By Sarah Grace McCandless
Regular vet check-ups, proper nutrition and exercise: You may already know these as best practices for keeping pets healthy and safe. But how much thought have you put into your pet’s day-to-day environment? Even if you’re an attentive owner, there may be dozens of potential pet hazards lurking in and around your household — some, like certain plants, might appear to be innocent, but they can be toxic when your furry friends come in contact with them. In 2009 alone, there were more than 195,000 cases managed by Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and that’s not accounting for the hundreds of thousands of incidents reported to other 24-hour help centers or emergency animal hospitals throughout the year. However, there are some ways to detox your pets’ favorite spots and make your home a safer place to be overall. Read on to learn how to get started.
1. Get a Green Thumb
While there are certain plants, such as poison ivy, that are well known for their dangerous qualities, other seemingly harmless greenery can also spell big trouble if your pet chews on or consumes them. This can be particularly troublesome if you have an outdoor cat that likes to wander beyond the scope of what you have control over. But managing what’s in your own yard is a good place to start. Plants for your pets to avoid include the following:
- Lilies — Most lily varieties, including Easter and Tiger, can cause serious kidney damage in cats.
- Sago palm — A pet that eats just a few sago palm seeds can experience vomiting, diarrhea and even liver failure.
- Tulips — The bulb section of these flowers contain toxins that can create gastrointestinal irritation, impede the central nervous system, trigger convulsions and cause cardiac abnormalities.
- Azaleas/Rhododendron — Eating these can bring about vomiting, drooling, diarrhea and in severe cases, coma and death.
- Oleander — All parts of this plant are considered to be toxic to pets and can create a number of serious health issues, including abnormal heart function, hypothermia and even death.
- Chrysanthemum — Depression and loss of coordination can develop if your pet eats any part of this plant.
Also, if you live in a condo or apartment complex, keep your pet off any areas marked with flags indicating recent pesticide treatment on landscaping. And don’t forget about potential indoor hazards, such as houseplants or cut flower arrangements, which you should keep out of reach as well.
2. Watch for Holiday Hazards
Seasonal events present a unique set of challenges for pet proofing your home. Winter holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah mean decorations like trees, tinsel, lights and candle-burning menorahs — all beautiful to look at, but hazardous to curious pets. Avoid the use of tinsel if possible (a swallow of this decoration can obstruct your pet’s digestive tract or worse), and be sure to regularly change water used for fresh trees, since stagnant H2O can breed bacteria, making it a nausea- and diarrhea-inducing cocktail for your pet.
And while it might seem obvious to keep holiday treats like Halloween loot securely stored, since chocolate — especially baking chocolate — can be toxic for pets, any holiday meal (and really, any meal) may contain food or drink that can cause problems. Here are some items to watch out for:
- Coffee grounds
- Alcoholic beverages
- Grapes and raisins
- Rising bread dough
Depending on the potency and amount consumed, all of these people foods can cause reactions like vomiting, diarrhea and damage to the nervous system in pets. Some items, including grapes and raisins, can even lead to massive health problems, ranging from kidney failure to death. Play it safe and keep leftovers in the fridge and off your pet’s plate, and make sure family members and guests know that sneaking nibbles to the four-legged friends in the household is a no-no as well.
3. Keep the Medicine Cabinet Contained
When used correctly by the person or pet it was originally prescribed for, medicine can bring great relief, but if it falls into the wrong hands — or paws — the consequences can be deadly. Use hard-to-reach cabinets for medication storage and consider installing latch locks, such as those used for baby-proofing purposes, as well. Also try to keep other health and beauty products safely out of sight and reach, including shampoo, lotions and makeup. If your pet does get into something, contact your vet or local animal hospital immediately, and when you take your pet in for emergency care, remember to bring along the container for whatever you believe the animal gulped down.
If a vet prescribes medication for your pet, cut down on the risk of an adverse reaction by asking upfront about any potential side effects to watch out for, and clarify whether there are any special storage needs (such as keeping the meds refrigerated) or procedures required (like always administering pills with food or at a certain time of day). Similarly, if you use any over-the-counter solutions on your pet, such as flea treatments, read labels carefully so you’re aware of any risks before administering.
4. Safely Select and Store Cleaning Supplies
As with medicine storage, it’s very important to store all cleaning and household products — including bleach, laundry detergent, garden or lawn treatments, paint and automotive supplies — under lock and key. If you don’t have a storage area that actually locks, baby safety latches can once again prove worthwhile for keeping your pet away from these potential hazards.
Also, be careful of using fragranced products, such as air fresheners and plug-ins, around the house. These may make your home smell nice, but they can irritate or burn your pet’s respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. If you can’t live without some sort of fragrance, you can try methods that are more pet-friendly and chemical-free, such as boiling cinnamon sticks in a pot of water on the stove to give the house a welcoming scent. In some cases, however, it may be best to look for products that are fragrance-free — for example, when it comes to products used to clean floors and carpets, since these are areas pets come into close contact with daily.
5. Purify Pet Toys and Other Personal Items
Unlike children’s toys, there are no federal laws or standards for using lead or other toxins in the production of pet toys. So pay attention to what you are buying for your pet and where you’re buying it from — not just in terms of the store, but the manufacturer, since some of them farm out the actual production of pet items overseas.
How you care for your pets’ possessions matters, too. For example, using bleach to disinfect toys requires that you dilute the bleach properly and then air out the toy and dry it after cleaning. If all that is too much trouble, you might want to play it safe and clean toys with a mild dish soap and water solution instead. Also, you can avoid creating potential skin, eye or respiratory irritation for your pet by using dye-free and fragrance-free laundry detergent to wash any pet bedding or blankets, especially if they have a tendency to chew on these items. Taking the time to put all of these precautions into place may seem like a lot of work, but it can help keep your pet safe and toxin-free and save you a tremendous amount of unnecessary worry, too.