by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
Every pet has three primary needs: a safe place to live, a healthy diet and
lots of love. That may sound simple (especially the love part!), but it actually
takes some thought and effort to ensure safety and health. Keeping our
companions safe depends mainly on common sense, but it also requires being
informed about the many potential dangers to our furry friends. Here are the
things you need to keep in mind when caring for your animal companion:
Indoor Air Pollution
There have been several recent reports that indoor air is even more polluted
than the air outside. When we have pets, it’s even more important to examine our
home from the “nose-level” view.
Many cleaning products are potentially toxic. Your companion’s nose is
continually close to the floor; and normal grooming behavior includes licking of
the paws that may have come in contact with those products’ residue. Natural
alternatives are readily available, and simple home-made products with
inexpensive ingredients like baking soda, vinegar and borax clean as well as
most commercial products. Consider replacing chemically-based air fresheners,
detergents, fabric softeners, disinfectants, furniture polish, glass cleaners,
insecticides, and scouring powders with natural alternatives.
Plug-in air fresheners and potpourris are quite popular. However, some odors
that humans find agreeable are actually annoying to cats; citrus and pine are
both highly irritating, and even poisonous if overdone. Constant bombardment
with these scents is unfair to your pet; not to mention the potentially toxic
chemicals they contain. Choosing more natural cleaning products and air
fresheners will go a long way to limiting the toxins your companion has to deal
with on a daily basis.
See our Non-toxic Stain and Odor Control products.
Many dogs (and quite a few cats) have acted as “alternative” garbage
disposals or trash cans. However, some of our favorite foods can be toxic to our
companions. It is important to keep these foods where they are inaccessible to
your pet. Here are the most common food toxins:
• chocolate and cocoa • onions and onion powder • granulated garlic, garlic
powder • grapes, raisins, and currants • coffee (grounds, coffee beans) •
caffeine (black tea, yerba mate, soft drinks) • yeast dough • macadamia nuts •
green potatoes and green tomatoes • avocado pits • seeds and pits of cherries, apples,
apricots • xylitol – an artificial sweetener found in chewing gum, candy and
breath fresheners and toothpaste
Always immediately discard meat wrappers and packaging in a latched cabinet
or container with a pet-proof lid (and make sure all outdoor trash storage is
secure from wildlife). It doesn’t take much to make a cat or small dog sick, so
be very attentive to safety with smaller pets.
Medications & Vitamins
Pills dropped on the floor immediately transform into cat toys! Poison
control centers get thousands of calls every year about pets that have consumed
painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants, dietary supplements, and other
items. Be sure to keep medications and vitamins safely stored. Be especially
careful with pet vitamins and medications, since they are often flavored and
If your dog or cat does ingest human medication or supplements, contact your
veterinarian or poison control center (numbers listed below) right away. Many
human medications, such as ibuprofen and acetominophen, are highly toxic to
animals, even in small doses. If your companion manages to consume more than the
usual dose of their own vitamins or supplements, try to determine just how much
they ate. If just a few extra vitamins or joint support tablets are missing,
they may just have a bit of a stomach ache and be a little extra thirsty – so
keep an eye on them and provide lots of fresh water. If, however, they manage to
eat the whole container; contact your veterinarian or poison control center
immediately—don’t try to treat the overdose yourself!
Plants provide beauty and fresh air to our indoor spaces, but pets may
consider them toys or snacks. Learn which plants are potentially toxic and keep
them high out of reach. Some toxic houseplants include:
• Amaryllis • Azalea • Caladium (Elephant’s Ears) • Chrysanthemum
• Creeping Charlie • Dracaena • Dieffenbachia • Ivy (Araliaceae) • Lily (Easter
lilies, day lilies, Tiger lilies and Stargazer lilies) • Mistletoe •
Philodendron • Pothos • Schefflera • Yew tree
A good general rule is that all plants grown from a bulb are toxic; keep pets
away from bulbs and bulb plants.
(See links at the bottom of the page for a more complete list and further
For pets who like to graze, try the
Insecticides and rodenticides must be used very carefully and judiciously in
or around a household with pets. Baits or traps must be located in areas totally
inaccessible to your companion. Bug sprays and baits should be used with extreme
caution, and the treated are should be completely off limits to your pet for
several days. Read product labels carefully for toxicity information. Cats, and
some dogs (especially terriers), love to hunt and eat bugs and rodents, so be
sure they cannot come into contact with bugs or mice that have been poisoned.
Mothballs are very toxic to dogs and cats (and people for that matter). Cats
love to jump in open drawers or storage boxes, so use cedar paper or other moth
Flea control products, even those designed to use on and around animals, can
be toxic to our companions over time. There are natural alternatives that work
as well or better than conventional chemical pesticide based products. Please
see the article
The Natural Approach to Flea Control.
Many of us store a variety of chemicals and yard products in the garage. One
of the most dangerous of these is antifreeze. Antifreeze tastes sweet and is
attractive to pets, but is highly toxic even in small amounts. With warmer
temperatures approaching, be sure to watch for leaks from overheated cars. If
you see liquid dripping from the car, clean it up immediately. In your own
vehicle, use the safer alternative antifreeze containing propylene glycol
(instead of ethylene glycol as in traditional antifreeze).
If you keep yard and garden products in the garage, be sure they are up high
on the shelves, in closed cabinets, or in plastic bins with lids. Bins are also
good for keeping fumes from fertilizers and other products contained. Paints,
paint thinners, glues and solvents stored in the garage should be kept away from
pets as well. Don’t allow pets into areas where you are working. Clean up any
spills immediately to insure a dog or cat does not step in a paint or
solvent—many solvents will chemically burn the skin and paws, and paints will
surely be licked off and ingested. (Water-based paints are considered non-toxic,
although they can certainly cause tummy upset.)
The yard is another place eliminate toxic exposure to animals; especially
since neighboring pets, as well as wildlife such as squirrels and racoons, may
frequent the area. The ingredients in herbicides, insecticides and soil
amendments can be toxic to both pets and children. Chemical fertilizers and
other lawn products should be eliminated. There are many organic and natural
alternatives available. However, even organic alternatives need to be used
carefully. Bone meal and blood meal, for instance, are natural fertilizers that
can be appealing to some dogs. They probably won’t lick enough off the ground to
make themselves sick, but the box or bag needs to be stored safely out of reach.
Always read labels carefully, even on more natural products, to make sure you
understand exactly what is in the product and if any precautions are necessary
around children or pets. Cats are fastidious groomers and after walking across a
treated lawn or yard area will surely lick their paws. It may be necessary to
limit access to areas of the yard that need to be treated with products that can
pose a risk to their health.
Many dogs love to dig in and investigate new mulch and garden areas. Choose
your mulch carefully; cocoa bean mulch contains caffeine and theobromine,
although less than chocolate. It’s unlikely that your dog will eat enough to get
sick, but it has happened. For persistent pets, fencing may be appropriate.
The plants in your yard may also pose a threat to a dog or cat who likes to
“graze” and taste everything—though this is more of a problem with puppies and
kittens than adults. Some of the most toxic garden plants are:
• Amaryllis • Cyclamen • Crocus • Daffodil • Dieffenbachea • Fern • Foxglove
• Gladiola • Holly • Hyacinth • Hydrangea • Iris • Lily • Morning Glory •
Narcissus • Nightshades • Oleander • Onion • Philodendron • Rhododendron
If these are already a part of
your yard and you are bringing home a new companion, it is best to fence these
areas off until those tasting and chewing urges subside.
Compost piles and worm bins are quite popular with eco-minded gardeners, but
be sure they are inaccessible to your dog (who might find the decaying leftovers
tantalizing). Dogs who sample the compost pile will likely vomit and/or have
diarrhea and can become dehydrated. If your companion is prone to “sampling”
garbage, compost or anything else he finds on the ground, we recommend keeping an upset stomach remedy or two handy to help him recover. Here are a few of our favorites:
Fast Balance, HomeoPet Digestive Upsets, or Love My Pet Tummy-Ease.
Heatstroke is an emergency that requires immediate care. As temperatures
rise, take all necessary precautions to prevent heatstroke, and know the signs
so you can treat it quickly.
The best precaution is to leave your dog home on sunny or hot days. On an 85
degree day, the temperature inside your car, even with the windows open a bit,
will climb to 102 degrees in 10 minutes—which is enough to be fatal! After half
an hour, it will go up to 120 degrees or even higher! On a 90 degree day, temps
in that car can top 160 degrees faster than you can walk around the block. Even
if your dog has separation anxiety when you leave her at home, she is still
safer there than in your car. Give her some
calming herbs or remedies and leave
her where she will be cool.
Symptoms of heatstroke are:
• Rapid panting • Bright red tongue • Gums will be red at first, then pale as
shock sets in • Thick, sticky saliva, followed by a dry mouth as heat stroke
progresses • Exhaustion OR agitation • Vomiting • Dizziness • Shock
What to do for an animal with heatstroke:
1. Get the animal into shade or air conditioned area immediately. 2. Pour on
cool water (not too cold; you don’t want to lower the body temperature too
rapidly or too far). Lower body temperature gradually using cool water and a
fan. 3. Take the animal to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic. Even a pet
who appears to be recovering may need treatment to prevent delayed complications
such as shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, or heart problems.
When it is cool enough to take your friend with you in the car, be sure to
buckle her up! You may be a very safe driver, but what about everyone else on
the road? Pets left unrestrained can be tossed across the car, or worse, out of
the car. Pets are better off in a
or in a carrier or confined area.
Safe & Healthy Food
Only Natural Pet Store specializes in top quality natural pet food. Please
see our articles about
Evaluating Canned and Dry Food and
What You Need to Know
About Your Pet’s Food.
Here are additional resources for keeping your pets safe and happy:
safe cleaning product recipes
Safer yard and garden supplies:
Gardens Alive Online and Catalog Store
17 Poisonous Plants and ASPCA list of
If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous
substance, call a poison control hotline immediately: • Kansas State University
Veterinary Teaching Hospital 785-532-5679 •
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
(888) 426-4435 • The National Animal Poison Control Center 1-900-680-0000 or 1-
800-548-2423 • Angell Animal Poison Control Hotline at 1-877-2ANGEL
A consultation fee may apply. Be prepared to state your pet's breed, age,
weight, and any symptoms. Keep the product container or plant sample with you to
assist in identification so the appropriate treatment recommendations can be
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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for
informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product.
The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian.
Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff,
guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care