Lifestyle and Safety Assessment

Safety hazards vary with the patient’s life stage and lifestyle as well as with impairments of mobility, hearing, or vision. Guide the pet owner in identifying and evaluating the potential for hazards, such as:

  • Home and environmental toxins including toxic plants and medications
  • Electric cords
  • Potential foreign bodies
  • Human consumables toxic to pets (e.g., xylitol, raisins)
  • Temperature extremes
  • Vehicle transport (restraint, temperature extremes)
  • Physical hazards (e.g., sharp objects, thorns, bodies of water such as pools and ponds)
  • Wildlife or other animals (infectious disease transmission, attacks, or fighting)

Especially for new dog owners or new dogs at any life stage, discuss appropriate confinement and control (e.g., leash, collar, chest or head harnesses, crates), including in the home, yard, car, and during travel, to prevent the aforementioned dangers. Because free-roaming dogs are at much greater risk for disease and injury, appropriate confinement can save the lives of canine pets. Open-ended or probing questions during history-taking may indicate whether the pet is at risk as a result of inappropriate confinement, dog fighting, or hoarding conditions. Contact animal control authorities if any pet welfare violations or concerns are identified.20

Safety also includes planning for care in the event of owner or pet illness, accident, or natural or human-caused disasters. Discuss healthcare financial planning, disaster preparedness, and estate planning with pet owners where appropriate. Encourage appropriate registration and identification of the pet, including discussing the value of microchipping, external identification tags, and licensing.21 Readable, current identification increases the chance of recovery of lost dogs.22,23

Puppies and young adults are inclined to investigate and explore, so help pet owners develop increased awareness of hazards at these life stages.23–27 “Puppy-proof” the environment by regularly putting away toys, clothes, and shoes; ensuring security of trash containers and accessible closets or cabinets; and stabilizing furniture or items that may tip or fall. Daily exercise and mental stimulation may diminish the tendency to seek novelty from boredom as well as to provide health benefits.

Senior dogs undergo declines in mobility, vision, hearing, and cognition and may require modifications to the home environment to improve safety. Provide traction on floors and stairs or alter daily routines to minimize the need for stair-climbing as appropriate. Minimize clutter for cognitively impaired dogs who may wander aimlessly and bump into objects and furniture.28 Be aware that senior dogs may not hear approaching vehicles well, which increases injury risk. They also may not hear approaching people or other pets and may attempt to bite when startled by an unheard pet or person.

The 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Elanco Animal Health, Hill’s ® Pet Nutrition, Inc., IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health and Zoetis Petcare.