The American Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals includes the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). In 2009, the APCC received more than 140,000 calls about poisoned animals. The most common hazards, in order, were:
- Human Medications
- People Food
- Veterinary Medications
- Household Cleaners
- Heavy Metals
- Garden Products
- Chemical Hazards
As a species, humans seem to love food and many of us like to share our food with our pets. This is almost never a good idea. At best, giving people food to pets provides them with too much salt and fat, and also encourages them to beg for people food in the future.
At worst, certain people foods can be harmful to health or even, potentially deadly. Although dedicated pet owners will be aware of the ‘problem’ foods, many people don't know that seemingly benign foods like grapes, onion or macadamia nuts could cause serious problems.
Grapes (and raisins) are one of the most serious problem foods for dogs. It’s been widely reported that ingesting large amounts can lead to renal failure in dogs – but there is no consensus on how much is a large amount. With the wide range of dog sizes and breeds, different amounts may be dangerous for different dogs.
Chocolate is another potentially dangerous food. Again, the level of danger is dependent upon the amount ingested, the size of the dog and the potency of the chocolate. White and milk chocolate are less likely to be harmful than dark chocolate, unsweetened baker’s chocolate and 100% cocoa.
Other foods and ingredients which can cause problems include garlic, onion, salt, alcohol, coffee (grounds or beans), Macadamia nuts, avocado and chicken bones (or other small, splintery bones).
Making the minefield of people food even more confusing for dog owners is the fact that some problem foods are actually healthy for dogs in the right quantity. Garlic, for example, is added to many dog foods as a natural source of iron, manganese, potassium, selenium and vitamins A and C. However, in larger quantities garlic can cause anemia in both dogs and cats.
Artificial, man-made ingredients can also trigger health problems in pets. The sweetener xylitol is suspected of causing a sudden drop in blood pressure in dogs, as well as depression, loss of coordination and seizures. Surprisingly, other sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame and saccharin are not suspected of causing the same serious health problems.
Treats formulated specifically for your pets are healthier and more appropriate for animals than people food. Treats made for people almost always have elevated sugar, salt and fat levels that pet treats do not.
Also, treating pets to people food from the table, in the kitchen or directly from the source will only encourage unwanted behavior in pets such as begging for food. Finally, once a pet has developed a taste for people food they may be more likely to go foraging for these treats from the counter top or out of the garbage. Without anyone to limit the quantity, pets could eat dangerous amounts and literally make themselves sick.
In the garage, pets can find hazardous substances like paints, solvents, rodenticides and antifreeze. There may also be weed killer and fertilizers which can make a pet very sick. Sometimes pets are even drawn to these toxic substances because they taste or smell sweet.
The garage itself can also be a danger, or more specifically, the automatic garage door opener. These openers come with sensors to keep the doors from shutting on any object, person or animal. When the button is pushed to lower the door, it automatically reverses if any object breaks the beam between the two sensors which are placed on either side of the door, a few inches from the ground.
Unfortunately, cats still get caught by automatic garage doors, with tragic results. Everyone should make sure their garage door openers are properly installed, even if they have no children or pets. They may adopt a pet in the future, or sell their house to pet owners, and cats are notorious for trying to sneak through closing doors at the last possible second.
Of course, you can’t eliminate all risks that might be in your garage. What you can do is look for paw-friendly alternatives to winter salt, be cautious with antifreeze by keeping it in sealed containers out of animals’ reach, and use crates or gates to keep pets safely out of the garage.
There are many toxic items lurking around the outside of most homes, and curious pets can find them, potentially leading to illness and injury. Many of the toxic substances stored in garages are used on lawns and gardens – including weed killer and fertilizer. Cocoa mulch, which is a high-end mulch used for covering flowerbeds, can be toxic to pets like actual chocolate. Plants like azalea/rhododendron and cyclamen, as well as tulip bulbs can be toxic to animals too.
Try a tie-out if your pets are ‘into’ everything in the garden. A tie-out can keep the dog in the front yard when the back has been fertilized, or keep him just out of reach of the beautiful (but sometimes toxic) flowers. More and more cats are being let out on harnesses and tie-outs too, since the increased danger of life as an outdoor cat becomes better known.
Indoor birds live…indoors, but that’s where they can find some household dangers that apply only to them. Many household fumes are unsafe for birds – bleach, oven cleaner, glues, paint, plus cooking fumes when non-stick pans are overheated. While most of these fumes aren’t really healthy for other pets or their people, birds have sensitive respiratory systems and some strong fumes can be fatal. Ceiling fans are also dangerous for indoor birds who fly around to exercise their wings.
String, rubber bands, dental floss, and other yarn-like items can be a danger to cats. While they make useful items for cats to chase, they will sometimes ingest smaller items which can then disrupt the intestines. Many cat owners have scooped the litter box to find elastic bands stringing together feces like a string of sausages. This may seem cute or harmless at the time, but it really can lead to painful (and costly!) intestinal problems.
Other household items like burning candles need to be placed in secure areas, as pets could burn themselves or knock over a candle to start a fire. Toothpicks, needles and pins are also potential hazards as pets could swallow them, leading to possible intestinal problems/perforations.
All medications can be dangerous to pets as high dosages are toxic. Medications, including over-the-counter painkillers must be securely stored, away from curious kittens, hungry old dogs, and every pet in between.
Finally, some indoor plants and flowers are potentially toxic to pets who chew on the leaves. Lilies, ivy, poinsettia are three of the problematic indoor plants.
Treat can help you train your pets to stay away from areas and objects in the house that are not pet friendly. Also, pet gates can contain dogs, while pet beds can help your pet establish a place of his own. Finally, deterrent products may be more popular for deterring the scratching of upholstery, but they can also help keep cats away from plants they shouldn’t eat!
Visit the ASPCA Poison Control Center for more detailed information, including an exhaustive list of toxic and non-toxic plants.
What to do if…
The APCC provides the following guidelines to follow if you suspect your pet has been poisoned:
- Don’t panic. Respond quickly but without panicking so time is not wasted.
- Collect the hazardous/poisonous material to take to the veterinarian, so they can fully investigate. Also, collect in a sealable bag any pet vomit related to the incident.
- Call your emergency vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1 (888) 426-4435. There is a $55 consultation fee for the APCC’s services. You should be able to describe your pet’s species, breed, age, sex and weight, plus their symptoms and as much information as you have about the ‘exposure.’
Don’t hesitate to seek veterinarian attention if you suspect poisoning but your pet is not showing symptoms. Animals can appear normal for hours or even days after exposure to hazardous materials.
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