Pet-Proofing Your House: Dangers You May Have Overlooked

Be careful about where you leave your spare change. Pennies minted after 1982 contain a high zinc concentration that can poison pets.

Watching over a typical toddler — who will pick up and eat anything in front of him — can be a daunting task. Now imagine that same toddler with four legs, boundless energy and the ability to jump. That's what it's like to have a dog or cat in the house.

The average home can be a dangerous place for such curious critters. The best way for a pet parent to help ensure the safety of a dog or cat is to be aware of possible household dangers and be prepared in case an emergency arises.

Preparing For a New Pet

Before bringing a new pet into your home, veterinarians recommend getting on the floor, in the same way that you would if you were child-proofing your house. Look for any potential hazards, such as electrical cords and breakable decorations and make sure they are thoroughly secured or well out of reach.

Your cat may enjoy batting at the hanging cords on blinds or curtains, but these cords are an entanglement danger and should be kept out of your feline's reach. String-like materials — such as thread, dental floss and holiday tinsel — are also extremely dangerous to both dogs and cats because if ingested, they can become lodged in the intestines.

Flower arrangements, plants and gardening materials can pose a threat to your animals as well. Lilies are especially dangerous to cats, while cocoa mulch, which may attract dogs, can be deadly to them. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center offers an extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants.

It's also important to be aware of other less obvious hazards to your pet. For example, pennies minted after 1982 contain a high zinc concentration that can poison dogs and cats. In addition, mothballs, batteries and tobacco products (including cigarette butts) are all highly toxic and should be kept out of your pet’s reach.

Dangerous Delicacies

Although it may be tempting for pet owners to feed table scraps to their dog or cat, many common human foods have the potential to cause serious health problems in pets. Even in small amounts, chocolate can be quite dangerous to pets. It contains methylxanthines (such as caffeine and theobromine), which can harm dogs and cats and can even cause death at certain doses. Grapes and raisins may cause kidney damage in dogs or cats. Cooked or raw onions can cause anemia in dogs and cats, leading to possible depression, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness.

Xylitol, a sweetener often used in sugar-free gum, can cause a severe drop in blood sugar and possibly even seizures and liver failure in dogs if ingested in large enough amounts. Xylitol is also found in other products such as toothpaste and sugar-free candy. The effect of the sweetener on cats is unknown, but to be safe, it is best to keep these products out of the reach of all household pets.

Raw bread dough can also be a danger to your pets. When leaving bread out to rise, make sure your pet cannot get to it. If ingested, the dough can expand in the stomach and may need to be surgically removed. Yeast in the dough also produces ethanol gas, which, if eaten, can be absorbed and can cause toxicity.

And while it may seem harmless for your pet to poke around in the trash can, garbage or moldy foods can make him ill if ingested. It is wise to keep your garbage can out of your pet’s reach or closed with a tightly fitted lid.

Medications can also pose a threat to your pet. It is best to keep all medications in a secured cabinet out of paws' reach. It is also an inappropriate and dangerous practice to give any human medication to your pets. Consult your veterinarian before administering any medication to your pet.

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