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Our pets are part of our family, and like family members, sometimes they can be exposed to household hazards. When thinking of safety for a pet you must think of your pet as a toddler who never outgrows the “eat everything you can reach” stage. And in the case of cats, a toddler who can climb and jump up on any surface. Some pets become more discriminating with age, while others can continue to “seek and destroy.”
When thinking of safeguarding your home, think like a cat or dog. For dogs, get down on their level. For cats, think high and behind in small tight spots.
Keep all medications, both human and pet, securely out of reach. It is not uncommon for the household cat to knock off a bottle of pills, which are then consumed by the family dog.
Remember, most dogs weigh considerably less than an adult person, and something that may be beneficial for you could be toxic to a 10-pound dog or a 7–pound cat. If your pet does accidentally eat any medications, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Have available when you call, the drug name, strength (milligrams), how many he may have ingested and when you think he may have eaten them.
Foods, also can be a risk factor for pets, chocolate, although a staple (at least to me), is toxic to dogs. It is a volume to weight issue: even a small amount to a small dog can mean trouble. The larger the dog, the more he can tolerate before showing signs of toxicity. Baking chocolate is many times more toxic than milk chocolate. The basic rule of thumb, is NO chocolate for dogs. Coffee and caffeine can have the same effect as chocolate. Onions and garlic should also be avoided, in that they can cause a problem with a dogs’ red blood cells. Carefully read all food labels, especially baby food where it is common to have garlic and onion powder to enhance flavor. Grapes and raisins can lead to kidney failure. The artificial sweetener, Xylitol, which is found in gum and many foods as well as toothpaste and mouthwash is highly poisonous to dog. Even in small amounts it can kill. Macadamia nuts and avocado can make a dog quite ill. Some animals handle dairy products; others do not.
Pets can experience gastrointestinal (GI) upsets from eating spicy or fatty foods. Even the gristle off a bone can produce a GI upset. These effects may be limited to vomiting and diarrhea but can lead to pancreatitis, which is potentially a life-threatening condition which often requires hospitalization to resolve. While some dogs handle pigs’ ears and rawhides fine, others might not. Bones that splinter should not be fed. It is best to feed a high quality, balanced commercial pet food. It is recommended not to give your pet table food. In addition to being healthier to stick to dog food, you will get less “begging” behavior. If you must give table scraps, check with your veterinarian to find out which foods would be least harmful for your pet.
Remember, keep all poisons out of reach. Many rat bait products are made to taste good, and a cat can reach most places a rodent can. Rodents have been known to drag a container of bait from a secure place to where the family dog can easily reach and consume the contents. The chemicals being used in rodent bait have changed. Now, if your pet eats some, the treatments are limited, treatment is expensive and it is often deadly.
Household cleaners and antifreeze should be secured safely away from pets. Like toddlers, dogs often put it in their mouth first while trying to figure out if it is edible. Antifreeze is sweet tasting, and most dogs and cats will lap at it if they can reach it. If you suspect your pet may have ingested any toxic substance, call your veterinarian immediately. He/she may have you induce vomiting if it was consumed within the past few hours. Sometimes vomiting is not recommended, in that the product may do additional harm, if your pet vomits. Some treatments, if started before signs of illness occur, can make the difference between life and death. Some toxins don’t show any signs for several days, such as antifreeze and some types of rat bait.
Don’t forget household dangers like electric cords, computer cords, trash; both kitchen and bathroom. Think like an inquisitive puppy/kitten who explores the world with her mouth.
This column only touches on a few of the common hazards for pets. If you have any question as to whether a substance or situation is potentially harmful, consult your veterinarian. Remember, our pets are part of the family; watch over them carefully. Their health is in your hands.
Dr. Nancy Schenck, D.V.M., of Four Loving Paws Veterinary Services, Inc., can be reached at 812-448-1415. If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.