If you've ever had a toddler in the house, you know how important it is to "babyproof" every room, making sure that all dangerous items are locked away or stored out of the reach of tiny, curious hands and mouths.
The same idea applies if you're a pet parent. Our furry family members love to explore and can be just as curious as toddlers. What can make pet-proofing even tougher is that many common household items that aren't at all dangerous to us, including foods we eat, medicines we take, and products we use every day, can be highly toxic to cats and dogs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you do think your pet has ingested something harmful, you'll need to seek the help of a 24/7 emergency veterinarian immediately. Call (973) 788-0500 to reach Animal Emergency & Referral Associates in Fairfield, NJ for emergency pet care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
To avoid an emergency trip to the vet—and to ensure that your pets are happy, healthy, and free to explore their home—you'll want to identify potential hazards in advance and make sure they're well out of reach of an inquisitive cat or dog. The ASPCA keeps a list of the top toxins reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center every year. Their most recent list includes the following:
- Medications: These include both over-the-counter and prescription medications meant for humans, as well as veterinary medications meant for animals. Chewable veterinary medications are often meant to be extra tasty for pets. The good taste means a pet will be more willing to take medicine when it's needed, but it also makes an accidental overdose a real danger.
- Insecticides: You should be aware of everything from household roach baits to bug repellant sprays to products you'd use on your lawn. Even flea and tick products meant for pets can be harmful if your pet accidentally ingests them.
- Human foods: Foods that are healthy for people, such as avocadoes, grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, and macadamia nuts, can be toxic to cats and dogs. Dogs can suffer from low blood sugar or liver damage if they ingest xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in some types of gum and candy and even peanut butter, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Other foods, such as coconut, citrus, dairy items, nuts, and salty snack foods, aren't lethal but can cause unpleasant symptoms for your pet such as vomiting, loose stools or diarrhea, elevated body temperature, weakness, depression, and excessive thirst and urination. Although you often see cats in storybooks and cartoons happily drinking from saucers of milk, many cats are actually very sensitive to lactose.
- Chocolate: It's delicious for humans, but it can be deadly for our four-legged friends. A chemical found in chocolate called theobromine is highly toxic for dogs. Large amounts of chocolate can cause death in a dog within 24 hours, although even a tiny amount is unsafe.
- Household items: Watch out for items such as cleaning products, cosmetics, and paint.
- Plants: Cats love to nibble on plants, but many common houseplants and flowers, such as lilies, can be toxic to them. Before bringing any plant into your house, double check that it is safe.
Now that you know some items to watch out for, do a room-by-room check of your house.
- Living room: Scented candles and potpourri can seem inviting to pets, but they are harmful if ingested. Double check that any houseplants in your home are non-toxic to pets. Do you regularly leave your purse sitting on the coffee table? Check its contents for items that are hazardous to pets such as gum, mints, or hand sanitizer.
- Bedroom: Perhaps you regularly leave medications on the nightstand. You'll want to lock these away, along with lotions or other cosmetics.
- Kitchen: Again, check for any medications or vitamins. Even medications that are stored in childproof containers won't be safe from a determined dog that really likes to chew. Make sure hazardous foods—especially chocolate—are stored safely away from your animals.
- Bathrooms: Here's another prime spot for medications, as well as cleaning products and cosmetics.
- Basement: Check for pesticides and laundry supplies such as detergent, fabric softener sheets, or bleach. If you have a workbench in your basement, watch out for glue or solvents.
- Garage: Maybe your pet doesn't spend much time in the garage, but you never know when you'll have an escape artist who decides to explore outside of the house. Be aware of dangers such as fertilizers, pesticides, or even rodent killer. Antifreeze is particularly attractive to pets because of its sweet taste, but it is highly poisonous.
Now that you've identified hazardous items, it's time to start pet-proofing your house.
- Purchase childproof latches to secure safely in cabinets items that could otherwise be pushed open by paws or noses.
- Store items up high—if you're a dog owner. Remember that cats are skilled jumpers, and the heights they can reach in your home might surprise you. They've been known to leap onto hanging plants or scale refrigerators. Simply putting items on a high counter or shelf won't necessarily keep them away from cats.
- Cover your trash cans securely or store them inside a locked cabinet.
- Immediately clean up any spills of hazardous materials—antifreeze, cleaners, soap, or paint.
- Advise guests to your home to secure any medications or cosmetic items they may have brought with them. If they're using a guest room in your home, keep the door closed.
Protecting your pets from hazardous items requires constant vigilance, but you'll feel better knowing your animals are safe and happy in your home. If you suspect your cat or dog has ingested something potentially harmful, seek the help of a 24/7 emergency veterinarian immediately. Acting quickly in this situation can save your pet's life.
If you live in the Fairfield or Little Falls, NJ area, you can contact Animal Emergency & Referral Associates, AERA's 24/7 emergency vet hospital, at (973) 788-0500. Animal Emergency & Referral Associates is open 365 days a year, including holidays, for emergency pet care.