Pets bring a lot of light into our lives. It’s no surprise that people are willing to shell out the dough to keep their fur babies alive and well as long as possible. But prevention is better (and a heckuva lot cheaper) than a cure. We all know to keep poisons out of our pets’ curious paths, but what other hazards could be lurking in your home?
Prescription medication has a childproof cap to keep our munchkins from taking a sickening (or fatal) dose of a medicine. Works well on kiddos, but dogs and cats have sharper teeth and stronger jaws.
Keep any medicines (including vitamins and the pet’s own medication) secured out of the pet’s reach. Just as you would if you have children, don’t leave pills or bottles in reach of curious pups or kittens. In the case of their own medicine, they’re often flavored in very much the same way a treat is. If NyQuil tasted like chocolate chip cookies, well...
Small household objects
Quick tip: Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan Pet Insurance, warns about household objects you wouldn’t normally think of. He notes that one unlikely sweet treat is paintballs! They’re made using xylitol, which can be irresistible to inquisitive pets.
We’ve all heard stories of pets swallowing hilarious things they later passed with no issue (other than the owner's great amusement and a YouTube video no one really wants to see, but we all look), but that’s not always the case. Byron Anfinson, a realtor in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tells us his pet once got into dental floss. Sound harmless? Anfison told us “it got stuck in her tummy, and we had to operate to remove it… a $3,000 lesson.”
Your pet can and will get into anything. Some pet owners recounted tales of issues with Christmas tinsel, lip gloss and more. Pets, especially puppies and kittens, are very curious. Keep easily swallowed items out of reach. A penny on the floor doesn’t seem like a big deal until your orally fixated lab pup decides to swallow it, which isn’t just a choking hazard, but could get lodged and require expensive and painful operations.
Cleaners and other toxins
We’re all careful of the obvious things, like rat poison, but everyday household cleaners and other toxins (antifreeze, bleach and even shampoo) pose a serious threat, too. Don’t assume that keeping your child safe means your pet is also protected. Dogs and cats can jump, climb and (depending on your child’s age) even work out complex problems your kiddo can’t.
Dogs have been known to figure out clever ways to climb fences. Cats can get into just about any hole their head can fit into. Unlike your bambino, dogs and cats have very sharp teeth and can clamp down more pounds-per-square-inch pressure when biting. Keep household cleaners, including those in the garage or outdoors if your pet has access to those areas, well out of their reach. Even for the sake of your kids as they get older, it’s best to have these items locked away if possible.
Be careful when you have work done to your house, too. Always ask exterminators what the rules are for pets (when they can be allowed in, if the treatment is pet-safe, etc.). Laurie Morse-Dell of PupsPlace, which creates eco-responsible products for dogs, told us that her dog had a bad reaction to a carpet cleaner she was told was pet-safe! Ask vendors to put claims like that in writing and provide a list of ingredients for your vet to double-check.
Fun fact: Many people avoid throwing rice at outdoor weddings because it can kill birds. In reality, Ned Johnson, a well-respected ornithologist (Ph.D.-toting bird nerd) previously of UC Berkeley said, “It’s a myth. There is no reason why birds, including small songbirds, can’t eat rice.” The real reason you can’t throw rice at your wedding is because of the cleanup involved.
We know that dogs and cats haven’t eaten dried or canned prepackaged food for centuries. They’re predators. They’re carnivores. And we have no problem with that! But some human food isn’t good for your four-legged friend.
Candi Wingate, president of Care4Hire, which helps find well-qualified baby and pet sitters and eldercare workers for people in the U.S. and Canada, says, “Keep people food out of reach. Some people food is hazardous to your fuzzy family member’s health. Such food includes chocolate, onions, chives and garlic.”
Other potential culinary hazards to pets are chicken bones (which shatter easily and can cause a choking hazard), alcoholic beverages, coffee grounds and beans, yeast dough, salt, macadamia nuts, potatoes, tomatoes, rhubarb, grapes, certain berries (especially for rodents), avocados (for birds, mice, horses, rabbits, cattle and goats) and anything with mold growing on it (come on, now, would you eat that?).
Dr. Jules Benson of Petplan Pet Insurance also warns against allowing pets to have sugar-free human snacks, which may be made with ingredients that are harmful to their health. Within half an hour of eating one stick of sugar-free gum, a dog’s blood sugar level can drop, leading to seizures (or even death).
Pet owner Lise Keeny had a close call with her pooch after a sugar-free gum incident. “I’m so glad I thought to google dogs eating gum after I’d realized Killian had eaten it because I otherwise wouldn’t have thought much of it. Killian ate an entire packet of gum… I can definitely attest to how scary dealing with this situation was, and I try to spread the warning as much as possible.”
Bottom line: Look up what types of people food could hurt your specific pet (be breed-specific).
“Leaves of three, beware of me.” It’s a mantra for the outdoorsy types. That’s because some plants are poisonous. Poinsettias can be deadly when eaten by humans or animals. But curious pets might eat things we’d never think of enjoying for anything but beauty. Lilies, mums, tulips, dieffenbachia and more can give your sweet little thing a tummy ache or worse.
In case of emergency
Laurie Morse-Dell, who recounted the story of her pet's reaction to the supposedly pet-friendly carpet cleaner and now works for a company that produces eco-friendly dog products, had one last, and likely the most important, piece of advice. “If your pet comes into contact with a poison, call your vet immediately. Do not try to self-medicate, as you could inadvertently make the situation worse.”
If your pet eats something she shouldn’t, time is of the utmost importance. Call your vet or other resource as soon as you realize what’s happened. Better to look like a silly human than mourn your precious pet.
You can’t call 9-1-1 if your pet gets poisoned, but there’s still help if your regular vet isn’t open. Many metro areas have 24-hour pet hospitals in case of emergency. Find the one closest to you now and keep the number and address (directions, too, if it could be hard to find) in an accessible place like on the side of the fridge, in your wallet or on your emergency contact list. Better yet, drive there once so you know how to get there and how long it takes.
If you’re in a real jam, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center charges a mere $60 if you call 888-426-4435. Not really a high price to pay for the life of a family member. Keep in mind, the ASPCA is a nonprofit, so your funds likely go to funding the call center itself or to helping save endangered animals (or paying the salaries of the people who do so every day!).
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