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Common Household Dangers To Pets

Updated on January 7, 2016
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


Your Home Can Be A Minefield Of Dangers To Pets

When you take a pet into your home, the idea is that you're providing a safe haven in which the pet can live out its life with the companionship of a loving family who will treat it with respect and provide for its health, nourishment and mental well-being.

Another way to look at it is that you're bringing the poor thing into an environment so fraught with danger that its very life is at risk. A little strong, a little melodramatic? Maybe, but it is true.

Think about the plants, medicines, appliances, cleaning products and pest control supplies commonly found around the house. They all represent a real danger to pets, mainly dogs and cats since few other pets have as much free access to the house and yard.

It seems that, among pet owners and the public at-large, toxicity of household products and plants is a blend of common knowledge and misconception. Some of this information may be new to you; some of it may be old hat.

While there are a lot of plants that are toxic to animals, the fact is, they're often not able to ingest a fatal dose. Many plants are simply unpalatable and others cause immediate vomiting, which greatly reduces the level of toxicity. However, the prudent advice is to, at least, place a call to your vet should a pet ingest any amount of a toxin.

Surprisingly enough, vomiting is generally not considered a sign of toxicity unless it is severe or persistent, or accompanied by other signs of illness including, but not limited to, diarrhea, depression, or loss of appetite.


However, one plant that can be a real killer is the Japanese Yew. An animal needs only to consume one-tenth of one per cent of its body weight of the shrub to get a toxic dose.

Thus 2 ounces of yew, for example, could kill a fifty pound dog.

A number of common plants, including rhododendrons, milkweed, and azaleas, contain substances known as cardiac glycosides.

Everything we ingest has a threshold for toxicity, so these guys can be friendly (digitalis is a cardiac glycoside-derived drug), but because of their action on the heart, they can just as easily be fatal.

What apparently saves lives is the fact that plants containing cardiac glycosides are extremely unpalatable, so neither man nor beast is likely to consume enough to cause much harm.

We all know, though, that dogs tend to swallow first and ask questions later; and that may be why they routinely ingest some foul stuff. All bets are off with dogs.


And here’s an eye-opener: overdoses of human drugs, administered by well-meaning pet parents, cause more fatalities than plant poisonings. Since veterinarians will often prescribe over the counter human drugs for pets, many owners assume that it's OK to give small amounts of them. It’s just that, what passes for “small” to Jack, may not pass for “small” to Jill. Reasonable people can disagree on the quantification of “small.”

Our pain relievers aren't dosed for use by dogs and cats, and even a minimal human dose can be fatal. That's why you should always consult your vet before giving any human pain relievers to your pet.

Since cats are deficient in the enzyme necessary to detoxify it, Acetaminophen is a potent one. A single regular strength tablet will make a cat very, very sick; two will likely kill it.

We routinely dismiss Aspirin and ibuprofen as pretty harmless medicine cabinet staples, but each can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers in pets, and can indirectly decrease blood flow to vital organs, especially the kidneys, resulting in serious damage. Yet these drugs are often used in veterinary medicine.

The trick is to come up with a safe dose, and that can only happen after a medical evaluation of the pet. That's why you should only give these drugs under specific instructions from your veterinarian.

There are so many other hazards around the house; the obvious ones such as household chemicals and pesticides, but also the subtle ones such as an unattended iron or an unattended mixed drink.

When we’ve had too much to drink, we can always blame it on a bad ice cube. When a dog or cat has had too much to drink, it can end a life. Alcohol is highly toxic to cats and dogs, and only a small amount can cause life-threatening toxicity.

There are foods, such as grapes, raisins, onions, and chocolate, which are toxic to dogs and cats, and we don’t always have to serve it to them. They’ll dig those highly palatable treats out of the trash, which, by the way, is another potential household hazard to pets.


And then there are the lawn and garden chemicals…and how about the tools: lawnmowers, leaf blowers or weed whackers. Since we'd rather be doing almost anything else, it's not all fun and games when we're using them, but to a dog or cat, it can be. A dog or cat that enjoys a game of fetch can be injured should they try to catch the materials these implements eject.

As for the fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides; read the label thoroughly and keep the material in its original container and keep the container in good condition. In addition to the safety aspect, the original container contains information that is vital in an ingestion incident.

If medical personnel know the exact chemical name for the active ingredient valuable time can be saved in initiating treatment. In most poisoning cases, minutes count.

While it can be argued that their natural environment is a more dangerous habitat than the home, pet owners must be aware of the dangers inherent in any household because we usually take in stride the things that can injure or kill our pets.

But the bottom line is: a loving home is a loving home, and our pets thrive and enjoy a quality and quantity of life unmatched by their wild counterparts.


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