Toxic or Non-Toxic: Can Everything Harm Your Pet?

Everything is toxic??


As we transition into discussions on multiple ingredient toxins such as household cleaners, synthetic versus natural, safe plants, and other Spring/Summer poisons, I want to touch on the topic of toxicity.

The word “toxic” is misleading

There is no substance on the planet that will not make your pet sick if ingested in a high enough quantity, (not even water)!  Even the oxygen we breathe does damage to our cells over time, eventually contributing to our death.


What this means is that there is nothing that can be 100% genuinely non-toxic.  Anyone that tells you so is either misinformed or trying to sell you something! So, how do we determine toxicity in regards to certain substances?

Overly simplified, there are a couple of terms that can give you an idea of how dangerous a substance may be to your pet:

  • LD50 – This is the first term at which you will want to look when trying to determine the safety of any given chemical or substance.  It stands for the dose at which 50% of the test population in a lab (usually mice or rats) died (for example, 30 out of 60 of the test subjects died after administration of this dose).  You may hear it referred to as a “lethal dose”.
    • LD50 can give you a rough indicator of how large a dose it takes to cause death, but keep in mind that it is reported for 50% of the population.  The amount that causes death in ONE animal is going to be lower than the LD50.  This is called the lowest lethal dose, and is often not publicly available information, since it often takes time to collect enough data to report.
    • In medications, LD50 can be found on the informational insert that comes with prescriptions. For other chemicals or over-the-counter medications, companies are required to provide a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).  These can be searched on the internet (Google: ibuprofen MSDS), and there you will find the reported LD50.
  • Margin of Safety or Therapeutic Index – While this is a more fluid concept based upon how this is evaluated, it can often times be more informative.  Mathematically, the margin of safety can be found by dividing the lethal dose by the therapeutic dose (or effective dose) of any substance, or simply by comparing the difference between the two. In medicine, this may also be defined as the difference between the therapeutic dose and a dose known to cause severe signs.  The smaller this number becomes, the more dangerous the substance.  This is typically not reported as a numerical value, but assigned a designation of narrow or wide.
    • A wide margin of safety indicates that it takes more of a chemical to cause death, thus it is safer. A medicine that relieves pain after one pill and severe signs after 60,000 pill would be considered to have a very wide margin of safety.
    • A narrow margin of safety indicates that it takes less of a chemical to cause death or severe signs, thus it is more dangerous.  A medicine that relieves pain after 1 pill and causes severe signs at 1.5 pills would be considered to have a narrow margin of safety.
  • Concentration –  This is often most important when considering mixtures of chemicals such as cleaners, home improvement substances, paints, ointments, etc.  While a compound medication can often be directly calculated into a dose, this becomes harder with mixed chemicals.  Instead, we look at the concentration percent of an ingredient in the formula (this can also be found on the MSDS).
    • As an example, looking at bleach versus another household cleaner.  Bleach can be up to 100% concentrated sodium hyporchlorite (aka liquid bleach). A cleaner with bleach added to the formula may only have a minuscule amount ( something with 0.005% bleach is not very concentrated).  If you put a gallon of bleach into a gallon of water, the water dilutes the bleach, making it 50% concentrated instead.


The above is why animals can swallow paint with anti-freeze in it, but not have the same troubles as they would with concentrated antifreeze in the garage.  It is also why alarmists may become concerned after “discovering” that a product contains a certain chemical, but your doctor or vet does not seem to take it seriously. The mere presence of a chemical in a product does not necessarily mean a product is toxic for your pets at home.


If you are concerned about using any product, plant, or medication in your home, speak to your vet or call animal poison control! They are often happy to give precautionary information before an animal is accidentally exposed.

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26 Comments on "Toxic or Non-Toxic: Can Everything Harm Your Pet?"

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Jana Rade

Not everything is harmful but many things are. One thing not to forget is that natural doesn’t automatically mean safe.


This is some great info!

Chloe Kardoggian

great info! thanks for sharing!!

Michelle & The Paw Pack

Great post! I’m a total paranoid pet parent – I spend a lot of time researching new products before I’ll use them for/around my pets and I’m no stranger to my pet’s vets, who I often call for advice. Better to be safe than sorry.


Very good information here, thank you! I was not aware of some of those terms, so this is really good to know.

Tenacious Little Terrier

Things in moderation right? Mr. N only really eats food (meat in his mind) so the main thing we have to look out for are chicken bones!

Pawesome Cats

Great information – you can never be too careful with your pets!

M. K. Clinton

It is important to read labels on any products that we use around our pets. Thanks for the info.

Lauren Miller (zoephee)

This is really good to know! Lots of things can definitely be harmful and the more we know the better we can be about making sure our pets are safe!

Miss Molly Says

Great post. I am a label reader, but I am also aware that natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe either.

Golden Daily Scoop

Great info!

bryn nowell

Very informative post. Thanks so much for sharing your insight!


So important – there are so many cleaners that I thought were toxic but then understanding the level of toxicity and concentration is key. Great tips and education overall.

Sarcastic Dog

I always enjoy reading your posts because I learn so much. You make an excellent point about toxicity and it’s something that I don’t always remember in terms of concentration. I also really appreciate your breakdown for understanding the margin of safety.

Talent Hounds

Very interesting. You could spend so much time worrying. Kilo is a very greedy resourceful Pug and has had multiple calls to ASPCA poison control- love them and they have great data. So far only one vet treatment required after a dark chocolate and walnut binge (I blamed my hubby for leaving the brownies in reach) and he seems fine. We are very careful now.


Very interesting post! Great information which I am definitely going to share. Thank you.


Thank you for the information. I watch everything I use around the house to make sure it’s safe for the girls.


Wondeful info here! It’s definitely ver good to know. Thanks for sharing.


I try to avoid things that are highly toxic and I also try to keep all cleaning supplies, medications, and food where the dogs cannot get them.


This was great info, thanks!

Carol Bryant

Better to be safe than sorry. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with pet parents.

Lindsay Pevny

Interesting, I feel lucky that my animals don’t eat anything weird, but I do worry about things like bug spray that they could be exposed to. I’m thinking it also makes a difference if they’re big or small, right?


Great info! Thank you! Pinning!


This is very helpful to dispel / interpret some of the FUD!!!


This is really interesting! I have heard of these measurements before. They have come up in conversations about medicines that I have taken. It is really interesting how different an animal’s (or a human’s) body can react to different levels of a substance. Things can be both helpful and harmful depending on how they are used.