What the top 10 pet poisons reveal about how Americans spent time in quarantine

Elena Sheppard
·5 min read
Household toxins ingested by pets in 2020 give insight into human lives during the pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)
Household toxins ingested by pets in 2020 give insight into human lives during the pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)

It's been a year since the pandemic upended our lives, and many have spent the bulk of the past year inside our homes. Being at home nearly all the time has been an adjustment for everyone — including our pets.

While the understandable assumption is likely that our constant presence means our pets are safer than ever before, numbers released by the Pet Poison Helpline show that over the past year, our animals have been increasingly exposed to certain toxins. These toxins happen to say quite a bit about how we've lived our pandemic lives.

According to Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour animal poison control service, 2020 saw a massive uptick in calls about specific household pet toxins. While this isn't the list of the highest toxins overall, it is a list of the toxins yielding the biggest increase in calls and it can be read like a map, of sorts, of what many Americans spent the past year doing.

1. Yeast (+390%)

2. Bread dough (+254%)

3. Brewed coffee (+220%)

4. Wine (+171%)

5. Cocktails (+169%)

6. Art supplies (+145%)

7. Cleaning products (+120%)

8. Paint (+118%)

9. Coffee grounds (+116%)

10. Marijuana (+80%)

Though the Pet Poison Helpline didn't indicate if this increase was from 2019 alone or a more holistic picture of years past (Pet Poison Helpline did not return Yahoo Life's request for comment), either way, the increases tell a recognizable pandemic story. According to this list, pet owners spent the last year baking, crafting, guzzling caffeine, smoking pot and drinking alcohol.

"As a toxicologist, this list did not look that abnormal to me," says Dr. Justine Lee, an emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist, who is also a consultant for ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) and noted they saw similar upticks on its call lines. "I don't expect this to happen long-term wise it was just because of the pandemic."

According to the ASPCA APCC, call numbers, in general, were elevated in 2020. The control center received calls for about 370,500 animals, which was a 13 percent increase from the previous year — it also noted that animals were fostered and adopted in higher numbers in 2020, which could have contributed to the increase in calls.

Calls to the APCC indicated that the top 10 toxins of 2020 overall were:

1. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

2. Human prescription medications

3. Food

4. Chocolate

5. Plants both indoor and outdoor

6. Household toxins (paint, spackling, glue, etc.)

7. Rodenticides

8. Veterinary products (pet medications, calming treats, etc.)

9. Insecticide

10. Garden products

While these are similar to what was reported in 2019, the pet toxins were reshuffled in 2020 according to pandemic priorities. "As new hobbies such as baking and gardening saw a rise in popularity, many pets had more access to potentially toxic items such as chocolate, yeast dough, and indoor and outdoor plants, which saw an 11, 51, and 40 percent increase in case volume, respectively," the APCC said in a statement.

No matter what the potential toxin is that your pet ingests, quick action is always needed. That means either calling your veterinarian or the pet poison helpline for advice as soon as you realize something is amiss. "Time is of essence in the case of toxin ingestion," veterinarian Leslie Brooks says. "This is because if it is something that has the potential to be life-threatening, the quicker your veterinarian can work to clear it from your pet's system ([which] usually needs to be done within one hour of ingestion) the better chance your pet has of surviving."

As for how to keep your pet safe, Brooks advises keeping anything that could be toxic stored securely from your pet.

"This often also involves putting trash cans in a closed closet so your pet cannot knock it over and get things out of it. When baking or cooking, put ingredients away right after you use them, as dogs (and cats) love to jump up on counters when you aren't looking. Train your pets to understand the command 'leave it,'" she says. "And try not to feed your pet from your plate. They won't know what food items are toxic to them and which ones aren't, and feeding from your plate can sometimes train them to grab from your plate or the table."

Lee also weighed in with four easy pieces of advice for pet-proofing our homes.

1. Crate train your puppy.

2. Always hang up your backpack, purse or briefcase when you get home (which often has toxins like over-the-counter medications or gum inside of it).

3. Keep all poisons out of reach (and store human and veterinary medications in different places so you don't confuse them).

4. Clear your counter spaces.

As for how much of something a pet needs to ingest for it to be toxic, Lee notes, "It's the dose that makes the poison."

She adds, "My general advice as an emergency specialist is to pre-program your cell phone and your GPS with your veterinarian, your ER vet, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center's information. The main reason why is when you're really stressed out you want that information readily available. You want to make sure you can call for life-saving advice."

And please, put away Google in these moments when time is of the essence, she explains.

"When it comes to your pet," she says, "It's not worth taking the chance."

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