3 Pet Poison Emergencies That Were Entirely Avoidable

Do you know how to keep your pet away from toxins? Dr. Phil Zeitzman, DVM, shares three pet poison emergencies and what you can learn from these stories.

Pet poison emergency
Rat poison, antifreeze and mixing medications can all result in an unfortunate trip for your pet to the emergency room. By: Parker Knight

Working at emergency clinics is a sure way to witness some pretty amazing, if not frightening, stories. Here are three recent examples of perfectly avoidable situations.

1. Rat Poison

Joe and Jill went for a car ride with both of their dogs, Ebony and Ivory.

They went to the store to buy rat poison. Instead of driving back home, they chose to grab a bite to eat. Meanwhile, their two dogs decided to taste the yummy “treats” neglectfully forgotten on the car seat by their humans. Fortunately, the owners realized their oversight when they finished eating, and drove straight to the emergency clinic.

Rat poison can cause severe internal bleeding. Ebony and Ivory were treated for rat poison toxicity and fortunately made a full recovery.

2. Antifreeze

Then there’s the story of Kaley, a 4-month-old female Labrador Retriever. She was admitted to the ER after licking antifreeze (ethylene glycol). Kaley ran under her owner’s car in the driveway and licked a spot of the sweet-tasting substance before her owner could stop her. Luckily, it wasn’t a puddle.

The concern with antifreeze is that it’s extremely toxic to pets. It forms crystals in the kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure and death. Kaley’s blood work and urinalysis were normal. Her treatment consisted of large amounts of IV fluids to flush out her system and dilute the toxin in her bloodstream.

Fortunately for Kaley, she had licked only a small amount and her kidneys were spared. To her owner’s relief, she was able to go home the next day.

The good news is that there is a competing product, propylene glycol, that is less toxic to animals’ (and children’s) kidneys.

Photo of cat in veterinary pharmacy
Combining cheap store-bought flea medications can be deadly for your pet. By: Sajjadi Livejournal

3. Store-Bought Flea Medication

Our third story is also, unfortunately, a “classic” in our profession.

Joan noticed that Ally, her 6-year-old cat, had fleas. Instead of seeing a vet, Joan decided to save money by buying some cheaper flea medication at a big-box store (a very popular nationwide store).

Since nobody could help her choose the proper medication, she bought a variety. What she didn’t use, she thought, she could simply return to the store as easily as a DVD player or an article of clothing.

After coming back home, Joan first gave her cat a flea bath. She applied flea powder — and to be on the safe side, she applied a flea collar.

But those darn fleas wouldn’t die! So to really stay on top of things, Joan applied a “spot-on” or “topical” flea product between the cat’s shoulder blades. Then she went to bed, convinced that she had finally won the battle against the evil creatures.

The next morning, Joan woke up to a cat experiencing severe seizures. Joan brought Ally to the emergency clinic, where medical care was provided.

Watch this video of Ally, taken after a few hours on anti-seizure medications:

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The morals of this story are:

  1. If medications are cheap, it’s probably for a reason. Paying a few extra dollars would have enabled Joan to purchase one safe product that actually works, along with the education that her family vet’s staff has been trained to provide.
  2. Do not poison your own cat by applying multiple flea products, or medications for the wrong weight (e.g., a product for adult cats used on a kitten), or medications for the wrong species (e.g., dog medication used on a cat).

The number of substances that are toxic to pets is mind-boggling. So be aware of the most common ones, and always check with your family vet if there is any doubt in your mind.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ. Katie Kegerise, a certified veterinary technician in Reading, Penn., contributed. This article was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Feb. 4, 2019.