Potential Health Hazards to Pets In Your Home

By Emily Hoppmann, DVM

There may be dangers lurking in your home and you don’t even know it.  It is impossible to cover everything that a pet might get into, but I am going to try to cover some of the potential hazards for our beloved pets.

* Crafts – If you do any type of crafts that involve string or yarn or small pieces of plastic/metal/etc. these things need to be put up anytime you are not at your work station.  Cats love linear things (like your string, yarn, tinsel, bows, ribbons, even the old ribbon from cassette tapes), but their body does not love these things.  In fact, if it is ingested it can require surgery to extract.  This is because the linear object can get caught up at some point in the intestine and cause the intestines to bunch, get twisted, or even act as a sawing motion and put a hole in the intestinal tract.  All of these things can be fatal if not treated.  With dogs they just love to eat things period!  If there is something that your dog gets a hold of and accidently swallows it, there is a chance that the dog will become blocked.  This means that the foreign object has gotten into a place in the intestine that it cannot get past.  You will see vomiting and no passage of stool, as well as a very ill dog overall.  This also requires surgery to remove whatever the dog ate and potentially remove any section of intestine that has died as a result of it.

* Plants – We all love having plants in the household, but before picking out your next plant be sure to consult the ASPCA’s animal poison control center at 1-888-426-4435 or the VPI (pet insurance) sponsored pet poison hotline at 1-800-213-6680.  Around the holidays people pay particular attention to this because of the hype that poinsettias are fatal if eaten by a cat.  The truth of the matter is that if your cat gets into your poinsettia, it will result in vomiting.  There are actually more dangerous plants during the holiday season to worry about, such as mistletoe, pine tree needles, amaryllis lilies, res azaleas, and paperwhites.  There is an endless list of plants that can affect your dogs, cats, and horses differently.  The ASPCA has a great website that lists all the toxic and non-toxic plants.  If your pet has eaten a poisonous plant, call the Pet Poison Number because they have the most up-to-date information about clinical signs and effective treatment plans, and make sure to head to us right away so that we can do everything to lessen the damage to your pet.

* Kitchen Danger – We all know that pitiful look our pets give us when they want something we are making in the kitchen, but be careful what you give them, it could kill them.  The absolute “no-no’s” are chocolate, grapes, raisins, and currants, sugar-free gum or candy, onions and garlic, macadamia nuts, alcohol, and unbaked bread dough.  However, giving them any food that is not their normal dog food can result in GI upset (vomiting and diarrhea) and that means a trip to the veterinarian before the pet gets even sicker from having those clinical signs.  The worst things you can give to your pets are bones, which can splinter in the intestines, or rich/fatty food, which can lead to life-threatening pancreatitis.  Other non-food items in your kitchen that can be dangerous include compost, the garbage can, and household cleaners.  Be sure that your pet can’t get access to any of these things – much like child-proofing a house!

* Medications – Dangerous medications for your pet include: medications prescribed for them but at too high of a dose, medications prescribed for another pet in the household, medications that were purchased over the counter which are not regulated by the FDA and can have fatal side-effects (even though they say for animals or “approved by your veterinarian”), and your human medications.  It is important to have any medications prescribed to your pets in a place that they can’t get to them since some are flavored and your pet may want to help himself to some more!  It is important never to buy medication from any source but your veterinarian.  Not only does your veterinarian know the pharmacology of the drug, but also how it affects your pet in particular.  Also, your veterinarian will be able to answer any questions you may have.  The biggest issue with medications and vaccines not given by your veterinarian is that there is no way to know if they will work.  I buy top of the line vaccines, that are delivered on ice, never shaken and put straight into the refrigerator.  I spend the extra money on these vaccines because I stand behind them and the company does as well.  If your pet has followed proper protocol with vaccines, you may end up having all of your bill paid.  The same is true of heartworm and flea prevention.  I buy only the best directly from the companies and I stand behind them.  If they have been used correctly and there is proof of that and they don’t work, again you will end up having your bill taken care of.  Drug companies are not selling to anyone but veterinarians, so if you come by it some other way, no one is standing behind it.  Not to mention there is no way to know if what you gave your dog has been handled correctly or if it is even what it says it is.  I never want anything potentially harmful or fatal to be given to your pet.

Human Medications are also very toxic to pets.  The top 6 are 1. Pain Relievers (asprin, advil, aleve, motrin, tylenol, etc.), 2. Antidepressants     (Cymbalta, Effexor, etc.), 3. ADD/ADHD medication (Ritalin, Vyvanse, etc), 4. Sleep Aids (Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta, etc), 5. Muscle Relaxants     (Lioresal, Flexeril), 6. Heart Medication (Cartia, Cardizem).  The list could go on and on.  A pet should never get into any medication that was not     prescribed for it, but if it does happen call the Poison hotline and get to us right away so we can start controlling the damage.

Also, make sure you go through your medicines on a regular basis.  If a doctor prescribed them for a certain number of days, they should be taken as directed.  There should  not have pills left over.  Also, medications do expire, so check the date on your medication.  Finally, do not give any     medication to your pet without seeing a doctor.  What you think you are doing to help them could kill them.