Handbags: Reservoirs for Items Toxic to Pets

To a dog or cat, a handbag or backpack can be like an amusement park. In one compact place, she can find many flavorful treasures to nuzzle sniff and chew. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if all the contents in handbags and backpacks were safe for pets, but unfortunately that isn’t the case; they are reservoirs for things toxic to dogs and cats.

It is important for pet owners to be cognizant of some typical handbag contents, how the contents can poison their dog or cat, and what to do if your pet has been exposed attach link here.

The five most common purse items that are toxic to pets are (1) sugar-free gum/mints, (2) prescription or over the counter medications (3) inhalers such as those used for asthma, (4) hand sanitizer, and (5) cigarettes.

Sugarless Breath Mints or Chewing Gum: Xylitol Toxicity

Many people carry sugarless products with them. The key word here is sugarless. Most of these products contain xylitol an artificial sweetener that is very toxic to dogs. Xylitol can actually be fatal even in very small amounts. Some of the more common brands that contain xylitol include Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breaker. Also, some flavored multi-vitamins and many flavored over-the counter and prescription medications for humans contain xylitol. When a dog eats products containing xylitol, they first experience a rapid drop in blood sugar. This rapid drop in blood sugar by itself is enough to be life threatening. Also, if enough is eaten, dogs can develop severe liver failure. Signs of xylitol poisoning can include weakness, having trouble walking or standing, confusion or sedation, collapse, tremoring, seizing, vomiting, and more.

Human Medications 

Many people carry pill bottles in their pocket books. Dogs and cats often mistake these as toys since they rattle and become fun to play with. Unfortunately, most of the toxic ingestion calls we get at the animal hospital are about pets that have eaten their owner’s medication. The most common calls are about NSAIDs (i.e.. Advil®, Aleve®), acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol®) and antidepressants (i.e. Prozac®   Cymbalta®), all of which can cause serious problems if ingested by our pets. NSAIDs such as Advil can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers as well as kidney failure, especially in cats. A single Tylenol tablet containing acetaminophen can be fatal to a cat, and in dogs, a larger ingestion can lead to severe liver failure. Of all medications, antidepressants account for the highest number of calls to Pet Poison Helpline, and can cause neurological problems like sedation, incoordination, agitation, tremors and seizures.

Asthma Inhalers (Albuterol, Steroids)

We actually prescribe inhalers to some of our asthma patients. However, when an inhaler is chewed on, the pet is exposed to 100’s of doses of the medication all at once. This can lead to severe poisoning, resulting in life-threatening heart arrhythmias, agitation, vomiting, collapse and death.

Hand Sanitizer

In recent years,, hand sanitizer has become a common item in millions of handbags. Many hand sanitizers claim to kill almost 100 percent of germs, and this is possible because they contain high amounts of alcohol (ethanol) – sometimes up to 95 percent. Therefore, when a dog ingests a small bottle of hand sanitizer, it can have the same effect as a shot of hard liquor. This can cause a severe drop in blood sugar, incoordination, sedation, coma, and death.


As few as three cigarettes can be fatal to a small dog, depending on the “strength” or “lightness” of the cigarettes. After ingestion, clinical signs of distress can become apparent in as little as 15 minutes. Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and even gum (Nicorette®) contain nicotine, which is toxic to dogs and cats. Exposure causes high heart rate, rapid breathing, excitement or overstimulation, uncontrolled urination/defecation, tremoring, seizing, paralysis and death.

The Bottom Line

When there’s a dog or cat in the house, store handbags and backpacks out of reach. Whether you are the host or a guest, be sure that purses are placed in a safe location and out of the reach of pets. When in doubt, hang it up.