More than 50 years ago, Congress established National Poison Prevention Week to promote poison prevention in homes across America. Considering the fact that 39 percent of American homes own at least one dog and 33 percent own at least one cat, poison prevention should include our pets as well. Many pet owners dismiss the idea that their pets could fall victim to toxins in the home. However, last year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) fielded 167,000 phone calls about pets exposed to poisonous substances. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help keep your pets safe.
Keep your pets away from rodent poisons and insecticides. This is the most common cause of companion animal poisoning. If possible, it is best to use nonlethal methods of controlling rodents and insects for the safety of your pet. “Have-a-Heart Traps” can be purchased from hardware stores to humanely trap rodents, then place cotton balls dipped in peppermint oil near problem areas to prevent them from returning. There are also natural alternatives to pesticides. If you have an ant problem, you can sprinkle cinnamon, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, or baby powder in problem areas and along baseboards and windowsills. To prevent cockroach infestations, use equal parts of baking soda and confectioner’s sugar in problem areas. Small sachets of crushed mint placed around the home will discourage flies. So will a potted sweet basil plant.
Prevent your pets from eating certain foods. Aside from rodent poisons and insecticides, there are everyday food items that are potentially toxic to your pet. Drinks such as alcoholic beverages can be toxic to pets if ingested. According to the ASPCA, because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure. And you may want to skip sharing turkey and chicken with your pets since poultry bones can splinter and cause blockages. Foods containing grapes, raisins, and currants can result in kidney failure in dogs. Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea but large amounts can cause seizures and heart failure. Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
Don’t bring toxic plants into the home. In addition to poisons and food, the Pet Poison Helpline (PPH) urges owners to make sure to pet proof their home by not purchasing plants that could be a potential hazard. According to Dr. Ahna Brutlag from PPH, some common household plants may be toxic to pets, but not people. For example, lilies are especially poisonous to cats. The ingestion of just one or two petals can be fatal to some cats. A list of toxic plants can be found at petpoisonhelpline.com. Always consult this list before buying new plants for your home.
Lock up medications. Dr. Brutlag warns pet owners to keep medications such as over-the-counter and prescription pills, inhalers, and dietary supplements safely locked up in secure cupboards. She says to never medicate your pets with human products without first contacting your veterinarian. Some common human medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) are extremely poisonous to pets. Dr. Brutlag also advises pet owners to check the container before giving medication to your pet to make sure it’s the correct medication. PPH receives many calls from people who accidentally gave their own medication to a pet.
Be cautious of cleaning supplies. There are many household cleaners such as bleach, detergents, and disinfectants that can be irritating and possibly toxic to pets. These products can cause gastrointestinal troubles, eye or skin irritation, or difficulty breathing if inhaled or ingested by your dogs or cats. Take precautions when using these products. Its best to put your pets in another room while you mop, dust, and clean. And, of course, keep cleaning supplies locked in a safe place. You can also make your own cleaning supplies with nontoxic substances to minimize the risk of irritation to both you and your pets.
One product that I was really surprised to find hazardous to pets is fabric softener sheets. Apparently, these sheets contain detergents known as cationics that are potentially harmful, especially to cats. Furthermore, there are studies that indicate that fabric softener sheets could be harmful to humans as well. I found an interesting alternative to dryer sheets — there’s a safer product called “dryer balls” that work almost as well as dryer sheets and are reusable many times over. You can purchase them at most home goods stores.
If you think your pet has ingested a poisonous substance, the Pet Poison Hotline is a service available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. PPH can provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals, and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, PPH’s fee of $35 per incident includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poison case. PPH is available in the U.S. and Canada by calling (800) 213-6680. Additional information can be found online at petpoisonhelpline.com.
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