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Keeping your pets safe this back to school season

Many back-to-school related pet poisonings and injuries involve kids’ backpacks and lunchboxes.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Some dogs are very good at unzipping backpacks and lunchboxes and helping themselves to the contents inside. And after a long school day, many kids dump their stuff on the floor when they return home, creating a nearly irresistible target.

Pet owners may want to designate an area in their homes for backpacks and lunchboxes so they’re out of the reach of pets. For really persistent dogs, this might mean items are kept behind a closed door. If that’s not possible, it’s best that all leftover food be discarded before the child returns home.

To ensure a safe and happy pet this school year, pet owners should be aware of the common lunchbox and backpack toxins and dangers.

Top lunchbox toxins:

  • Gum (which can contain xylitol)
  • Grapes and raisins

Toxicity of grapes:

A computerized animal toxicity database helped veterinarians see a trend in 1989 by noticing that in some cases of sudden kidney failure dogs shared a common history: the consumption of raisins or grapes just prior to the kidney failure.

Signs of toxicity vomiting and jittery (hyperactive) behavior are seen immediately to within the first 24 hours after ingestion. Diarrhea may also be seen, and the vomit and feces may contain partially digested grapes or raisins.

After 24 hours, the dog may become anorexic, lethargic and depressed. Additionally, the abdomen may be painful, and the dog may stop drinking and urinating. Ultimately, the kidneys fail and without aggressive treatment, many dogs will die.

Macadamia nuts: How much is too much?

According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) data, clinical signs appear after dogs ingested anywhere from 2.2 grams to 62.4 grams per kilogram of body weight (1 kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds). That is a large range; sensitivity to the toxin varies between dogs.

What Are the Signs?

Clinical signs usually develop within 12 hours after ingestion. The most common presenting sign is weakness and inability to walk, especially in the hind legs. Other signs include vomiting, staggering gait, depression, tremors and elevated body temperature (hyperthermia). Note: If the nuts were chocolate-covered, clinical signs may also include those seen with chocolate toxicity.


All parts of the onion plant are toxic to dogs, including the flesh, leaves, juice, and processed powders. Raw or cooked, fried or powdered, onions and the rest of the allium family (garlic, shallots, leeks, and chives) are harmful to dogs.

Onion powder is in a surprisingly wide range of foods, from soups to baby food. It only takes 100 grams of onion (about the size of a medium onion) per 20 kilograms of a dog's weight to cause toxic effects, which means that a 45-pound dog would only have to eat one medium-to-large-size onion to experience dangerous toxicity levels.

Symptoms of onion toxicity in dogs:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pale gums
  • Fainting
  • Reddish urine

Other toxins:

  • Moldy food
  • Cold packs used to keep food cool
  • Top Backpack Toxins/Dangers
  • Pencils and arts and crafts
    • Pencils often pass through dogs without issue, but they can also cause serious health problems. And your dog’s medical history may determine, in part, how your dog’s body will react. Your vet may be able to predict the likelihood of a problem, and he or she can tell you the symptoms you need to watch for. If your dog eats enough wood, it can cause an obstruction in your dog’s esophagus, stomach or intestines.
      Questions to ask yourself:
      1. How much of the pencil did your dog eat?
      2. Did your dog chew it up thoroughly or did he likely swallow large pieces?
      3. How long ago did your dog eat the pencil?
      4. Has your dog eaten since the incident?
      5. What symptoms has your dog exhibited?
  • Small toys
  • ADHD medications
  • Albuterol inhalers
  • OTC medications such as NSAIDs and acetaminophen
  • Homemade slime
  • Hand sanitizer

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