Household Dangers for Pets

By: Virginia Williams, DVM

TVMA Member
Lago Vista, TX.

Published September 2014

Make Your Home a Safe Place for Your Pets

Baby-proofing your household is essential before the arrival of a new infant, but have you considered safety-proofing in advance of a new furry or feathered friend? There are many dangers in your home that can be harmful to pets, but with a little effort, you can make your home a much safer environment for them.

Many of the common household dangers are things that we, as people, use and see every day. Some are also concerns for people, such as electrical hazards or dangling cords. Pets, however, see these things differently than we do. Dogs and cats can see cords as playthings, and chewing a live cord can result in a shock or electrocution. It’s also possible for a pet to swallow a piece of a cord or become entangled in one. Because cats are so interested in playing with things like string, dental floss, thread and yarn, they are particularly at risk for ingesting string-like foreign bodies. Wires and cords should be kept carefully coiled and wrapped to decrease their appeal, and pets always should be supervised when they have access to these areas.

Decorations and ornaments are a fun part of many holidays but pose significant health risks to dogs, cats and other animals.

Tinsel and plastic grass, when eaten, can result in intestinal obstruction, vomiting or diarrhea. Glass ornaments can break and cause cuts or be eaten, which can be harmful to the gastrointestinal tract. Baby gates or panels should be placed around Christmas trees to prevent access. Doors should be shut when the family is out of the house so a potential accident can be averted.

Many of the plants we commonly use in landscaping and indoors are toxic to animals.

Your veterinarian can supply you with a list of toxic plants so you can be sure the plants you bring home are safe. A few examples of dangerous plants are Sago palm, poinsettia, dieffenbachia, Easter lily and oleander. Toxicity varies depending on species and the amount or part of the plant ingested. If you think your pet has ingested a dangerous plant, contact your veterinarian or a poison control center as soon as possible.

There are a number of different ingestible hazards regularly found in many homes, including medication, plants, foods and household chemicals.

Many commonly used medications are very harmful to your pets. Dogs and cats may not process medications in the same way humans do, so something that is safe for you may prove to be dangerous or even fatal for your pet. For example, Tylenol, even in small amounts, can be fatal to cats. Pills look dangerously similar to dog and cat treats, and your pet may eat them if dropped or left on the counter. Medications should be stored in cabinets in their proper containers, out of the reach of your pet.

In addition to medications and plants, there are also a number of foods that, while perfectly safe for us, are potential dangers to our pets.

Many people are aware that chocolate can be dangerous, but did you know that more concentrated chocolate, such as baking or dark chocolate, is more likely to cause a problem than milk chocolate? Raisins and grapes can cause kidney failure in pets, so be careful not to leave a bowl out on the dining table in easy reach. Onions can be harmful as well, potentially leading to life-threatening anemia, although most pets are not very interested in eating them. Also, ingestion of high-fat foods like steak and bacon can lead to a life-threatening case of pancreatitis.

Xylitol, the artificial sweetener found in gum and other foods, can cause a life-threatening drop in blood sugar if ingested. You should be very careful to never leave these products within reach of your pet, as dogs often are attracted to the flavor. Seek help immediately if you find your pet has eaten any gum containing xylitol.

Other common household products that are potential dangers if ingested include antifreeze, rat poison, ant bait, insect repellents and chocolate. These, along with all other chemicals, should be kept behind closed doors at all times.

Food preparation presents its own special danger to pet birds.

Birds are especially sensitive to Teflon coating in cooking pans. Vapors from the non-stick coating can prove fatal, so do not leave cookware unsupervised while in use on the stove, and be sure to house your bird somewhere other than the kitchen. Also, birds that can fly are at risk around ceiling fans, windows and mirrors. Regular wing trims can prevent birds from flying into hazards as well as escaping to the outdoors.

Every household contains a number of items that are potentially hazardous to both pets and people. Educate yourself so you are aware of possible dangers before they become a problem. The right safety measures and constant vigilance will keep you and your pet safe.

Virginia Williams, DVM, is a graduate of Oklahoma State College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Lago Vista, Texas. Dr. Williams practices at Lago Vista Animal Clinic, which she founded in 1994.