We’ve talked about poisoning in pets several times, but since there has been a lot of interest in the subject, I decided to throw out some basic facts.

First, poinsettias are not poisonous. This is a myth that actually dates back to 1919 when a 2-year-old girl died and was incorrectly diagnosed. They’ll make you sick, but aren’t likely to kill you.

In 2006, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals published an interesting study on the 10 most common poisonings in dogs. Some of these surprised me and some didn’t.

  1. Ibuprofen, also known as Advil or Motrin was the most common. This is a very common drug for people so it seems easy to give it to your dog. I’m told by many that they have done it.

With proper treatment, most dogs will survive this. But remember, you even stand a one in six chance of surviving Russian roulette. There are better drugs! Talk to your vet.

I also have to mention naproxen, which is now available in Canada over the counter as Alleve. An excellent drug in humans, I’ve seen one pill kill a small dog. Never use this for dogs.

  1. Chocolate is a common problem. The drug in chocolate is related to caffeine. Dark chocolate has about twice the amount as milk chocolate, and baking chocolate has nearly seven or eight times as much as milk chocolate. Be careful with this one.
  2. Ant and insect baits usually are in small doses, so I was surprised to find this at number three. The ones I’ve seen usually involve a large store of baits in the garage or shed and the dog gets into the bag or box.
  3. Rodent poisons are number four. Most of these are actually anticoagulants or blood thinners. The theory is to cause bleeding and make the rodent thirsty so it will leave the house and go somewhere else to die.

Unfortunately, many are flavoured and very tempting to pets. Treatment is with Vitamin K and often blood transfusions.

  1. Tylenol is acetaminophen, which causes liver and blood problems in dogs. This is an area of confusion, since Aspirin or ASA can cause serious problems in children under 15.

Most physicians and nurses go to Tylenol for children, for very good reason. Unfortunately, this is a huge mistake in pets.

Stay with Aspirin in dogs (but never in cats!) if you have nothing else. But there are better things available. Talk to your vet.

  1. Number six are cold medications containing pseudoephedrine.

Ask a few Olympians about this one. A simple pill for a cold has caused more than one positive drug test over the years, even in one very famous Canadian Olympic champion.

In pets, it is a strong stimulant to the heart and can cause all sorts of problems. There are a couple of common cold medications that work really well on pets for nasal and lung congestion. Ask your vet which ones and don’t just choose the wrong one.

  1. Thyroid medications come in number seven. This surprised me and I have to admit I’ve never had a case involving this.

Low thyroid is very common in dogs and thyroid supplements are a common prescription. High thyroid in dogs is extremely rare. In cats, it’s the other way around. We can talk about this in the future.

  1. Bleach is number eight. It’s hard to believe a dog would willingly drink bleach, but then, I once took 25 pounds of rocks out of a dog’s stomach. I was amazed at the time and even more amazed with another 17 pounds a few months later when he did it again!

It seems that dogs will eat almost anything, so never rule anything out. I have a good friend who was once showing her dog in the finals of an obedience trial when the dog suddenly turned sideways and vomited a pair of pink panties in the middle of the show ring!

  1. Fertilizers were the ninth most common poison. Most of the problems here relate to bowel irritation, since dogs don’t usually absorb fertilizers as well as plants. Most dogs will recover in a day with good support.

10. Last on the list are hydrocarbons. These include paints, polishes, fuel oil, etc. I once had a dog with a thing for green paint. Didn’t seem to like other colours.

Don’t make the dog vomit, since the poison could go down into the lungs. Get to a vet quickly, dilute, disperse, etc.

While these didn’t make the top 10, obviously, I would be remiss to not mention some northern twists, like automotive anti-freeze.

Many brands have modified their formula to make them non-toxic, but this is a common one in the North. The poison is ethylene glycol, which is a sweet treat to the dog.

Unfortunately, it forms crystals in the kidney and causes kidney failure. Early treatment with intravenous alcohol might get the pet through it, but often it’s too late by the time we get them in.

Another one we see is certain de-wormers used in horses. A prefilled syringe to put into the horse’s mouth is very convenient. But I’ve seen two dogs killed by licking up a bit that was spilled when the horse spit some out.

Most vets are more than willing to discuss any concerns you have.

Keep in mind that your dog is not a little human with a fur coat, although it may act that way. Dogs have a different metabolism and handle drugs very differently than humans or even other animals.

If your child is sick, don’t call a vet. Same for the other way around…