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:
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.
"Many human medications, such as ibuprofen and acetominophen, are highly toxic to animals"
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 smell enticing.
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:
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 information)
For pets who like to graze, try the Kitty's Garden.
"Flea control products, even those designed to use on and around animals, can be toxic to our companions over time."
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 deterrents instead.
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:
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.
"As temperatures rise, take all necessary precautions to prevent heatstroke, and know the signs so you can treat it quickly."
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:
What to do for an animal with heatstroke:
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 safety harness, or in a carrier or confined area.
Safe & Healthy Food
Only Natural Pet 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:
Eco-cycle.org for safe cleaning product recipes
Safer yard and garden supplies: Gardens Alive Online and Catalog Store
ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants.
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 made.
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