The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill., recently released the top 10 pet toxins for 2011.

The center fielded more than 165,000 calls last year regarding the exposure of pets to potentially poisonous substances. The center has specially trained veterinary toxicologists available around the clock to answer questions regarding toxin exposure in pets.

It was established in 1978 as an extension of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, with the ASPCA acquiring the center in 1996. Providing this service for the past 34 years has allowed a large database of information to be accumulated about what substances are and are not toxic to pets. The top 10 toxins that prompted calls in 2011 were as follows:

Prescription (human) medications. Almost 25,000 calls were related to pets ingesting a medication prescribed for the owner. Heart medications made up a large percent of these calls. If overdosed, these medications can cause a drop in blood pressure, abnormal heart beat, dehydration and dangerous electrolyte abnormalities. The other most commonly ingested prescribed medications were for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Insecticides. About 11 percent of calls concerned products used to kill insects. This group included those used on the lawn and home as well as flea and tick products applied directly on pets. If you treat your lawn or home, keep your pets away from the area for the instructed time on the package labeling. Never keep insecticides where they are accessible to your pet. The topical and oral flea and tick preventatives are extremely safe if used as directed. The biggest problem occurs when large dog products are given to cats and small dogs.

Over-the-counter medications. Close to 18,000 calls were made regarding exposure to medications that can be bought without a prescription. Remember that pets are not small people. There are many drugs we can take safely that they cannot. A common accidental exposure for dogs is ibuprofen. In dogs, this may cause serious, even fatal, liver and kidney damage as well as stomach ulcers. For cats, acetaminophen should never be given, as it may cause anemia and liver failure.

People foods. Chocolate was responsible for more than 7,600 calls. In pets, it can cause fatal arrhythmias and seizures. Dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate. The artificial sweetener xylitol was the second most common human food prompting calls. Xylitol can cause fatal liver failure in dogs.

Household items. The center had nearly 12,000 calls regarding items from paint and fire logs to chemical drain openers. Dr. Perry Jameson's dog, Flipper, pulled a fire log out of the fireplace and chewed on it while he was at work.

Veterinary medications. Many medications for animals now come as a flavored tablet to make it easier to administer. However, if given access to the whole bottle, they will eat them all, thinking they are treats not pills.

Rodenticides. Rat and mouse bait is flavored to make it attractive to these animals. Unfortunately, the flavoring makes it attractive to pets, too, and they can be resourceful in finding it.

Plants. About 4 percent of calls concerned plant ingestion. This is one of the few categories where cats lead dogs in the number of exposures. Lilies are one of the biggest worries for cats, as they can lead to fatal kidney failure.

Lawn and garden products. Not surprising that this group of toxins accounts for almost 3,900 calls since many fertilizers include manure, dried blood and bone meal, all of which are attractive to dogs.

Automotive products. This group of toxins has dropped over the past several years. Awareness of the dangers and a trend for more pets to be indoors (especially cats) probably has led to less exposure. Good thing, as the most common exposure was anti-freeze, which can result in seizures and fatal kidney failure.

Preventing exposure is guaranteed to have a positive outcome. Keep all medications and potentially toxic products where your pets cannot get to them. Never give your pet a medication unless instructed by a veterinarian. Be careful to not use flea medications for dogs on cats.

If your pet is exposed to something and you are not sure what to do, contact your veterinarian, an emergency clinic or the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. Do not wait, as the sooner treatment is started the better chance of a positive outcome.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.