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What’s In Your Home That Could Harm Your Pet?

By Julia Williams

As responsible pet owners, we all want to do everything we can to keep our furry best friends safe so they can live a long and healthy life. Because our pets can’t discern whether something is good or bad for them, they rely on us to keep the dangerous stuff out of the house, or at least out of their reach. Because knowledge is power, today I want to share with you some of the most common causes of pet poisoning.

A pet insurance company in California analyzed data from approximately half a million insured pets to compile a list of toxic substances that pose a danger to them. Common pet poisons found in the home (in order based on the number of claims) include medicine, chocolate/caffeine, plants, cleaning supplies, pest control products, antifreeze, walnuts and alcohol. Depending on the substance ingested, pet poisoning can occur quickly and can be fatal.

Once you know what’s in your home that could harm your pet, you can take preventative safety measures. Even so, you should be prepared in case of an accidental poisoning. Keep the number for your regular veterinarian and the closest emergency vet hospital handy, as well as a pet poison hotline.  As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Many human medications can be quite dangerous for dogs and cats even in small doses. Pets have been known to sample pills they find on the floor, so be sure to keep all prescription drugs and over-the-counter pills like painkillers, cold and allergy meds, vitamins and supplements stored in your medicine cabinet. Poisoning can also occur with pet medicines and nutritional supplements if they are misapplied or stored where your pet can get to them and subsequently consume more than they should.

Chocolate and caffeine both contain a substance called methylxanthine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures. See “Chocolate Toxicity in Pets” for more information.

Houseplants: more than 700 common plants produce toxins that could be harmful to pets, and some can even be life threatening. Plants to avoid include Azalea, Cyclamen, Dieffenbachia, Dracaena, Kalanchoe, Lily, Philodendron and Pothos. To complicate matters, some houseplants are toxic to cats but not dogs, and vice versa. Learn which plants can poison your pet, and keep them out of the house. If your kitty likes to graze on greenery, you can grow some catnip or cat grass in a small container.

Many traditional cleaning products have harsh chemicals that can be toxic to pets. Because our pets walk on the floor with their “bare paws” and their noses are always close to the floor, fumes and chemical residues from these products can place a strain on their organs. Choosing natural cleaning products will help to limit the toxins your pet comes into contact with. Read “Go Green for Your Pet’s Health” for more information.

Pest control products should be used with extreme caution in homes with pets. Poisons used to kill mice and rats may contain anticoagulants which slow the clotting of blood and interfere with normal liver functions. Rodenticide can also cause bleeding disorders, neurological problems, gastrointestinal distress, kidney failure and death. Use a humane trap unless you’re 100% certain the bait is located in an area that’s totally inaccessible to pets and that the rodents can’t drag the bait where pets can get to it.

Mothballs are also highly toxic to dogs and cats, so choose a natural moth deterrent such as cedar chips instead. Flea and tick insecticides, even those designed for pets, can be toxic if used improperly, such as topically applying the wrong product or using something made for dogs on your cat. Be sure to read the label carefully, and choose natural flea control products over chemical pesticides whenever possible. 

Human food that's deadly for pets is a topic we’ve written about a lot on this blog, because many people mistakenly assume that what’s safe for them is safe for their dog or cat too. That’s not always the case, and foods that can be toxic to your pets should be stored where they can’t get to them. These include grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, nutmeg and walnuts, as well as gum, candy, cookies and mints that contain the sweetener xylitol.

The garage is perhaps the most important area of the home to pet proof. It’s where we typically store a host of products that can be toxic to pets, including antifreeze, brake fluid, paint, solvents, fertilizers and herbicides. Be sure these are kept on high shelves or in bins with secure lids. 

The time and effort it takes to ensure that all of the above substances can’t accidentally poison your pet is well worth it. Their safety and health depend on it!

Photo by sarawestermark

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