)
  • Rust removers (phosphoric acid)
  • Toilet cleaning products (hydrochloric acid and other types of acids)
  • Vinegar (acetic acid, also found in some hair products)
  • Lemon juice (citric acid)

All those products will cause issues if they come in contact with the skin or if they are ingested by accident. The severity of symptoms depends on the concentration, pH value and the quantity of acid solution involved.


Generally, due to the distasteful nature of those products, ingestion remains limited and it is rare that large volumes are swallowed by animals.

Types of products containing acids

Caustic injuries will manifest by eschars up to the formation of strictures in severe cases. Solutions with a pH < 2 are reported as most dangerous and could have grave consequences such as creating gastrointestinal perforations. 


Besides, inhalation of fumes or powdered acids might cause problems such as respiratory tract irritation or even more complicated issues.


There is no antidote for this type of poisoning. The treatment will be supportive, and in some complicated cases, surgical procedures may be required. 


Pet owners should be actively aware of what type of chemicals they store at home and whether their pets could easily gain access to them. Those who own swimming pools should pay additional attention to potential for accidental poisoning with chemicals employed for pool maintenance. 


Category 2: Alkalis

Products in this category will induce similar effects than those in the acids category. The difference is that they may be swallowed in larger quantities because they may not have any particular taste or smell, unless some is added to them.


Alkalis can be encountered in the household under the following forms:


  • Automatic dishwasher detergents (see category 7)
  • Batteries (see category 3)
  • Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite)
  • Non-chlorine bleach containing sodium percarbonate, sodium perborate, sodium carbonate or sodium metasilicate
  • Cement
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Some hair products
  • Sodium or potassium hydroxide
  • Kitchen appliance cleaning products
Stronger injuries will be triggered by alkalis with a pH greater than 11 – 12. Treatment of affected pets is similar to that of intoxication with acids. 
Alkalis are found in household cleaning products such as bleach and other liquids

Category 3: Batteries

Batteries are toxic in three ways when pets (or children) swallow them:


  • corrosive liquid material, such as ammonium chloride, manganese dioxide (acid dry cells) or potassium/sodium hydroxide (alkaline dry cells) 
  • electric current they transfer to tissues induces necrosis, perforation and can lead to hemorrhage
  • heavy metal poisoning through lead, mercury, cobalt, nickel, zinc, cadmium they may contain

Pets swallowing batteries found in households (in toys and other commonly used electronic devices) will exhibit the following symptoms:


  • irritation of the skin and ulceration alongside the gastrointestinal tract with heightened risk of perforation
  • internal bleed, since potential for perforation of blood vessels is not excluded, depending on the severity 
  • liver impairment and neurological issues due to presence of heavy metals
  • respiratory issues in the event the batteries manage to obstruct the airways

Usually, a set of X-rays will confirm suspicion of battery ingestion. Treatment consists in removal of the items as soon as practically possible to prevent extensive damages. 


Depending on their location in the gastrointestinal tract, the batteries could be removed through endoscopy procedure, provided the items are not leaking. Such procedure also helps to assess the extent of potential damages inflicted to the gastrointestinal tract. Alternatively, surgical removal of the batteries might be indicated.


Additional treatment aims at supporting and monitoring the general condition of the pet. Since the gastrointestinal tract is affected, it is important to provide the pet with the means to eat which might warrant the placement of feeding tubes.


The prognosis will depend on the length of time the battery remains trapped inside the gastrointestinal tract, as well as the location where it is lodged and whether it is leaking or not. Damages to the gastrointestinal tract will also impact on the long-term recovery. For example, in the case of perforation, the prognosis will be more guarded and the way to recovery will become more challenging.


Pet owners should remain aware that battery ingestion in children triggers very serious consequences, such as death, due to the consequences of perforation leading to internal bleed. The risk is higher with lithium-cell batteries of more than 20mm in diameter. 


Hence, it is advisable to:


  • prevent access to or discard batteries appropriately (both pets and children)
  • provide pets with battery-free toys

Category 4: Matches and fireworks

Matches and fireworks
Matches and fireworks

Matches and fireworks are not usually a major source of household-related poisoning. However, the risk is never excluded, as those items can be accidentally swallowed by pets.


Fireworks are more poisonous than matches due to their chlorates and barium content. In matches, the toxic ingredients are potassium chlorate or phosphorus sesquisulfide.


Barium is responsible for affecting the three types of muscles in the body (skeletal, smooth and cardiac).  Chlorates trigger vomiting, diarrhea and also affect hemoglobin (component of red blood cells) as well as the kidney.


Treatment relies on administering an antidote and providing supportive care, depending on the signs involved. Generally, recovery happens within 24 to 72 h. Although, when barium and chlorates are involved, the prognosis could become less certain.

Category 5: Moth repellant

Moth repellant is also known as « moth balls ». They contain two poisonous ingredients: naphtalene and paradichlorobenzene. Intoxication happens when pets either swallow, inhale or their skin comes in contact with the product. 


When swallowed, the balls may take some time to dissolve in the stomach, thus the toxic effect may not show immediately. The product will provoke vomiting, diarrhea and create liver, kidney and heart problems, as well as interfere with hemoglobin. The central nervous system might be affected with the animal showing signs of stimulation followed by a depressed state. 

moth balls
Balls of moth repellant

The treatment involves early decontamination procedure and supportive care. Close monitoring is indicated to prevent any deterioration of the kidney or liver functions and other negative effects. In the absence of extensive damages and organ impairment, the prognosis is generally good.


It is advisable for pet owners to be aware of the potential for pets to get poisoned with such products. Hence, as a matter of prevention, moth repellant (all forms and shapes) must be kept out of reach of pets.

Category 6: Pine oil and phenols

Pine oil contains phenolic substances as well as alpha-terpineol and terpene ethers. Many household products contain pine oil: shampoos, disinfectants, cleaning solutions.


Intoxication in pets happens through contact with skin, inhalation or ingestion of those products. In cats, an enzyme called glucuronide transferase has less potency than in dogs. Thus, it leaves cats exposed to increased levels of poisoning. 

pine oil and phenols
Pine oil

Phenols are a category of corrosive compounds. They induce signs such as skin irritation and trigger kidney, heart and liver problems. The severity of the toxicity will depend on the volume and the concentration of the product involved. 


Pets can contaminate themselves by direct ingestion of the product or by chewing on mop heads that were dipped into it. Besides, direct application of phenols or pine oil to animals may accidentally happen by people unaware of their toxicity. The worst cases of poisoning, with large amount of the substance, lead to coma and death. Children have been reported to die from accidental ingestion. 


When helping contaminated animals, people must wear appropriate protective equipment to avoid damages to their skin or eyes. A specific decontamination procedure must be followed because of the corrosive nature of those compounds. 


Supportive care and monitoring will be provided, mostly aimed at monitoring liver and kidney functions, as well as treating skin and gastrointestinal ulcerations, and addressing pain. There is not known antidote to counteract these compounds.


Cats poisoned with phenols or pine oil do not have a good prognosis; despite intensive veterinary care, they may die from consequences of necrosis (liver/kidney). Dogs stand better chances of recovery.

Category 7: Cleaning products

This category gathers products such as: soaps, detergents, fabric softeners as well as enzymatic cleaners. In other words, those are products commonly used to do laundry or wash floors and other areas of the house. Deodorisers are also included in this category. The most toxic substances in this category are cationic detergents.


Intoxication happens through ingestion, aspiration, contact with eyes or skin. Symptoms will range from gastrointestinal (vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, nausea) to neurological signs (depression, convulsions, coma). They will also include respiratory issues, fatal in some cases, as well as signs of skin problems varying from irritation up to severe necrosis. 

cleaning products
Cleaning products: soaps, detergents, fabric softeners and other cleaning products

Treatment will consist of decontamination. Protocols for supportive care and monitoring may vary depending on the nature of the product and the severity of individual situations. Cationic surfactants and automatic dishwasher detergents pose a particular challenge, due to their corrosive nature. No antidote is available. Surgical procedures may become indicated in more complex cases.


Outcome will depend on type and quantity of products involved, as well as parts of the body involved. The prognosis is encouraging in the case of non-corrosive products. When the animal has developed severe symptoms with potential for long-term organ damages, the prognosis becomes guarded.

Category 8: Pot-pourri (liquid) and essential oils

Liquid pot-pourri is considered toxic to cats and dogs, due to potential presence of cationic detergents (see above section). Despite limited literature on the topic, essential oils fall in the toxic categories, more specifically pennyroyal, wormwood and tea tree oils. Therefore, it is not advisable to use any of them on animals. Essential oils are also found in several items such as insecticides, personal care and such other herbal products that people might store in their homes.


Toxicity develops through skin and mucous membrane absorbtion. Then, toxic molecules are formed that will impair some vital functions of the body. For example, the principal ingredient in pennyroyal essential oil leads to formation of a molecule toxic to the liver.

liquid pot pourri
Pot-pourri display

It is worth noting that cats are more sensitive to this type of poisoning than dogs. This is due to the fact that cats have an inquisitive nature. They would tend to play with pots and containers left on top of furniture. Additionally, cats have different ways of metabolising some of those substances, which leads to increased levels of toxicity.


Pennyroyal oil will cause acute liver failure in dogs, citrus oil is potentially lethal to cats, teat tree oil will trigger a series of neurological signs in both cats and dogs, ranging from limb paralysis to coma. Because of the cationic detergent compound, liquid pot-pourri will cause several types of caustic injuries and other negative effects.


Treatment will aim at decontaminating the animal, providing supportive care and monitoring the situation. It will also depends on the nature and quantity of the substances involved (corrosive vs non-corrosive). The extent of damages to liver and other organs (i.e.: eyes, skin, oesophagus…) will likely impact the long-term prognosis.


Category 9: Melaleuca oil (tea tree oil)

Teat tree oil is used in a range of personal and home care products and in certain insect repellants. Animals get intoxicated through ingestion or when a preparation containing 100% of tea tree oil is used on them. They will show neurological signs and their liver may suffer damages. 

melaleuca tea tree oil
Melaleuca oil

Literature reports that a dog did show signs of intoxication after his coat received application of 7 to 8 drops of 100% tea tree oil. Equally, in both cats and dogs, a volume of 10 to 20 ml applied to their skin induced their death. No antidote is available and treatment will be of a supportive nature. 


An increasing tendency for pet owners to use natural remedies might result in such accidental intoxication of their companion animals. Thus, as a matter of prevention, awareness on how those products potentially affect pets becomes essential. It is also worth noting that poisoning has been reported in humans, following ingestion of concentrated tea tree oil.


Given the potential for all sorts of complications, pet owners are encouraged to seek veterinary advice when they plan to use alternate therapies on their pets.

Category 10: Ethylene glycol

Ethylene glycol is commonly used in antifreeze products for cars (95% of ethylene glycol). It has a sweet taste which makes it attractive to dogs who will lick it when, for example, it is spilled over a garage floor. Ethylene glycol can also be found in solvents, paints, inks and other products aimed at car maintenance.


Ethylene glycol is highly toxic to dogs and cats because it is rapidly absorbed and metabolised by the liver. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase transforms ethylene glycol into other molecules, among which oxalic acid.


Such as explained in a previous article « 10 categories of plants poisonous to pets », oxalic acid binds with calcium to form calcium oxalate crystals. Those crystals are responsible for grave kidney impairment.

Ethylene glycol is also commonly referred to as car antifreeze


Visible signs of the first stages of ethylene glycol intoxication show such as poisoned cats or dogs act as if they were drunk. They might vomit and will appear lethargic. Although, dogs might appear recovered after 12 to 24h, cats will continue to be withdrawn. 


In the later stages, because of the formation of oxalic acid, kidney failure will develop with its associated clinical signs. Other noticeable signs will show up as anorexia, depression, vomiting, mouth ulcers as well as seizure, coma up to death.


For the best chances of saving the poisoned pets, decontamination and emergency treatment must be provided rapidly. The protocol consists of administering both the antidote and relevant supportive care. Vets will equally focus on monitoring the kidney function, as well as the general condition of the pet. 


Literature reports that dogs treated within 5h of ethylene glycol ingestion have excellent chances of recovering. Cats treated within 3h will stand the best chances. However, in the event of kidney failure, the long-term prognosis will be more guarded.


If you need further information or have further questions related to your pet’s health, don’t hesitate to reach out through our video appointment service. All the explanation on how the service operates can be found here

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