Top 10 Pet Hazards Continued

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

I want to continue, this time, a discussion of the top ten hazards encountered by pets, according to the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). The APCC, operated by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is the premier animal poison control center in North America. As mentioned in the last Pet Tales column, the top three hazards for pets in 2006, based on calls to the APCC, were human medications, insecticides and improperly used veterinary medications. Owners need to remember there are several more categories of hazardous items in our pet's homes and environments.

In 2006, the APCC received 9,300 calls concerning plant poisonings. Most animal species kept as pets are unable to digest plant material. This means that pets should be discouraged from nibbling on any variety of plant. Ingestion of any part of a plant, even if they are not poisonous, may cause digestive upsets. Some of the more toxic plants common in our area include lilies, poinsettia, rhododendron, and sago palm.

Of the 116,000 calls managed last year by the APCC, 8,800 calls were related to rodenticides. When rat and mouse poisons are used by pet owners, it is most important to keep them in areas totally inaccessible to pets. Almost any kind of bait used to kill rodents is likely to prove attractive and potentially dangerous to pets. It is probably best, if there are pets in the home, to find other methods to control household vermin.

The next most common group of hazardous items threatening the health of pets, responsible for 7,300 calls was household cleansers - bleaches, disinfectants and detergents. If ingested by a pet, these products may cause stomach upsets, breathing problems or burns in the mouth and throat. Any of these items should be stored in a location out of the reach of pets.

Ingestion of chocolate resulted in another 4,800 calls. When pets eat chocolate it may cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting excessive thirst, urination and hyperactivity. In severe cases, chocolate may lead to heart irregularities, tremors and seizures. Typically, the darker the chocolate, the greater the potential danger it is. Baking chocolate is considered the most dangerous.

A newcomer to the top ten list, chemical hazards, includes petroleum-based products, alcohols, acids and gases. In 2006, 4,100 calls to the APCC were related to these materials. Ethylene glycol antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners and pool/spa chemicals are other examples of chemicals that can be very dangerous to our pets.

Physical hazards also present a definite danger to pets and resulted in 3,800 calls. Items in this category consist of objects that could pose a choking hazard, risk of intestinal obstruction or other physical injury. I have seen dogs swallow a great variety of such things - rubber balls, corn cobs, peach pits, beer bottle caps, pop cans, knee socks, underwear and ear rings to name a few. With cats, it is usually coins, needles and thread, ribbon or soft rubber items that seem to pose most risk of ingestion. Anything that can be knocked over, broken, chewed up or swallowed, must be kept out of reach of curious pets.

Home improvement products, responsible for 2,100 calls, rounds out the APCC top ten hazards for pets. Paint, solvents, expanding glues and other products used in home renovations or construction projects are items in this group. Water-based paints are relatively low in toxic potential, but can still cause stomach upsets if ingested. Artist paints may contain heavy metals, poisonous if consumed in large quantities. Again, prevention is the key to avoiding problems from exposure to these materials.

All pet owners should be grateful to the APCC for being such a great resource for information on pet hazards and to the ASPCA for reminding us about the most common dangers. These organizations, with the assistance of your veterinarian, strive very hard to keep your pet healthy and safe.