Many of us use “green” cleaning products in our homes. While we may be doing good for the environment, these “natural” products can be very hazardous to our pet’s health. According to Dr. Lee, it is often the essential oils in these cleansers that cause the most damage. “Even the ones that say ‘pet friendly’ aren’t necessarily pet friendly, so you have to use your judgment carefully,” she says. Watch out for products that contain concentrated essential oils—especially those that boast citrus fruits as one of their main ingredients.
There has been a popular rumor floating around that says the solution used with Swiffer WetJets is toxic to dogs if they lick the floor after you’ve mopped up. Let us debunk that myth. No evidence exists that suggests Swiffer products are dangerous to animals when used properly, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.
Luckily the majority of your average household cleaners are safe to use around your dogs and cats. Glass cleaners, spot removers, and other all-purpose cleaning products have a wide margin of safety. Still, keep these products out of reach because if ingested in small amounts, it can cause mild vomiting or diarrhea.
The anatomy of a bird is very different from that of a dog or cat, says Dr. Lee. Make sure your bird is far away from any room you are using cleaning products in. “Birds don’t have lungs; they have air sacs. Anatomically they just do not handle any kind of chemical well,” she says. This includes the gas that is emitted when cooking on Teflon pans. When cooking, take your bird and its cage far away from the kitchen as burning Teflon could be fatal.
Dogs have to ingest a fairly large amount of cocoa before they are poisoned by it. “White chocolate has almost no real chocolate in it. The fat and butter in it is more of an issue. And one milk chocolate chip is not terrible,” Dr. Lee says.
The toxicity depends on the size and breed of the dog and what type of chocolate they have eaten. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is. If you do make a tray of brownies, keep it covered and out of your pet’s reach. “But if he happens to get a hold of a chocolate chip cookie or a piece of cake, in general, it shouldn’t be an issue,” says Dr. Lee. “The worst thing you’re looking at is an upset stomach.”
It seems that everyone knows not to feed their pooch a chocolate cake, but there are other “people foods” that are much more dangerous for your pets. Grapes, raisins, and currants can cause kidney failure in dogs, even in small doses. In larger amounts, onions and garlic can result in severe anemia, especially in cats. Be sure to keep these foods, along with onion and garlic powders, away from your pets. Nuts, especially macadamia nuts, can cause temporary paralysis in animals.
All too often the staff at the Pet Poison Helpline receives calls from people who accidentally swapped Fluffy’s medication for their own. Keep your pet’s medication in a completely separate area from your own, or put it in a very different looking container. Never give your pets any medication without first consulting a veterinarian. Also, don’t keep a weekly pill container in easy reach. It’s plastic, it rattles, and it looks like a great chew toy for dogs. And just because a medicine bottle is childproof, it is far from being pet-proof.
If your dog does ingest anything toxic, call the Pet Poison Helpline 24 hours a days at (800) 213-6680
Even more important than in the kitchen, keep your pet out of the bathroom while cleaning. Many tub and toilet cleaning products, like rust removers, toilet bowl cleaners, and calcium and lime removers, cause corrosive injury or chemical burns.
Household bleach, like Clorox, is generally safe, but always be sure to follow the directions and properly dilute the product. “A big mistake we see is when someone is cleaning and they have a bleach and water solution in a bucket, they leave the room, the bucket has bleach and water left over, and their pets will drink right out of the bucket,” Dr. Lee says. “When in doubt, always be safe. It’s always a good idea to keep the fan on in the room to keep it ventilated while cleaning and keep the toilet seat covered.”
Mostly found in the South and in warm locations, the sago palm tree is highly poisonous to dogs. “Even though they don’t look like a dog would chew on them, we get calls all the time and they can cause severe liver failure,” says Dr. Lee. If you see that your dog has vomited up part of a sago plant, call your vet right away. If you have these trees in your yard, always keep your dog supervised when he’s outside, or fence off the area so he can’t get to it. “Always call for help right away. The sooner you identify the problem the sooner we can fix it, the less expensive, and the easier it will be to treat.”
If you have a cat, make sure you know what lilies look like, and never bring them into your home. Lilies are some of the most common flowers used in bouquets by florists, and one or two leaves will kill a cat. “Even the pollen from lilies can be toxic when cats groom the pollen off of themselves,” Dr. Lee says, “and if a cat drinks the water a lily plant has been sitting in, the results can be fatal.
There are hundreds of plants that can cause harm to your pets. Here are some of the most common toxic plants, listed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
One of the most common garden toxins hides underground. “Gardeners like to plant bulbs in the spring, especially tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths, and as a flower, these generally aren’t a problem. The onion skin paper of the bulb causes the problem,” Dr. Lee says. Oftentimes gardeners will dust bulbs with blood and bone marrow, which is a great natural fertilizer, but dangerous to dogs and cats. “The problem is it tastes really good and it smells really good, and then they will dig up the bulbs.” When a dog chews up a plant bulb, it can cause profuse vomiting and even heart arrhythmias.
Cats are known to curl up in warm spots, and unfortunately one of the warmest spots in your house is inside the clothes dryer. It may sound silly, but always check that there are only clothes in your dryer before hitting the start button. Another laundry room danger is a spilled bottle of liquid laundry detergent that Sox leaves his tracks in, and then cleans away. “Cats are such fastidious groomers,” Dr. Lee says. “Cationic laundry detergents can be corrosive if ingested orally.” If you think your pet has swallowed something poisonous, never try to induce vomiting—always call a vet immediately.
No matter how sad his puppy dog eyes look, do not give your dog any of your fatty meat scraps. It can cause inflammation of the pancreas, bad vomiting, and diarrhea—three things no one wants to deal with.
If you’ve ever had one too many, you know exactly the kind of position you’re going to be in the next day. And it’s usually hunched over a toilet seat. Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to inflict the same kind of pain on your pet. They’re already hunched over the toilet enough. “Most people are smart enough not to give their dogs hard alcohol and beer,” Dr. Lee says. “However, dogs can still get alcohol poisoning from other sources, namely baking products that contain yeast and alcohol.”
When baking bread, make sure you let your dough rise far out of your dog’s reach. If ingested, uncooked bread dough causes gas to form in the stomach causing bloat, a serious problem that requires surgery.
Dogs can also get sick if they get their paws on anything soaked in alcohol. Rum-soaked fruit cake: Not good for you; not good for your dog.
I’m not begging for food! I’m just catching what you drop. Honest!
The best way to keep your dog from chewing through another remote control while you’re out of the house is to crate train him, starting at a young age. In her book It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet, Dr. Lee explains that the domesticated dog descended from the wolf, which used to live in small den situations. A crate is nothing more than a modern day wolf den. It should be a safe place for toys, treats, and even meals.
“Crates should be tall and wide enough for your dog to comfortably stretch and stand in but shouldn’t be too large where she may decide to defecate or urinate in it,” Dr. Lee writes. “Crates should not be viewed as punishment, as this is counterproductive to the den philosophy.”
Air and linen fresheners, like Febreeze, have become extremely popular in the last several years. Luckily these products are by and large safe to use around your short, furry friends. “Any typical household cleaner or air freshener generally has a very wide margin of safety. Anything with a trigger spray, like air freshener, is usually pretty safe, but be smart about it. Don’t spray it on your pet or on your pet’s bed when they’re in it. Take them out of the room or put them outside, let the room completely dry and ventilate, then it’s safe,” says Dr. Lee.
It has long been known that antifreeze is highly toxic to pets, especially cats. “A teaspoon can kill a cat, and a few tablespoons will kill a dog,” Dr. Lee says. “And it’s very sweet so the animals will drink it.” She warns that even if a small amount of the neon green liquid drips onto the driveway, hose it off and dilute it immediately.
Especially in colder climates, people will dump a bottle of antifreeze into their toilets to help warm up the plumbing, only to have their dog or cat drink out of the toilet moments later. Luckily there is something vets can do should this happen, but it only works within the first 3 hours for cats and in the first 8 to 12 hours for dogs. After that, the prognosis is very grave.
-Program your vet, emergency vet, and the Pet Poison Helpline phone numbers into your cell phone. It will be one less thing to find during the chaos of an emergency. The Pet Poison Helpline number is 1-800-213-6680.
-When you get home, hang up your purse. Chances are your pup will start snooping through your handbag and find something toxic to chew on, such as sugar free gum. It can cause seizures and major drops in blood pressure, and in high doses, liver failure.
-Find out where your pet likes to sleep, or where you’ve placed their bed or crate to make sure nothing can accidentally fall on them.
-When packing for travel, don’t put your medication into a Ziploc bag. Once you toss it in the suitcase, it’s fair game for your pet. And just because something is child proof, doesn’t make it pet-proof.
-Keep a family diary of medications and milligram strength. If you accidentally give your pet some of your pills by mistake, knowing how much he’s ingested can help a vet make a better diagnosis.