Household Dangers - Is Your Pet Protected?
Watching after a typical toddler who will pick up and eat anything in front of him can be a daunting task. Imagine that same toddler with four legs, boundless energy, and the ability to jump. The average home can be a dangerous place for such curious critters. The best way an owner can ensure the safety of his dog or cat is to be aware of possible household dangers and be prepared in case an emergency arises.
PREPARING FOR A NEW PET
Before bringing a new pet into your home, Dana Farbman, CVT, a veterinary technician at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois, recommends “getting on the floor—like you would if you were child-proofing a home—and looking for all potential hazards, such as electrical cords and liquid potpourri, and making sure they are well out of reach.”
Dr. Jill Richardson, a contributing toxicology editor at the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), suggests, “When you are pet-proofing a home, take it a notch higher than you would for a child, because things such as child-proof medications are not dog-proof, so you need to be even more aggressive with safety.”
Some hazards to watch out for:
- Pennies minted after 1982 contain a high zinc concentration that can poison dogs and cats.
- Hanging cords on blinds or curtains. Cats may enjoy batting at them, but cords are an entanglement danger.
- String-like materials—such as thread, dental floss, and holiday tinsel—are extremely dangerous to both dogs and cats because they can become lodged in the intestines.
- Mothballs, batteries, and tobacco products (including cigarette butts) are all highly toxic and should be kept out of your pet’s reach.
Be careful when bringing a new plant or flower arrangement into your home. It is important to be conscious of the numerous plants and gardening materials that can pose a threat to your animals. For example, “lilies are especially dangerous to cats,” says Dr. Richardson. In addition, many people are not aware that cocoa mulch, which may attract dogs, can be deadly to them. However, the toxicity of certain plants is sometimes exaggerated; for example, poinsettias can cause mild stomach upset but are not deadly, as often perceived.
Although it may be tempting for pet owners to feed table scraps to their dog or cat, many common human foods can potentially cause serious health problems in pets. Some of these foods include:
- Chewing gum—If ingested in large amounts, xylitol, a sweetener often used in sugar-free gum, can cause a severe drop in blood sugar and possibly even seizures and liver failure in dogs. Xylitol is also found in other products such as toothpaste and sugar-free candy. The effect of the sweetener on cats is unknown, but to be safe, it is best to keep these products out of the reach of all household pets.
- Chocolate—Even in small amounts, chocolate can be quite dangerous to pets. It contains methylxanthines (such as caffeine and theobromine), which can harm dogs and cats and can even cause death in certain doses.
- Garbage/moldy foods—These foods can make your pet ill if ingested. It is wise to keep your garbage can out of your pet’s reach or closed with a tightly fitted lid.
- Grapes/raisins—They may cause kidney damage in dogs or cats.
- Onions—Cooked or raw, this veggie can cause anemia in dogs and cats, leading to possible depression, diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness.
- Uncooked bread dough—When leaving bread out to rise, make sure your pet cannot get to it. If ingested, the dough can expand in the stomach and may need to be surgically removed.
It is best to keep all medications in a secured cabinet out of paw’s reach.
It is also an inappropriate and dangerous practice to give any human medication to your pets. “The most common call that we get is in the category of human medicine,” says Farbman. “A common misconception is that medicine that is helpful to humans is also helpful to pets, when in fact a high-enough dose of certain medications can be very harmful to pets.” Consult your veterinarian before administering any medication to your pet.
CURIOSITY DID WHAT?
We all love the playful, fearless manner of our furry friends, but sometimes their roving noses can get them into trouble. Many veterinarians are now suggesting that owners consider crating their dogs while they are away. Tammy Caye, a veterinary technician at Gardens Veterinary Hospital in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, explains that puppies, especially Labradors and golden retrievers, are “pretty much goats. People don’t realize that the chewing phase doesn’t start until 7 to 11 months, after teething, and continues for about a year.” And what pets chew may make them sick—or worse.
As a general rule, owners should be aware of their pets’ whereabouts. Cats enjoy the warmth of laundry in the clothes dryer, so take a peek inside for paws and whiskers before turning on a load. Also, cats and small dogs can be crushed by recliner chairs, so make sure no napping pets are snoozing under these chairs before closing them.
Caye recommends that indoor cats wear a collar with a bell so owners are alerted when their cats are somewhere they shouldn’t be. However, Caye also notes that a collar could be dangerous for an outdoor cat because it can get caught on tree branches or fences.
Having a dog or cat does not mean that you cannot also enjoy a germ- and pest-free household. However, you should take precautions to ensure that the chemicals in your cleaning products kill only what is intended and don’t hurt your pet:
- Follow the product recommendations. Use the product only as directed, and do not mix products.
- Keep the area secluded and your animal confined until the area is thoroughly dry.
- Lock away all products when they are not being used.
- Avoid the use of rodent poisons or insecticides. The Humane Society of the United States cites these products as “the most common sources of companion animal poisoning.” Therefore, pet owners should strongly consider not using such chemicals and instead stick to live traps for rodents. If, however, “owners are using rodenticides and want to continue doing so, they need to make sure the products are completely inaccessible to pets,” advises Farbman. In addition, pets should be kept away from rodents that have ingested rodenticides.
If you believe your pet has come into contact with a poison, toxic plant, or harmful food, immediate action must be taken. Farbman advises owners to have all emergency numbers handy. In addition, she explains that “gathering key pieces of information is important—such as knowing the weight of your pet and any medications he’s on. Also, have information about the exposure on hand: If it’s a product poisoning, have the label with you when you call; if it’s a plant, knowing the scientific name is ideal because it is universal.”
"Consider keeping your pet out of the garage, where there are too many dangers that can seriously sicken or hurt hurt him."
If you suspect that your pet may have consumed a poisonous material, you should immediately call your local veterinary clinic or emergency center or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (a fee will be charged for this service).
Although many potential hazards exist in the typical household, taking the right precautions and being prepared and aware will give you the peace of mind to safely enjoy sharing your home and heart with your feline or canine friends.
Additional Tips for Households with Birds
- Cover windows with blinds, drapes, or decals. Birds do not understand that they cannot fly through glass.
- Try to avoid exposing birds to temperature extremes.
- Keep them away from fans (ceiling and free-standing).
- Cover air ducts, and keep birds away from mechanical devices (such as vacuums and printers). Birds like to hide in small openings.
- Keep birds out of kitchens. Many fumes and the heat generated during cooking are dangerous to them.
- Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon), found on nonstick cooking pans, irons, and certain lightbulbs, is highly toxic to birds and should not be used.
- Avoid using aerosol products anywhere near birds.
- Keep unsupervised birds away from standing water to prevent drowning.
For More Information
- www.apcc.aspca.org - The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center offers an extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants.
- www.avma.org - The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a brochure on household hazards.