6 People Products That Are Harmful to Dogs

Some are obvious, but others are not. Here's a guide to dog health hazards in human goods.


The headlines tell us what foods dogs should avoid eating. We know all about chocolate being bad for dogs, but what about people products? Should bug repellent be used on dogs? (Maybe.) Can a dog take Pepto-Bismol? (Sometimes.) Is it dangerous if a dog swallows a penny? (Yes.)

Household products and human-intended items can wreak havoc on a dog’s body, causing harm or even death. Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency and what a dog can or cannot safely use or ingest are pivotal to being a well-informed dog parent. Here’s the scoop on some of the lesser-known safety threats to dogs. How many of these do you have in your household?

1. Alcohol

Not just the liquor store variety, but alcohol from mouthwash and other alcohol-containing liquids can shut down a dog’s body systems if too much is ingested. Perfumes and common cooking extracts like vanilla may contain as much as 35 percent alcohol by volume, so keep anything containing alcohol away from a dog’s reach, jump or nose. Effects of alcohol on a dog can be fatal, as a dog’s stomach can absorb alcohol completely within 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Mothballs

Ingestion of mothballs can cause liver issues, respiratory failure, seizures, heart problems, and, ultimately, death. Some dogs are curious about the scent of mothballs, and in my neighborhood I’ve seen them lining the gardens and flower beds of well-manicured lawns. Critter deterrent, yes; dog enticement for many pooches, yes.

The toxic vapors of mothballs can cause harm to both people and pets. Naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene are two chemicals that are infused into a mothball, both of which release toxic vapors that can harm living beings. Mothballs should be kept in airtight containers and not where pets can easily access them. We’ve taken to cedar shavings in my household, with great moth-repellant success.

3. Pepto-Bismol

If a dog has mild diarrhea and the cause is clearly known (or at least pretty evident), I have given the occasional syringe-filled proper dosage of Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) to my dog. According to petMD, the bismuth component of this drug seems to coat the intestines, protecting it from toxins. Always check with your dog’s veterinarian about proper dosing and any potential interactions with current medications you give your dog. It is known to have negative interactions with aspirin, tetracycline derivatives, and protein-bound drugs. Never give Pepto-Bismol to cats, as it can be fatal.

4. Bug repellent

Many human bug repellants contain DEET, a toxin that can be harmful to dogs, so anything containing DEET should not be used on dogs. Fleas are one problem, of course, but so are black flies, mosquitos, and other insects and pests that are a nuisance to dogs. I’ve opted for more natural alternatives, but even the word “natural” does not always mean safe, so proceed with caution and be an informed pet parent when using any substance, liquid, towelette, or powder on dogs.

Neem is a non-toxic insecticide (which you can read about further at our list of healing herbs for hounds and humans). Wanting a more natural option instead of applying harsh chemicals to Dexter during dastardly flea and tick season, I found this product a ray of light. I sprinkle this safe alternative to package chemicals on Dexter before trekking to the park, on walks or into woodsy areas.

I also use food grade diatomaceous earth. These fossilized remains of microscopic shells act as shards of glass to winged critters. I purchased a salt shaker from a local retailer and sprinkle this onto my hand and into his coat. After using it for three months, I’ve yet to see one critter on my dog. Bonus: Word has it that this is a good bedbug deterrent, so I like traveling with it, too. (But be sure to get the food grade.)

5. Pocket change

A penny for your thoughts, unless a dog ingests one, and then there’s an emergency situation at hand. Sadly, a dog in Colorado recently died after ingesting a penny. Pennies minted after 1982 contain the toxic substance, zinc, which dogs and cats cannot ingest. Apparently, gastric acids from a pet’s stomach can reach the center of a zinc penny quite rapidly, so absorption into the bloodstream becomes an urgent matter. Keep your spare change, wallet, or purse away from a dog’s reach, and if a penny is ingested, seek emergency help immediately.

6. Xylitol-containing gum or mints

Speaking of purses, a Cocker Spaniel mom friend of mine recently had an issue with her dog and a near fatal Xylitol scare. While she was out, her dog, Boomer, got into her unopened grocery bags and ingested a 40 pieces of Ice Breakers Ice Cube gum. Boomer had vomited and began drinking massive amounts of water. He kept begging his dog mom for water and kicking his bowls around. Something made the worried Angela Kussman Google “My dog ate Ice Breakers gum.” What she read shook her to the core and caused her to rush Boomer to the emergency vet.

Xylitol is one of the ingredients in Ice Breakers (and other sugar-free) products. The vet explained to Kussman that even a small amount can be lethal, and having ingested 40 pieces, the prognosis was very serious. With intensive treatment and monitoring, Boomer recovered, and Kussman is more informed as pet parent.

What can you do as a pet parent to prevent Xylitol poisoning in your dog? Read labels carefully. Anything sugar-free should be avoided. Check if Xylitol is contained in any products you purchase. Keep them from your dog’s path. Companies are not warning pet parents, for the most part, that Xylitol can be fatal to dogs. If you must purchase items containing Xylitol, hide them far from a dog’s reach. In our household, we rarely, if ever, purchase Xylitol-containing items.

Have you encountered any scares with “people” products and your dog? Keep an eye on where you house products and when in doubt, double check before administering anything to a dog.

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