Pet Poisonings Increased at Home During the Pandemic

Blame the cleaning, baking, and new hobbies.

dog stealing pastry from kitchen table
Dogs will often snatch things within reach. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

It’s been a roller coaster ride for pets during the pandemic. All of a sudden, their families were home 24/7. That was mostly amazing. (Except for many cats, who were somewhat annoyed by the whole thing.)

But while people got obsessive about cleaning, baking, and keeping themselves entertained, curious dogs and cats sometimes ended up getting hurt by these new habits.

The increase in these new pastimes saw a corresponding increase in the number of pandemic-related pet poisonings. There was a 222% increase in yeast poisonings and a 202% increase in bread dough poisonings from March 2020 through February 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier, reports the Pet Poison Helpline.

“Our call volume has more than doubled since pre-pandemic. This is likely due to several factors including pets getting into more things at home simply because their people are doing more things at home,” Dr. Ahna Brutlag, DVM and board-certified veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline, tells Treehugger. 

“Overall chocolate still remains our number one toxin, at least for dogs, but we were surprised to see how each of those listed increased relative to pre-pandemic times. We regularly see these types of cases, but we saw a surge of them during the pandemic.”

The yeast in the starter and raw dough can be toxic to pets. As dough rises, yeast ferments sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

"The carbon dioxide forms bubbles in the dough making it rise. When ingested, the warm environment of the stomach acts like a proofing oven, allowing the dough to continue to rise and produce alcohol," says Brutlag. "This can lead to both stomach bloat and alcohol poisoning in cats or dogs, both of which can be life-threatening.”

The helpline is a 24-hour poison control service available to pet owners and veterinarians in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.

When people weren’t baking, they were drinking, and pets sometimes accidentally imbibed. There was a 207% increase in calls about brewed coffee poisoning, a 92% increase in pet cocktail poisonings, and a 77% increase in wine poisonings.

How Cleaning Affected Pets

And although many pet owners look for eco-friendly cleaning products to keep their pets safe, there was a 92% increase in pet poisonings from cleaning products. Hand sanitizer poisonings were up a whopping 413%.

“In early COVID, we saw a tremendous flurry of pets exposed to cleaning products—much greater than the normal uptick we see during regular spring cleaning,” Brutlag says. “For example, we had more pets drinking out of mop buckets, licking their paws after placing them on cleaner-covered tops, eating food-coated wipes out of the trash, or drinking from water bowls that were disinfected but not rinsed.”

Also on the top 10 were art supplies (113% increase), marijuana (102% increase), paint (96% increase), and cholecalciferol/vitamin D3 (85% increase).

The increase in poisonings was likely twofold: The extra activity exposed pets to more potential dangers and people were home more so they could catch potential problems more quickly.

Keeping Pets Safe

Besides using eco-friendly cleaning products, there are things you can do to keep your pets safe at home, pandemic or not.

“Pets are like toddlers. They are opportunists and will readily consume items left around the house,” Brutlag says.

She suggests that pet owners think about pet-proofing their homes in the same way that parents kid-proof their homes in order to keep dogs and cats from getting into things that can hurt them.

“Also, don’t underestimate how good their noses are and how high they can jump! They are experts at smelling food on a countertop and then finding a way to access it,” Brutlag says.

And if you think that your pet has ingested something potentially dangerous, reach out to your veterinarian or the helpline quickly. In potential poisoning cases, she points out, time is critical.

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