Pets Find These Hazards Irresistible, Make Sure Your Home Is Clear

pet poison prevention

Story at-a-glance -

  • March 18 to 24 is National Poison Prevention Week and a good time to remind pet parents to poison-proof their homes
  • Start with the main living areas and bedrooms, and remove or secure all temptations that could poison a curious pet
  • Move on to the kitchen to check for human foods toxic to pets, and then head to the bathroom to secure all medications, topical creams and ointments and cleaning products
  • Finish up with a sweep of the utility room and garage, where most people store a wide variety of potentially poisonous products

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

The third full week of March each year is designated National Poison Prevention Week, and the Pet Poison Helpline also uses this week to help raise awareness of household dangers to pets:1

"While much of the [nationally recognized] effort has been directed at raising awareness with parents of small children, the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline remind us that pets are also vulnerable and susceptible to accidental ingestion of potentially life-threatening common items in the home."

As veterinarian Dr. Ahna Brutlag, assistant director at the Helpline points out:

"Pets are curious and often can't resist smelling, tasting and sometimes swallowing foods, plants and other items in our homes that interest them. Poison-proofing your home is important. Taking simple steps such as making sure your houseplants are [nontoxic] and storing medications in secure areas will significantly reduce the chances that your dog or cat will come in contact with a toxic substance."

How to Poison-Proof Your Home Room-by-Room

The vets at the Helpline suggest protecting your pets by poison-proofing your home, room-by-room:

Living room, family room, bedrooms, hallways, entryway

Double-check your indoor plants to insure they're pet-friendly. The top five most common culprits in pet poisonings include:

  1. Plants from the Araceae family, which include the philodendron, pothos, peace lily, calla lily, dumb cane, arrowhead vine, mother-in-law's tongue, sweetheart vine, devil's ivy, umbrella plant and elephant ear
  2. English shamrock, rhubarb (leaves) and tropical star fruit
  3. Kalanchoe
  4. Corn plant/dragon tree
  5. Spring flowers, including certain spring bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinth and tulips

Certain home fragrance products, such as simmer pots of liquid potpourri, can cause chemical burns if your dog or cat ingests them. It's also important to be very careful when using any type of airborne product around cats, and especially, pet birds. My recommendation is actually to avoid using all scenting products, including air freshener sprays, upholstery sprays, plug-ins, gels, candles and incense in households with pets (furry, feathered, finned or scaled).

These products produce dangerous indoor pollutants that dramatically affect our pets. Over the past decade, scientific research has shown that many household air fresheners contain chemicals that may be harmful.

Keep all smoking products and paraphernalia out of reach of your pets, including cigarette butts, ashtrays, nicotine chewing gum and nicotine patches. And be especially careful with electronic cigarettes, as they can pose an even bigger danger to furry family members than second- or third-hand tobacco smoke.

Also be careful with batteries. Some dogs enjoy chewing on batteries and battery-containing devices such as remote controls and cell phones. If ingested, they can cause serious problems. Alkaline batteries contain materials that can cause damage when they come in contact with living tissue in a process called liquefactive necrosis.

The tissues soften, allowing the alkali to penetrate deeply. When a dog chews and punctures a battery, the alkaline material can leak out and cause damage to tissues in and around the mouth, and occasionally in the esophagus and farther down the GI tract If a dog actually swallows a battery, it can cause an obstruction, and if it stays in the stomach long enough for the casing to dissolve, heavy metals (typically zinc or lead) can be released into the dog's system, leading to toxicosis.

Hang up your purse or backpack as soon as you arrive home. Pets love to stick their noses into purses and backpacks, which can contain potential poisons such as medications (including asthma inhalers), gum or candy containing xylitol, smoking products or hand sanitizer.

Kitchen

Keep human foods that are poisonous to dogs and cats out of reach. Reported cases of toxicity in pets across the globe have most often involved the following six foods:

  1. Chocolate and chocolate-based products
  2. Plants containing allium, including onions, garlic, leeks and chives; however, dogs can safely consume one-fourth teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic per 15 pounds of body weight and reap substantial health benefits — just don't go overboard
  3. Macadamia nuts
  4. Vitis vinifera fruits, including grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants
  5. Foods and products containing the sweetener xylitol
  6. Ethanol in alcoholic beverages

Keep your garbage can behind closed doors, or insure the lid is always in place and secure. Trash and compost bins can contain many pet toxins such as cigarette butts, coffee grounds, moldy foods and bones.

Bathrooms

Keep all human medications and supplements in closed cabinets or closets, safely out of reach of your pets. Take care not to leave open bottles or loose pills on countertops, tables, or in plastic baggies your dog or cat can chew through. Also keep all topical creams and ointments out of reach, and don't allow your cat or dog to lick your skin after applying these products.

It's best to store human medications separately from pet medications. The Pet Poison Helpline receives many calls from people who accidentally gave their own medication to a pet.

Keep cleaning products secured and keep pets out of the room while using bathroom cleansers or other cleaning products. Close toilet lids, especially if you use automatic chemical tank or bowl treatment. Better yet, replace all chemical cleaning products with safe, nontoxic alternatives.

Utility room, garage

Keep rodenticides (rat and mouse poison) far away from pets and keep in mind that rodents can transfer these poisons to locations accessible by pets. 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. Diaphacinone 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.

Whenever possible, avoid using chemical pesticides and insecticides in your home or on your pets, and never use flea/tick products meant for dogs on your cat.

Keep glues out of reach. Some glues, such as Gorilla Glue®, expand greatly once ingested and require surgical removal. Believe it or not, just one ounce of glue may expand to the size of a basketball, according to Pet Poison Helpline.

Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) products are extremely toxic, and they have a sweet taste that may be appealing to pets, especially dogs. Propylene glycol-based antifreeze is a safer alternative if you have a dog, but is not safe for use around cats. If antifreeze is spilled, clean it up immediately or dilute it with several gallons of water.

Keep all automotive products, such as windshield cleaner fluid or brake fluid, carefully stored away from pets.

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