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Backpack and Lunchbox Dangers for Pets


Back-to-school means an increased possibility of pet toxins – especially dangerous backpack and lunchbox items! Parents, when your kids get home from school, remember to remove any items that are hazardous or toxic to Fido and keep all backpacks and lunchboxes out of your pet’s reach!

Backpack Dangers and Toxins:

1. Pencils

  • Non-toxic
  • Wood can cause GI upset, obstruction or perforation of the intestines if eaten

2. Hand Sanitizer

  • Contains some type of alcohol
  • Symptoms of ingestion: mild GI upset, alcohol toxicity, irritation of the esophagus tissue, oral ulcers
  • If container is swallowed, may cause obstruction.

3. Homemade Slime

  • Contains borax, laundry detergent, salt, and sometimes zinc sulfide (in glow in the dark slime)
  • If eaten: ulcerations in the stomach and GI tract, GI upset. If a large enough amount was eaten, it can cause injury to your pet’s lungs. Zinc sulfide, borax, and detergent all cause irritation to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract as well as your pet’s airway.
  • Symptoms: vomiting, drooling, coughing, and/or increased respiratory rate or effort

Lunchbox Toxins:

1. Gum, Mints, & Sweets Containing the Sugarless Sweetener, Xylitol

  • Very toxic to dogs.
  • If eaten: causes a severe decrease in blood sugar leading to hypoglycemia, possible liver dysfunction or failure.
  • Signs: vomiting, weakness, ataxia (loss of coordination), depression, seizures, coma.

2. Chocolate

  • Contains theobromine and caffeine
  • Depending on type of chocolate and amount, can cause mild GI signs or more severe issues like liver and heart problems
  • The darker, the more toxic!
    • Ranked 1 to 5 with 1 being the most toxic:

        1. Baking chocolate
        2. Semisweet
        3. Dark chocolate
        4. Milk chocolate
        5. White chocolate
  • Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, elevated heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, and death

3. Grapes and Raisins (Along with Items that Contain Them)

  • Very toxic to dogs
  • Can cause kidney insufficiency and even kidney failure.
  • Because we don’t know exactly what makes grapes and raisins toxic to dogs, there is no specific amount of grapes/raisins below which your pet is deemed safe. So even if your pet eats just one, it’s best to seek immediate veterinary care in order to monitor your pet’s kidney values!

4. Nuts

  • Contain high amounts of fats and oils.
  • Symptoms: GI upset (vomiting and diarrhea are most common)
  • May cause pancreatitis which requires veterinary treatment
  • Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs; as with grapes and raisins, we don’t know what it is in macadamia nuts that causes poisoning in dogs, so there is no safe amount to give your dog

5. Salty Snack Foods (i.e. chips, popcorn, pretzels)

  • Can cause excessive thirst and increased urination, can also lead to sodium ion poisoning
  • Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, depression, muscle tremors, seizures, excessive drooling, elevated body temperature, or even death

6. Milk and Dairy Products

  • Dogs and cats CANNOT have milk because they do not have a large amount of lactase (an enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk)
  • Can cause GI upset (diarrhea, vomiting, inappetence)

7. Moldy Food

  • Contains mycotoxins that can kill your pet
  • Symptoms: muscle tremors, loss of coordination, seizures or convulsions.
  • Severity of symptoms varies depending on the strength/dose of the specific mycotoxin eaten
  • Make sure your kid’s lunch leftovers get thrown away or put back in the refrigerator, and your trash can is secured!

8. Gel Freezer Packs

  • Contain cellulose (starch), propylene glycol, sometimes ethylene glycol
  • If eaten: typically pets will only experience vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal discomfort
  • If gel pack contains ethylene glycol, pet may appear “drunk.”

Medical Toxins:

1. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), other NSAIDS, and Acetaminophen

  • Can cause mild GI upset, but in more serious cases, could cause kidney failure or liver failure
  • Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, dark or tarry stool, bloody stool, and abdominal pain

2. ADHD Medications (Concerta, Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin)

  • Contain amphetamines
  • Cause a release of catecholamines, (hormones made by your adrenal glands)
  • Can cause elevated blood pressure, elevated heart rate, elevated temperature, loss of coordination, agitation, hyperexcitability, muscle tremors, and even seizures

3. Albuterol Inhalers

  • If your dog chews and punctures the metal container, this results in an instant large exposure to albuterol (approximately 200 doses)
  • Symptoms: extreme elevation in heart rate which could cause collapse if not promptly treated.


If you suspect your pet got into any of these items, please call your family veterinarian, local ER vet, or ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline right away. We suggest having these numbers pre-programmed into your phone. For many of these toxins, immediate veterinary treatment is necessary to increase your pet’s chance of survival. To avoid a pet emergency, please remind your kids to place their backpacks and lunchboxes out of your pet’s reach!

Written by Chelsea Wolf, DVM

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