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Summer Toxins to Avoid with Your Pet

By Renee Schmid, DVM & Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT Pet Poison Helpline

Behavior, Care & Wellness, Emergency Situations, Pet Services

Summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy nature and the warm sunshine, especially with your pet. Pets are inquisitive creatures and love to investigate their surroundings. Unfortunately, this trait can lead pets down the path of injury and illness. The following information will help you to avoid many summer dangers that can affect your pet.

Are mole and gopher baits safer than mouse and rat bait?

summer_toxinsNo!  Mole and gopher bait is generally much more toxic to your dog and cat than most mouse or rat baits. It usually only takes a very small amount of these baits to cause significant, and sometimes fatal, effects, even in large dogs. Most of these baits contain zinc phosphide or bromethalin. There is no antidote available for either of these ingredients and both can lead to rapidly developing, life-threatening signs of poisoning. Zinc phosphide baits are most commonly found in a “peanut” form, but are also available as a pellet or powder. Mole and gopher baits that contain bromethalin are often found in a pelleted grain or as a gummy worm-shaped strip.

What are the clinical signs of mole and gopher bait poisoning?

If your pet ingests bait that contains zinc phosphide, the zinc phosphide will mix with stomach acids and release phosphine gas. This toxic gas will then cause vomiting, abdominal distension, cardiovascular abnormalities, as well as possible respiratory disorders. If untreated, these signs may lead to death. Signs will develop very quickly, usually starting with vomiting and excessive drooling, followed by tremors, difficulty breathing and a large, painful abdomen. Phosphine gas can be toxic to humans as well, making it important to keep your pet in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside, if vomiting develops. If you pet vomits in the car on the way to the vet, roll down the windows.

Bromethalin is a neurotoxin and if ingested, cerebral edema, which is swelling of the brain, may occur. Other signs include mental dullness, ataxia (incoordination), tremors, paralysis and seizures when a toxic amount is ingested.


How is mole and gopher bait poisoning treated?

While there is no antidote available for either zinc phosphide or bromethalin, aggressive treatment is very important to ensure the best chance of survival for your pet. Inducing vomiting is typically the first step in treatment, but do not do this at home unless specifically instructed to do so by Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian. In some cases, inducing vomiting after the ingestion of these two poisons may make your pet more ill. If vomiting cannot safely be induced, or if it has already happened, the next step is often giving activated charcoal to help minimize the amount of toxin absorbed from the intestinal tract. If zinc phosphide is ingested, pets will need to be monitored closely by your veterinarian for any abdominal distension, cardiovascular abnormalities and respiratory distress. If bromethalin was ingested, multiple doses of activated charcoal and monitoring for the development of neurological abnormalities are needed. The pet should be hospitalized during monitoring.


How do snail and slug baits affect dogs and cats?

Snail and slug baits are extremely toxic to dogs and cats. They typically contain metaldehyde and are available as pellets, powder, granules, and liquid. Metaldehyde toxicity causes clinical signs that have earned the name “shake and bake” due to the extreme tremors, seizures and high body temperatures that result. Other signs of poisoning include salivation, restlessness, vomiting, and difficulty walking. Treatment consists of intensive veterinary care, including treatment of tremors and seizures, temperature regulation, as well as supportive care to minimize prolonged symptoms.

Are compost bins dangerous to dogs and cats?

Composting is great when done appropriately. Your compost should not contain any dairy or meat products, and should always be fenced off to keep pets and wildlife safe. These piles of decomposing and decaying organic matter have the potential to grown the mold Penicillium crustosum which produces a tremor causing toxin called Penitrem A. Such toxins are referred to as “tremorgenic mycotoxins” and are toxic to both dogs and cats, as well as people and wildlife.


What clinical signs occur with moldy food toxicity and how are they treated?

Eating even small amounts of moldy food with Penitrem A can result in the development of clinical signs within only 30 minutes of ingestion. These signs include agitation, hyperthermia, panting, drooling, vomiting, hyper-responsiveness, and tremors which can lead to serious neurologic abnormalities including seizures.

Prompt decontamination (inducing vomiting and giving activated charcoal) is very important and can most safely be done if the pet is not showing signs of poisoning. Once signs develop vomiting should NOT be induced and intensive supportive care with a veterinarian is necessary to minimize the severity.


Are there garden vegetable plants that are not safe for dogs and cats?

For some people, one of the greatest enjoyments of the summertime is working in the garden and enjoying the rewards of their hard work when harvest arrives. However, there are plants and human foods that can be toxic to dogs and cats. These include:

  • Tomato plants (not the ripe fruit), which cause gastrointestinal irritation, ataxia and weakness
  • Rhubarb leaves, which cause kidney failure in large doses
  • Onions and garlic, which result in red blood cell destruction and anemia
  • Grapes or raisins, which cause acute kidney failure

If any of the above plants or foods are ingested, it is important to seek veterinary care right away to determine the treatment needed for your pet.

Are wild mushrooms safe for dogs and cats?

There are many mushrooms throughout the United States that are non-toxic. However, there are also mushrooms that can cause gastrointestinal irritation, neurologic abnormalities and liver toxicity. Identifying mushrooms can be very difficult, and it is important to seek veterinary care for your pet right away if any mushroom is ingested.

My pet loves to chew on mulch. Is there anything to worry about with this?

Many mulch products pose a foreign body and obstruction risk if ingested. Cocoa bean mulch, however, poses an even larger problem due to the methylxanthine (theobromine and caffeine) content. Methylxanthines, in high enough doses, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, ataxia, tremors, elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure and seizures. Early and aggressive veterinary care is important to minimize the severity of toxicity.

Are there outdoor chemicals to be concerned with in the summer?

Many people use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides throughout the summer months. All of these may pose a health risk to dogs and cats.

  • Gastrointestinal upset is very common with fertilizer ingestion. Fertilizers often contain iron which causes additional issues and can result in significant health concerns.
  • Herbicides rarely cause concerns when used and applied according to the label directions, provided pets have been kept off the treated surfaces until the applied areas have been allowed to dry completely.
  • While pesticides are much safer than they were 30 years ago, there are still some ingredients that may be more problematic than others. The majority of pesticides will cause vomiting and diarrhea; however, in large doses, certain ingredients can result in more significant problems.

 Due to the vast number of products available for lawn and pest control, and the potential for harm to your pet, it is recommended to contact Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian to determine if your pet is in need of treatment.

pet-poison-helpline-logo*Pet Poison Helpline is an animal poison control service available 24 hours, 7 days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com. Pet Poison Helpline is not directly affiliated with LifeLearn. 

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