According to veterinary experts, each year hundreds of thousands of our canine and feline friends are exposed to dangerous poisons in the very place where they should be safe. From corrosive cleaning agents to supposedly healthy snacks, our homes can harbor a wide variety of potentially hazardous materials.
The Animal Poison Control Center of the ASPCA handles almost 200,000 calls every year from worried pet owners. Additionally, the Pet Poison Helpline reports their call center handles another 100,000 reports of animal poisonings annually. So, what are the problematic substances in our homes?
Both of these organizations show the number one reason for calls is human medications. From Tylenol, Advil and other over-the-counter products to prescription antidepressants, pain medications and heart pills, drugs meant for people find their way into our pets far too often. In some cases, sneaky pets will gobble up tablets dropped by their owners, but in many instances, these drugs are purposefully given to dogs or cats in a well meaning but wrong attempt to treat some illness or pain.
Human medications can and do cause serious problems for our pets. Their different metabolism and small sizes often means that a common drug like acetaminophen can be deadly. A single 500 mg Tylenol can actually kill a cat!
Next up on the list are products designed to help our pets, like popular flea medications and other insecticides. In general, the topical drops are very safe, but when used incorrectly, the consequences can be severe. Our feline friends are especially susceptible to the mis-use of these products and more than half of the calls to poison hotlines involve cats exposed to insecticides. Organophosphate products designed to protect plants from marauding insects are often involved in poisonings of both dogs and cats.
We have all heard that feeding “people food” to our pets can be problematic and the number of calls to both poison centers confirms it. Chocolate can cause serious heart arrhythmias, garlic and onion ingestion can lead to red blood cell abnormalities and the artificial sweetener, Xylitol®, has been implicated in liver failure and death in dogs. Even supposedly healthy foods aren’t necessarily safe. Macadamia nuts cause dogs to become weak and unable to walk and grapes and raisins will create kidney failure in some dogs. Unfortunately, the exact reason why this happens is not known.
Beyond these very common items, household cleansers, automotive products, rodenticides, dietary supplements and even veterinary drugs also have a strong potential for problems.
Pet owners can protect their four legged friends by following a few common sense rules.
First, we are accustomed to “baby-proofing” our homes, why not consider “pet-proofing” it as well? Make sure that any potentially dangerous chemical is safely secured behind closed or even locked doors. Antifreeze, kitchen and bath cleansers and drain products need to be kept out of a pet’s reach and spills should be cleaned up immediately.
Next, any medication, human or veterinary, should be kept in a medicine cabinet or area where a pet will not have access. If you are worried about dropping pills, take your medicine in the bathroom with your pets locked on the outside!
Never give your pets any medication unless ordered by your pet’s veterinarian. As mentioned above, the wrong dosage or even a seemingly safe human drug can be deadly to your pet. Always check with your veterinarian, not the Internet, whenever you have questions about medications your pet is receiving.
Finally, take action if you suspect your dog or cat has ingested something harmful. Calling your veterinarian or an accredited veterinary organization should be the first step. Both the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Pet Poison Helpline have call centers open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These specialists can help you decide if your pet needs immediate veterinary attention or if it’s okay to wait. Each group charges a small fee, but isn’t that a tiny price to pay for peace of mind and your pet’s well-being?