10 Pet Dangers You Didn't Know About
When my husband and I got our black Lab, Ivry, we took all the steps we thought necessary to puppy-proof our home. Chocolates off the living-room table — check. Electrical cords taped up — check. Then I heard a news story about a dog that got his tongue caught in his owner's paper shredder. Could there still be serious dangers in our house that we didn't even know about? Experts say yes. "Over a thousand pets suffer each year because they get into seemingly innocuous household items," says Steven Hansen, D.V.M., of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center. Here, 10 hazards to watch out for:
If your dog steals a diet cookie, call a vet. Xylitol — a sweetener used in many sugar-free candies, chewing gums, baked goods, and toothpastes — can cause low blood sugar and liver damage in dogs, reports a study published last year in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. And it doesn't take that much xylitol to create problems: The study says a 22-pound dog that ingests just a gram of the stuff should be treated by a vet.
A cat or dog can be badly burned lapping up hot oils and detergents. And many of the liquid-potpourri ingredients can breed ulcers in your animal's mouth, throat, and/or gastrointestinal tract. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has seen 330 such cases since 2001, most involving cats. (Experts think the formulas are also toxic to dogs, but cats appear more sensitive to exposure and are more likely to climb up to reach simmer pots.) About 10 percent of incidents are life threatening.
No sensible pet owner would leave an open prescription bottle within paw's reach. But beware of closed childproof containers as well: "Animals can crush them," warns Dr. Hansen. "I once gave my dog an empty bottle with its cap on and timed how fast she could open it," he says. "She knocked it around and chewed on it — and got it open within 15 seconds." The scariest part: Swallowing prescription pills could kill your pet. So keep your four-footed friends away from all medication, closed or open.
They make a dazzling centerpiece, but can also be lethal to your cat: The ASPCA receives dozens of calls each spring from pet owners whose kitty ate a lily. "Ingesting even very small amounts can result in kidney damage," says Ann Hohenhaus, D.V.M., chair of the department of medicine at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dogs can also get sick from eating azalea or rhododendron, which can lead to vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness, depression of the central nervous system, and, in rare cases, death.
You'd never think this stuff would attract your dog, but the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports a 309 percent increase in glue-related incidents since 2002. "Dogs see a bottle lying on the floor and think it's a toy," explains Dr. Hansen. But glue, he says, is bad news. "When swallowed, it goes to the stomach, absorbs moisture, and expands to form a large, rock-like mass." So if your dog's stomach is swollen, take him to a vet: The pooch may need to have a glob of glue surgically removed.
They contain disulfides, sulfur compounds that can cause gastrointestinal irritation to pets and harm their red blood cells. "One year, at Passover time, I treated a dog with severe anemia," recalls Dr. Hohenhaus. "It turned out she'd eaten too much of Grandma's chopped liver, which was loaded with onions and garlic." Tip: Don't let your pet stick his snout in the trash. "If an animal comes across a leftover roast covered with onions, he thinks, Bonus!" says Dr. Hohenhaus. "The next thing you know, he's vomiting all the way to the ER."
"We're not sure why they're so toxic to dogs, but they can trigger gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea, or, more commonly, kidney failure," says Karen Halligan, D.V.M., director of veterinary services at the ASPCA of Los Angeles and author of Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know. In fact, of the 140 cases the ASPCA saw between April 2003 and 2004, many were life threatening — and seven dogs ultimately died.
While a pooch can choke on any coin, pennies are particularly dangerous because they're made with zinc, which is toxic to animals. (When a penny sits in your pet's stomach, the zinc leaches out into the red blood cells, resulting in severe anemia and kidney problems.) The newer the penny, the more likely it is to be deadly. That's because pennies minted after 1982 are 99.2 percent zinc; those minted earlier are only five percent.
Dogs have become dramatically ill from ingesting just a handful of these. The nuts contain an unknown toxin that can upset your pet's digestive tract and muscles, setting off severe weakness (and sometimes paralysis), mild vomiting, and diarrhea. The good news: Virtually all dogs recover within 48 hours of ingestion, whether or not they're treated by a vet.
Scrub your floor with something else — the phenol in these products can cause serious liver damage in cats, says Dr. Hohenhaus. And it doesn't take much for a kitty to be exposed: Your fur ball might unknowingly lap up spill — or just lick the wet stuff off her feet.