As humans, we see our homes as places of safety and comfort from the outside world, our meals as wholesome and nutritious, and our ornamental plants and decorations as harmless and aesthetically pleasing. For our animal companions, however, the human household is a potentially fatal minefield of toxic chemicals and choking hazards. It’s important for us pet owners to recognize which objects are harmful to our dogs, cats, and other pets, especially if they are completely safe for people. In many ways, the same precautions we might take to child-proof our homes will also go a long way toward pet-proofing them as well.

Food for Thought

Many foods may sound delicious to us but are very dangerous to our pets.

Here are just a few examples of foods to avoid giving your pets, no matter how cutely they beg:

Chocolate, Coffee, Caffeinated Drinks: All of these contain naturally-occurring substances called methyxanthines, found in cacao seeds, coffee berries, tea leaves, and nuts used in some sodas. Methyxanthines are bad news for pets, causing vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, hyperactivity, restlessness, muscle spasms, seizures, and even death! Dark chocolates contain more methylxanthines than lighter chocolates, but just to be safe, save the decadent chocolate desserts for yourself, and feed your pet snacks that are more suitable for them.

Yeast Dough: Although it’s safe to give pets small bits of bread as treats, never ever give them raw dough. Dough rises because of carbon dioxide and ethanol produced by the yeast and this gas can accumulate in your pet’s digestive system, causing them a lot of pain. It can even make their stomachs or intestines rupture from the built-up pressure. The ethanol can even cause toxicosis, which can cause loss of coordination, vomiting, loss of bladder control, cardiac arrest, and death.

Onions and Garlic: These delicious aromatics are indispensable to our Filipino cooking, but they are bad for our pets. They can cause gastrointestinal inflammation and hemolytic anemia, which can cause your poor pet’s red blood cells to burst! Garlic in particular can be more toxic than onions, although both are dangerous. As little as one clove of garlic can lead to toxicity in dogs and cats. Garlic toxicity can cause breathlessness, diarrhea, vomiting, pale gums, weakeness, and even collapse. Even worse, it may take 2 to 4 days after your pet ingests garlic for the symptoms to actually appear.

Grapes and Raisins: No one knows exactly what substance in grapes and raisins is toxic to pets – pesticides, heavy metals like zinc and lead, or fungal contaminants. But we do know that eating either may cause kidney failure. Vomiting and diarrhea are usually the first signs of grape or raisin toxicity, which occur within a few hours. Acute renal failure may develop within 48 hours of ingestion. Needless to say, contact your vet as soon as the first signs of grape or raisin toxicity occur, because time is of the essence.

Salt: Too much salt can cause excessive thirst and urination, dermatitis, inflammation of the paws, and sodium poisoning in your animal companions. Pets that have eaten too many salty foods may show symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures, and death. Keep that in mind before sharing a salty snack with your pet!

Sugar-Free Gum and Candy: These guilt-free human treats contain xylitol, a white crystalline substance used as a sugar substitute. This artificial sweetener is harmless to us but can cause insulin release in most pets, leading to liver failure. The initial signs of xylitol toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy, and loss
of coordination.

Chemical Calamity

Our homes contain a galaxy of chemicals and compounds that are not only dangerous to our pets but are often left lying around within easy reach. These include:

Human Medicines: The ASPCA has listed human medications as the number one common hazard for pets since 2009. Pets can snatch up unattended medicine on counters or nightstands, or even pills that have fallen onto the floor. For example, Pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold, allergy, and sinus medicine, is extremely dangerous to pets. It can cause nervousness, hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, and death. Never give your pet any medication without consulting your veterinarian.

Insecticide and Rat Poison: The same products we use to keep our homes safe from unwanted pests can also poison our animal companions. Many baits used to attract pests can also attract pets as well. Ingesting insecticide and rodenticide can lead to life-threatening problems for pets like bleeding, seizures, and kidney damage. Animals who eat poisoned rodents will also be poisoned, so keep an eye on your cats and birds of prey.

Household Cleaners: Parents know that household cleaning supplies should be kept out of reach of young children, but pet owners often fail to make the same precautions for their pets, leaving them dangerously exposed to bleaches, detergents, and disinfectants. When inhaled, these cleaning products can cause serious gastrointestinal distress and respiratory tract irritation. Also, cats who groom themselves by licking their paws after walking across bleached tiles or treated floors can also become poisoned.

The Cat Did What?

Our pets often find the most creative ways of getting into trouble with some pretty ordinary household object. Here are some things your inquisitive pet might find themselves entangled in:

Mini Blinds: Cats can easily hang themselves on the cords of mini window blinds. Discourage the cat from climbing the blinds with a spray water bottle or by rattling some coins in a can, or if you’re serious about owning a cat, forego the blinds altogether when decorating your house.

Toys: Toys with small removable parts like eyes or squeakers can become a choking hazard for your pets, especially dogs. A general rule is to always use toys larger than a Ping-Pong ball to avoid choking. Also, stuffed toys can be dangerous if ripped apart. The stuffing used in most stuffed toys can block your pet’s digestive tract. Any strings can also strangle or choke your pet, or worse, can cut open its intestines if swallowed and can require surgery to remove.

Houseplants: Common ornamental plants can be bad for your pet. For instance, lilies are extremely poisonous to cats. Azaleas and rhododendrons are dangerous to cats, dogs, horses, goats, and even sheep. Tomato plants can cause your dog or cat a great deal of discomfort. And even aloe vera, which is a staple of many Filipino households because of its use in conditioning hair, moisturizing skin, and treating burns, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and tremors in our poor pets.

Remember, a little knowledge and a little common sense will go a long way to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your animal friends.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s February 2015 issue.