Eat This (if you must), Not That: Easy household swaps for less toxic products

Heather Harris, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist

No one wants to come home to find that their pet has “gotten into something,” but animals are curious and can ingest any variety of unexpected items in the home. The following products are items that can be swapped out in the home for similar items that are less toxic to pets. Please note that in most of these cases, there is not a non-toxic alternative, and all of the following items and alternatives should still be kept out of reach of pets.

Garbage disposal cleaner and deodorizer balls: Cats love to play with these, and have even been known to pull them out of the garbage disposal after they have been dropped in! These balls then burst open in the cat’s mouth when chewed on. The lemon scented types contain concentrated citrus oil (d-limonene) which is toxic to cats. Orange and lavender scented varieties can be a less toxic option to purchase if you have cats in your home.

Chocolate: White chocolate contains the least amount of theobromine, the toxic chemical contained in chocolate for dogs. It has little to none of the poisonous ingredient, but can still cause an upset stomach. Milk chocolate comes in second, with dark, semi-sweet, and pure cocoa powder containing the most theobromine. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is for dogs, and the less they need to eat to cause harm.

5-HTP is an over the counter supplement that is used to control sleep patterns and appetite, and promotes greater relaxation and calmness in people. It does this by increasing serotonin levels in the body. Often this product comes in tasty gummy or flavored tablets that are irresistible to dogs. For dogs, it only takes a small amount of this mediation to cause seizures, depression, tremors, abdominal pain, dangerously high body temperature, and temporary blindness. A safer alternative is Tryptophan, also available over the counter. The human body converts tryptophan to 5-HTP, so the effect for people should be similar. However, tryptophan is much less toxic in animals, takes a lot more to cause side effects, and generally only causes stomach upset when ingested by dogs.

Pain relievers: While all over the counter pain medication can cause toxicity in dogs and especially cats, you may consider keeping tablets in your home instead of liquid gels or rapid-release capsules. The tablets take longer to dissolve whereas the other types liquify and get absorbed into the body much faster.

Sugar-free products: Gum, candy, mouthwash, toothpaste, artificial sweeteners used in baking, and a very large number of other manufacturers are now using xylitol in their products. Xylitol can cause dangerously low blood sugar and liver damage in dogs. Check the labels of products carefully to make sure this ingredient is not included, and keep it far out of reach of your dog if you purchase products containing this artificial sweetener.

Laundry detergent pods have made national news and now contain warning labels to keep out of the reach of children. Unfortunately, dogs also like to bite into these products, perhaps thinking that it is a tasty treat. These pods burst open when bitten into, and the detergent rapidly foams up inside the mouth. This can put your dog at risk of the detergent entering the airway, which can lead to pneumonia. While traditional liquid or granular detergents also carry the risk of aspiration, the product does not enter the mouth under pressure and the risk is therefore much less. All detergents have the potential to cause stomach upset and should be kept out of reach of pets.

Vitamins, supplements, and other Over-The-Counter Medications: As mentioned above, the gummy formulations and flavored tablets encourage dogs to ingest more of these products than unflavored tablets. They also risk containing xylitol, causing further risk of toxicity. You may consider replacing these products with non-flavored hard tablets that are meant to be swallowed. This will help to decrease some of the temptation for dogs to eat these products.

Mothballs: The ‘Old Fashioned’ type of mothballs with a classic “mothball” odor contains Napthalene as an active ingredient. Dogs will occasionally eat this product when placed around the home, and Napthalene can cause lethargy, seizures, difficulty breathing, and anemia in dogs. There is a different variety of mothballs that contains Paradichlorobenzene  (PDB) which is less toxic than Napthalene, generally only causing stomach upset if ingested one time. If the dog has been eating the PDB type of mothballs for a longer period of time, however, it can have more serious effects.

Hopefully you will never come home to find that one of your pets has ingested a potentially toxic substance, but there is help available if that occurs. Our staff at Pet Poison Helpline® is available 24/7 to provide support if you feel that your pet may have eaten something poisonous. Before inducing vomiting or other home therapies, please contact your veterinarian or Poison control for assistance.