Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
Our home is our happy place, where we feel safe and secure. We assume that our pets are also safe at home, but the reality is there are many hazards that could be within their reach! Pets are curious by nature and want to investigate everything, including items around the house that are dangerous. It’s up to you as a responsible pet owner to take the necessary steps to make sure you’ve properly puppy-proofed or cat-proofed your home.
1. Avoid hazards
This may seem obvious, but simply knowing what those hazards are is half the battle. The following are poisonous and should be stashed away in a pet-proof cabinet:
- Human Medication: The most common emergency called in to the ASPCA (Animal Poison Control Center) is human medication. Frequently, an owner will drop one of their own pills, or an animal will get into a pill container. There are millions of medications out there, all with different risks of exposure for dogs and cats. Even small amounts of human medication can be fatal so it's important to make sure all medications are tightly sealed and securely stored so they are not accessible to your dog or cat.
- Poisonous Houseplants: Plants in the house also pose a dangerous risk to our pets. So, which plants are toxic to pets? A lot! Many common houseplants such as lilies, philodendron, and aloe vera are toxic to dogs and cats. A simple online search will get you a full list, but it’s best to just move any plants out of reach.
- Human Food: Food for humans does not bode well for our pets. Chocolate, onions, and grapes, are a few of the foods most of us are already aware of, but ingredients such as the artificial sweetener xylitol are also poisonous to pets. It’s very important to be aware how you dispose of food leftovers and food scraps like coffee grounds and chicken bones. Make sure to keep your trash cans covered otherwise curious pets can be exposed to poisonous foods and choking hazards.
- Cleaning Products: Many household cleaners have been manufactured to be safe to use around pets. However, it’s important to read the instructions listed on the bottle for proper use and to make sure dogs and cats are kept away from the area while the product is in use. Detergents, bleach, and other household cleaning/maintenance products should always be stored in a secure place to limit the risk of poisoning, just like medications. In the garage, it is important to make sure antifreeze is not accessible to pets because it has a sweet smell and may attract your dog or cat.
- Other Household Items: Veterinarians also treat many dogs and cats who have ingested toxic items such as batteries, dryer sheets, glue, coins, bug traps, moth balls, cigars, and cigarettes. Many household items that are boring to us look like toys to our pets, and electrical cords are at the top of the list of offenders! Some pets like to chew on computer, electronic, and television cords, resulting in shock and electrical burns. Other pets think rubber bands, fishing lures, and holiday ornaments are potential playthings. These and many other household items pose a risk to your pet and preventing access to these items is usually the best way to eliminate danger. Make sure restrict access to the areas with these items when you are not at home if your pet is allowed to roam free.
2. Clear the Clutter
Our pets (more often dogs) love to chew. They chew on things for a number of reasons, such as exploring, anxiety, teething, and even boredom (learn more about why dogs chew here). So it’s important to be proactive and put anything hazardous to our pets away when they’re not in use.
3. Close the Doors
If your pets roam freely about the house while you’re away, close the doors to any rooms that may contain potentially harmful pet hazards or items such as bathrooms. Many bathrooms contain dangerous cleaning supplies, medications, and other toxic materials that could be sitting in an open trashcan.
4. Baby-Proof the House
Pets are by no means human children, but the same devices used to keep our little ones safe work well for keeping our pets out of trouble, too. If you have small children, then you’re probably already aware of all the great baby proofing items available and know they are easy to install. If you don’t, take a trip to a local big-box store and look for items like baby gates, safety locks for cabinets, and containment systems for electrical cords that will help protect against pet hazards.
5. Be Ready for an Emergency
If you suspect your dog or cat has gotten into something they shouldn't have, contact your veterinarian immediately and be prepared with the following information:
- What and how much your pet could have gotten into (always give a worst case scenario).
- How long ago it happened.
- The size or weight of your pet.
- If your pet is showing any clinical signs that indicate a medical condition, such as vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and increased heart rate.
This information will help your veterinarian determine the next step in treatment. Some things may be minor concerns that cause nothing more than mild self-limiting gastrointestinal upset, whereas some can be life-threatening.
No matter if your pet has been with your family for years or if you plan on adding a new furry friend to the family, it’s important to check your household for pet hazards. Pets are curious (and fast) so we need to keep an eye out for any pet hazards that are easily accessible, and pet-proof the home. Using common sense is the first step to pet or puppy-proofing your house, as well as knowing what poses a risk to your pet’s health. Always make sure hazardous items are kept in a pet-proof cabinet, and have the phone number of the nearest veterinary emergency hospital on hand just in case!