7.1 million pets fall ill after eating something poisonous

  • 4.6 million dog owners and 2.5 million cat owners believe their pet fell ill after consuming something poisonous, with one in nine pets being poisoned last year
  • On average vets treat 323 dogs and 56 cats for poisoning every day across the UK
  • One in six (17 per cent) poisoned dog and cat owners believe their pet was poisoned deliberately
  • Claims data reveals Labradors, Cocker Spaniels and Poodle crossbreeds to be the three dog breeds most commonly poisoned over the last two years

New research1 from Direct Line Pet Insurance reveals the silent killers pet owners should be aware of, as 7.1 million cats and dogs have fallen ill after digesting something toxic, with one in nine pets poisoned last year. Over a quarter (28 per cent, 4.6 million) of dog owners and a fifth of cat owners (19 per cent, 2.5 million), believe their pet has fallen ill after consuming something poisonous.

The new study reveals that three in four dogs (69 per cent or 3.2 million) that were poisoned became so unwell that they had to be taken to the vet and 342,000 (seven per cent) died as a result. More than three quarters (71 per cent or 1.8 million) of poisoned cats also had to be taken to the vet and 237,000 (nine per cent) subsequently died.

Vets estimate that nearly 120,000 dogs were treated for food or substance poisoning last year, equating to 323 dogs every day2. Over 20,400 cats were treated in 2020 for poisoning – that’s 52 cats poisoned per day. Sadly, vets claim that these high levels of poisoning have remained consistent for the past three years with no indication of cases declining.

Worryingly, half of dog and cat owners (49 per cent) whose pets were poisoned suspect it was done deliberately, with one in six (17 per cent) being certain that the poisoning was with intent. Family members are the main suspected culprits (17 per cent), closely followed by strangers (16 per cent) and neighbours (15 per cent).

The most common place that pet owners suspect their pet was poisoned is while on a walk with either them or a friend or family member (26 per cent). This is followed by the garden (16 per cent) and while outside with a paid walker (15 per cent). Pets consuming something poisonous at home while supervised (eight per cent) and at home alone (seven per cent) complete the top five most common locations.

The vast majority (91 per cent) of pet insurance claims for poisonings are made for dogs3. The dog breeds that have been most affected by poisoning over the past two years are Labradors (13 per cent), Cocker Spaniels (six per cent) and Poodle crossbreeds (three per cent). Golden Retrievers (three per cent) and Spaniel crossbreeds (three per cent) complete the top five.

Chocolate is listed as a main cause of dog poisoning by 91 per cent of vets. A further 54 per cent say grapes are a leading issue, while 51 per cent say medication can be a major source of poisoning. One in seven (14 per cent) identified onions and 10 per cent said household items. In contrast, the main causes for cat poisoning are from outside the home. More than half (54 per cent) of vets claim wildlife is one of the main causes of cat poisoning, with 40 per cent specifying lilies and 33 per cent saying plants and foliage were large contributors. Rat poison (29 per cent) and mouldy foods (17 per cent) were also listed as being very dangerous.

Table one: Most common causes of poisoning identified by vets




91 per cent


54 per cent


54 per cent


40 per cent


51 per cent


33 per cent


14 per cent

Rat poison

29 per cent

Household items

10 per cent

Mouldy food

17 per cent


4 per cent

Rotten foods

16 per cent

Mouldy foods

3 per cent


13 per cent

Source: Direct Line Pet Insurance 2021

January is the worst month for poisoning claims for both cats and dogs, with a fifth (19 per cent) of all poisoning-related claims in 2020 taking place in January - amounting to nearly 2,000 claims, or 62 every single day.

Madeline Pike, Veterinary Nurse for Direct Line Pet Insurance, said: “Pets are part of the family and seeing your dog or cat unwell is a pet owner’s worst nightmare, especially if you suspect it is due to someone else being careless, whether accidentally or deliberately.

“There are many foods and substances that are harmful to animals and it is important for owners to educate themselves and those around them about these. To minimise the risk of your pet eating something that could make them ill, there are some precautions you can take at home. Make sure to keep food locked away, secure your bins and remind guests not to leave food out.

“If any pet owners are concerned that their cat or dog may have consumed something poisonous, vets have identified the most common symptoms to look out for including; tremors, excessive panting, high heart rate and sickness/diarrhoea.

“Direct Line pet insurance customers receive 24/7 access to a vet via PawSquad with live chat or video calling. You can use the service for free, from the comfort of your own home and get any questions directly answered by a vet.”


Notes to Editors

  1. Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults between 23rd - 27th October 2020. Owners estimated that a total of 1.76 million dogs and cats had been poisoned in the past 12 months, which out of a total population of 16.2 million pets (PFMA, 2019) represents 11 per cent
  2. Research carried out among 100 veterinary surgeries across the UK between 31st October and 4th November 2020.
  3. Analysis of Direct Line Group pet insurance claims data for the period covering 1st January 2019 to 2nd October 2020. All figures extrapolated to cover the estimated total market volume.


For further information please contact:

Claire Jarrett
PR manager (Home & Pet)

Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 832 411

Email: [email protected]

Samantha Stewart

Citigate Dewe Rogerson

[email protected]

0207 025 6497


Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com/home-cover