The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center takes calls about possible pet poisonings 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. An expert shares the most common pet toxins in 2021, along with advice on how to prevent poisoning.

It's National Poison Prevention Week, and what better way to spread awareness than with some insight from none other than the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center?

Whether you're a first time or a fifth time pet parent, there's a good chance you've looked up what cats can eat and what dogs can eat, or if a certain cleaning product is safe to use around your pet.

But sometimes, accidents happen before we even get the chance to take proper precautions.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) was established in 1978 to help pet parents keep their feline friends and canine companions safe and healthy in emergency situations with their 24-hour hotline.

This year, Tina Wismer, DVM, MS, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian and senior director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, tells us about the top 10 toxins that had pet parents calling about potential poisonings in 2021.

Have you made sure these items are out of reach of your curious cats and inquisitive dogs?

ASPCA Top 10 Pet Toxins of 2021

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reached over 400,000 cases in 2021, assisting thousands of concerned pet parents and helping keep, more specifically, 401,550 animals safe.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact people and pets throughout 2021, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center saw a 22 percent increase in calls related to potential pet poisonings when compared to the previous year," Wismer says. In 2020, APCC received calls about over 260,000 exposures to potential toxins—a 13 percent increase from 2019.

The ASPCA categorized their 400,000 cases into the following top 10 toxins list, based on the most frequent exposures.

Pet Toxin Infographic
Credit: Connie Smothers

1. Over-the-Counter Medications 

"Human OTC medications have continued to hold the number one spot on the top toxins list for over four years, as it's easy to lose track of medications," Wismer says.

OTC medications made up 17 percent of APCC cases in 2021 with the most common medications being ibuprofen, vitamin D, and herbal supplements. But how? Wismer explains pets are able to fit their bodies into smaller areas pet parents may think are safe to keep these potentially poisonous items.

2. Human Prescription Medications

Human prescription medications, such as antidepressants, cardiac medications, and ADHD medications, remained the second top toxin yet again. These, along with human over-the-counter medications, are dangerous to pets since they can sometimes result in gastrointestinal upset and kidney failure.

3. Food

Human foods that are toxic to cats or dogs, made up 14 percent of exposures. The most common cases involved human foods like protein bars and shakes, as well as grapes and raisins (which are bad for cats and dogs), xylitol, garlic, and onions.

4. Chocolate 

Chocolate has taken the fourth spot on the top toxins list for several years now. It's estimated there are over 103 chocolate poisoning cases per day, or more than one case every 15 minutes. The higher the cocoa content, the more dangerous it is for cats and dogs, making straight cocoa powder, semisweet chocolate, and dark chocolate the most poisonous types.

5. Plants

cat batting at a house plant's leaves with his paw
Credit: Julia Bohan-Upadhyay / Grace Canaan

With well-meaning bouquets and more gardening during the pandemic, toxic exposures to plants maintained their top five ranking. There were over 7,500 more plant-related calls in 2021 compared to 2020. Want to enjoy greenery with less worry? Try choosing from some of these cat-friendly plants and dog-friendly plants.

6. Household Toxicants 

Household toxicants like cleaning products and paint made up 8.3 percent of calls to APCC. Things like paint, spackling, and other DIY home improvement substances made up a significant number of reported pet poisonings this past year. It's no surprise given that many people spent a large portion of their time in their homes due to the pandemic.

7. Veterinary Products 

Veterinary products prescribed by your vet are typically safe for your pet, but not in high quantities or used for the wrong conditions. Calming chews and joint medications were the most notable products in this category.

8. Rodenticide

Rodenticides are extremely harmful to pets. If ingested, pets may experience bleeding, seizures, or kidney failure.

9. Insecticide 

Insecticide poisonings continue to decrease as pet parents find safer alternatives to pest control products like flea and tick killers, mosquito repellents, and roach sprays.

10. Garden Products

Garden products (primarily organic fertilizers due to ingredients like bone meal, blood meal, and feather meal) have ranked at the bottom of the list once again.

How to Poison-Proof Your Home

"The best way to avoid an emergency situation with toxic items is to be aware of things that can be toxic to pets and keep them out of paw's reach at all times," Wismer says.

APCC experts recommend pet parents keep up-to-date on the potential pets toxins, as many toxins can be found in our homes but "especially the remaining items on the top toxin list, which made up more than 79 percent of total cases in 2021"—yikes!

It's unsettling to think of the possible dangers that may be in our households, but it's important to stay informed and take precautions to keep our pets safe. Common household items that are harmful to cats and dogs include:

"As pet owners, it is our responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our pets at all times, which we can do by taking extra time to pet-proof our homes to protect against common dangers including medications, food products, and plants," Wismer says.

Next, while you can never ensure a perfectly safe house for pets, Wismer recommends a few basic tasks:

  • Do a sweep. "Take a few moments around your house to get down on the ground and look around to see what would be enticing to your pet," she says. A great time to do this is before you welcome a new pet into the home, but you could make a pass every so often (or, y'know, when the top 10 pet toxin list comes out each year!)
  • Lock up the dangers. Keep pesticides and cleaners away from pets. Child-proof locks on cabinets are a good way to keep pets out and remind you there are toxic items behind the door. 
  • Keep an eye on your pets. "Familiarize yourself with what's potentially poisonous and pay attention to everything they may get hold of," Wismer says. Pets are curious and love to taste and eat things that smell good to them. And don't forget your cats: "Remember that cats can climb higher than dogs and may be able to find new ways to reach things."

If you suspect your pet has ingested a possible toxin, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. (A consultation fee of $75 may apply.)