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How to poison-proof your home

How often do you consider that common household products could be potentially hazardous to your pet’s health? While it might not be something you think about on a regular basis, taking the time to familiarize yourself with the potential hazards in your home could mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

According to Pet Poison Helpline, the top 10 toxins for dogs include:

  • Chocolate
  • Rodenticides
  • Vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D or iron supplements
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Cardiac medications, such as calcium channel blockers or beta-blockers
  • Cold and allergy medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Xylitol
  • Acetaminophen
  • Caffeine pills

For cats, the list includes:

  • Topical spot-on insecticides intended for use in dogs only
  • Household cleaners
  • Antidepressants
  • Lilies
  • Insoluble oxalate plants, such as dumb canes or philodendrons
  • Human and veterinary NSAIDs
  • Cold and flu medications
  • Glow sticks
  • ADD/ADHD medications
  • Rodenticides

We recently spoke with AAHA’s incoming president and owner and medical director of Macungie Animal Hospital, Nancy Soares, VMD, about common household toxins and how to poison-proof a pet-friendly home.

PetsMatter: What advice do you have for pet owners about how to keep their homes safe for their pets?

Nancy Soares: Know which poisons live in your home and create a poison first aid kit. Don’t forget to update it each time you change the batteries in your smoke detector. Pet owners should educate themselves on the top 10 household poisons for pets [as listed above], top 10 human medications that are poisonous to pets, and the top 10 household plants that are poisonous to pets, as well as the common clinical signs associated with pet poisonings.

Be sure to consider pet-proofing all areas of the home, including the garage, laundry room, and bathrooms. 

PetsMatter: Have you ever treated any poison cases that could have been easily prevented?

NS: Yes. Most pet owners are unaware that human pain relievers cannot be given to dogs and cats. Common NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, have a very narrow safety margin in pets. The severity is species-dependent. Dogs suffer liver failure and gastrointestinal ulceration. Cats experience an altered liver metabolism and can suffer more severe or life-threatening injuries to their red blood cells and respiratory systems. The pet may suffer irreversible organ damage, or in some cases, death may even occur.

PetsMatter: Is chocolate as toxic to dogs as it’s made out to be? Is it toxic for cats?

NS: Most pet owners know chocolate is bad for dogs and can cause significant problems. Fortunately, most cats are too finicky to eat it. Here’s a general rule: The darker and bitterer the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your dog. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the largest threats; however, just ingesting chocolate, which most dogs don’t typically eat every day, can cause an upset stomach.  This can also bring on vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a decreased appetite. 

The active ingredient in chocolate is what causes major problems for dogs. Methylxanthine is a distant cousin to caffeine and causes overexcitement to the nervous system. The chemical toxicity results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, inflammation of the pancreas, abnormal heart rhythm, and can lead to death. If a dog experiences any of these signs after ingesting chocolate, medical attention is warranted.     

For more information on pet poison prevention, check out the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

Bekka Burton is a freelance writer and English language teacher living with a tortoiseshell cat who loves to hide in cardboard boxes.

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