By Dr. Becker
As a pet guardian, you know that each holiday, celebration, change of season, and memorable event in the lives of humans comes with a list of potential hazards for furry family members. And you know that it's important to be prepared to insure your pet gets to enjoy special occasions right along with the rest of your family.
The change of season from summer to fall presents certain risks for pets, such as back-to-school purchases including those colorful piles of brand new school supplies on your kitchen or dining room table. And if you've indulged your kids with fruit-scented pencils and erasers, they can attract pets (especially dogs) like moths to a flame.
PetMD compiled a list of the 10 most commonly used school supplies that present a potential choking hazard for pets:1
- Glue sticks/bottled glue
- Action figures/small dolls
- Bouncy balls
- Pencils (even small splinters can get lodged in the mouth and esophagus)
- Pens (watch out especially for pen caps)
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), fortunately these items are considered "low toxicity" to pets. This means they probably won't cause your dog or cat serious problems unless large amounts are ingested.2
However, there is the potential for GI upset and even a blockage, so be sure the kiddos keep their school supplies out of reach of your pet.
Symptoms of Foreign Item Ingestion in Pets
The biggest danger if your pet eats a non-food item like a school supply is the possibility of an intestinal blockage. A blockage can prevent your dog or cat from digesting his food, and if it's large enough, it can actually cause the intestine to burst, resulting in a very serious bacterial infection known as sepsis.
Symptoms of an intestinal blockage include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea that can lead to dehydration
- Refusal to eat (anorexia) and/or severe weight loss
- Weakness or dizziness
- Swelling of the abdomen
If your pet is an indiscriminate eater and/or you know or suspect she's ingested a foreign object, it's important to see your veterinarian, or in the case of a blockage, the closest emergency animal hospital.
An endoscopy, a procedure in which a scope with a camera is fed down the esophagus, is often used to find a blockage and can also be used to remove it. In the case of a large obstruction, surgery may be required to remove it.
Another Warning for Parents of Kids and Pets: Some School Supplies May Contain Toxic Chemicals
In 2012, a Portland, Oregon news station reported that a potentially dangerous chemical, PVC, had been discovered in common school supplies by the Center for Health, Environment, & Justice (CHEJ). Download the full report: Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children's Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies.
According to KATU.com:3
"PVC, a toxic plastic, is linked to many different health problems and can be found in some backpacks, lunch boxes and binders.
PVC is already banned from toys, but not school supplies. Exposure can potentially cause birth defects, asthma, obesity, early puberty, infertility, and diabetes."
"It basically acts like hormones in the body when kids are exposed through inhaling or ingesting, so that's why we're concerned," said Jen Coleman of the Oregon Environmental Council.4
The tags and labels on school supplies don't always reveal that the product contains PVC, so according to Coleman, you should avoid purchasing "clear, shiny, flexible plastic that has that characteristic plastic smell."
For a list of recommended school supplies, download the CHEJ Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.
Other Fall Hazards for Pets
The crisp, cool feel of autumn in the air can be a welcome reprieve from hot, sticky weather. And the combination of cooler temps and less time outdoors usually means fewer pet pests to worry about as well.
However, fall brings its share of potential dangers for pets, so here are a few things to keep in mind to insure your furry family member remains safe and healthy as we move into the cooler months of the year.
- Rodenticides. Rodenticide use increases in the fall as mice, rats, and other rodents try to move indoors where it's warm. Rodenticides are highly toxic to pets, especially the new "safer" products containing bromethalin.
My recommendation is to avoid using these poisons. If you have rodents around your home, I recommend a live trap called the Havahart®, which is a humane trap that catches mice, rats, or other rodents so you can remove them from your home without using toxins or poisoning your environment.
If you must use a bait trap with a killing agent, select a product that contains an active ingredient other than bromethalin. Diphacinone and chlorophacinone are short-acting anticoagulants, and most veterinarians will be familiar with standard methods of diagnosis and treatment. But again, I don't advocate using these products if at all possible.
Supervise your pets when they're outside to insure they never have a chance to consume rodents or rodent bait around your home or neighborhood.
- Mushrooms. Mushrooms bloom in the fall and again in spring. Most mushrooms aren't toxic, but about 1 percent are highly toxic and can cause a life-threatening emergency if your pet eats one.
Unfortunately, highly toxic mushrooms look very much like non-toxic varieties, so be safe rather than sorry and keep your pet away from areas where mushrooms are growing.
- Snakes. Snakes preparing to hibernate for the winter tend to get a little cranky in the fall, which increases the risk of a severe snakebite if your dog or cat happens to meet up with one.
Make sure you're up-to-date on the types of venomous snakes that inhabit your environment and where they're most likely to be found, and keep your pet away from those areas.
- Antifreeze. Many people change their car's engine coolant each fall. Ethylene glycol-based antifreeze is highly toxic, so be sure to clean up spills immediately. You also might want to consider switching to a propylene glycol-based coolant. These antifreeze products aren't completely non-toxic, but they are much less toxic than products containing ethylene glycol.