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Pet Health

Pet Safety

Val Cairney October 30, 2020 38


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Hello and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  Throughout the year we have many special holidays and events where our pets are a part of the festivities.  Christmas and Halloween really come to mind.  And with this, we have to think about our pet’s safety.  When we have a new puppy or kitten in the house, we have to think about puppy safe-ing, kitten safe-ing our homes.  We also have to think about our pets in the event of an emergency, like a weather event or fire.  All of these things lead to us as pet parents to really think about our pet’s safety in many different scenarios. So with this episode, I’m going to focus on pet safety and I really encourage my listeners to visit my website with any tips, suggestions and perhaps related stories that can be shared with my listeners around the world. 

So because the world is a bit different at the moment, many, many people have acquired a new puppy or kitten.  Many of these new pet parents are actually first time pet parents and we are finding that many of these new parents were just not prepared for the things a pup or kitten can get into.  There was a post on Facebook I saw that said, “Silence is golden, unless you have a puppy, then silence is very, very suspicious”.  Boy is that not the truth!  So let me start with puppies and basics of puppy proofing a home. 

The thing with puppies is that they are very active, very curious and they are close to the ground.  First things first is to think about what your pup can easily access.  So for example, you know those fragrance emitting plug ins that people use?  Well if these are in wall plugs that are close to floor level, the temptation to chew on and pull the device from the wall is very tempting for a puppy.  If your pup gets a hold of this, not only is there a substance inside that could be toxic, but it also has an electrical component and this can be very dangerous to your pet. So, if you really like your scented plug in, best to use a plug that is level to a counter for example, where your pup will not be able to get to it.  Another thing to think about is, where are your cleaning supplies, toilet paper, brushes, paper towels etc.  If these are in an open cupboard you will need to rethink this.  A puppy can tear apart a ton of toilet paper in no time, chew and hole in a cleaner bottle in seconds and destroy your favourite cleaning gloves and brush in a blink of an eye.  Not to mention, if they were to get a hold of any of these products, they could either poison themselves or ingest something not made to be eaten and before you know it, you are at the vet with an obstruction in the intestine and a very large vet bill.  So, make sure that these items are out of reach and if you do have them in a closed cupboard, make sure it is a secure cupboard that a little paw cannot work away at and get open.  Sort of in the same topic, make sure you do not have medications that a pup can access.  It is so easy to keep medications beside the bed, but how high is the side table and can your pup get to it? 

The next thing to think about is what is on the floor.  Are there shoes or children’s toys accessible?  Dog toys are specific in that the parts are designed not to be ripped off or you will notice they do not have plastic eyes like children’s toys do.  That’s a terrible choking hazard if your pup swallows a doll’s eye.  Believe it not, you may have to pull up small scatter rugs or mats.  Is the lid to the garbage and compost really secure so your pup cannot get in?  If you have a cat, is the kitty litter out of the way for access by your pup?  Dogs love to eat cat poop!  Plants are also a real concern.  Some plants can be very toxic to dogs so best to keep them out of grabbing distance. Plus, who wants a whole pot of soil and a destroyed plant all over your carpet?  So the best advice here is to think about anything your pup can possibly get in to.  If in doubt, put it away.  Now, one way you can help with this puppy proofing is to use baby gates or a dog gate.  This way you can contain your pup to one area that you can proof.  Your pup will stay be able to move around and play but in a safe way. 

Kittens add a dimension to proofing a home because not only can they get into everything, they can jump and climb.  Kittens are not as inclined to chew large objects, but they can get string, ribbon, elastic bands, hair ties, and blind pulls, anything that hangs and looks fun to pull on.  If they eat any of these items, they too can end up with an obstruction and a trip to the vet.  Because kittens can climb and jump they can get on your counter and lick the butter or drink your cereal milk, or eat your resting roast chicken.  They can climb your curtains and jump on to the top of a door frame.  Oh yes!  Having a kitten can be quite entertaining.  My 10 year old as I’ve said in the past was a hand full from the day he came home.  He has always been very good at entertaining himself.  So, one afternoon the door was open to the downstairs because I was doing laundry.  He was about 5 months old at this point.  He ventured down to this new world of things to discover and play with.  Well up he came and trotted into the living room with an old fluffy slipper he had found.  It was almost the same size as him.  I laughed and shook my head and off he went to this new treasure cove again and trotted up with a fuzzy golf club cover.  Now here’s where it got very interesting.  Off he went again, but this time when he came back up he had a blob of what looked like red hair in his mouth.  This time I was looking at whatever he had and said, what on earth do you have??  So, I see it is a blob of red synthetic hair and I’m trying to figure out what this is.  So, I went downstairs and I found what he had done.  There was a collectible Anne of Green Gables doll in a box on a shelf and I say was, because he had knocked the box down, somehow got the lid open, pulled Anne out of the box and … ripped her hair off her head.  So, here was bald Anne of Green Gables, humiliated on the basement floor torn from her box and never to be a collectible again.   Yes, that’s my Rory and the stories certainly don’t end there.  But, if you have a clever kitty like I do, it is hard to stay one step ahead.  But, if you have valuable keep sakes or breakable items that can easily be swiped with a paw for fun on a table or counter, it is probably best to remove them until you have taught kitty that jumping on tables and counters is not proper behaviour.  Plants are also a real concern with kittens.  Cats do like to chew plants and again, many are toxic so keeping them out of kitty’s way is a priority.  If your kitten or cat really gravitates to your plants you may want to purchase grown cat grass or get the seeds or a kit to grow cat grass for your kitten or cat that you know is safe for them. 

So with puppies and kittens, we have to be one step ahead at all times, to make sure that everything that they may get into is safely out of the way.  Don’t think you will come out of puppyhood or kitten hood unscathed, something is bound to get broken or chewed, but as long as the dangers to their wellbeing and their lives has been well thought out, puppy or kitten will make it to adult hood unscathed.

So let’s talk a bit about holidays and special occasions.  Christmas and New Year’s are a big time for many people.  And we need to include Hanukkah as well as other religious or cultural special events, observances and celebrations.  Because I do Christmas I’ll talk about that, and I’m sure many of the tips can be applied to other observances.  Christmas can be a very stressful time for our pets mostly because there is so much going on with decorations, baking and cooking and visitors.  So, one way to help our pets is to have some calming treats or supplements on hand in case they start to become anxious.  This should be thought of as a safety measure because stressed pets can do some rather odd things, so it is best to get ahead of any unwanted behaviour due to stress.  Other things to think about are candles, scented candles, and essential oil infusers. We love to have those Christmas-y smells in the house, but strong scents can be harmful.  According to preventivevet.com, “the scents themselves can cause stress or airway irritation for your cats and dogs.”  They suggest that if you must have scented candles “opt for the “cleaner burning” candles that are made from soy, beeswax or vegetable wax.”  And don’t forget our little friends when it comes to this.  Rabbits can be quite affected by scented candles because of their heightened sense of smell and they can ingest chemicals as the fumes deposit on their fur leading to G.I. tract issues.  Plus, if the smell from the candle is a yummy warm cookie smell for example, be careful your pupper isn’t tempted to have a little nibble.  Essential oils are particularly concerning for pets, all pets including birds.  Tea Tree oil is particularly dangerous in its oil form.  According to Canadianveterinarians.net, “Dogs are susceptible to certain essential oil toxicities but cats are much more so.”  “There is mixed opinion on the use of vaporized or aerosolized essential oils.  While the risk of acute toxicity is low with inhaled oils at low concentrations, some people believe there is the possibility of long term cumulative damage that may increase the risk of liver and lung diseases.  Others believe this risk is insignificantly low.”  So, the best idea here is to do some research about which essential oils are deemed safe, as there are some, and make sure you are using a diffuser so the oil is quite diluted.  Or just stay away from the whole thing if you feel uncomfortable after your research.

Let’s talk about specific plants here.  At Christmas it is quite possible that we would have lovely poinsettias or mistletoe, holly and tree garlands and real Christmas trees throughout the house.  First, poinsettias.  According to petpoisonhelpline.com “poinsettia plants are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs. While poinsettias are commonly “hyped” as poisonous plants they rarely are, and the poisoning is greatly exaggerated.”  But, you do need to be concerned if a large amount or the entire plant was consumed.  As for mistletoe, according to goodhousekeeping.com, “one bite has the potential to made cats and dogs sick, usually in the form of vomiting and lethargy.” So keep that mistletoe up high and secured well for those holiday kisses.  Holly can be particularly problematic because it can have those sharp little points and as stated by goodhousekeeping.com, it contains a soap like component that can cause severe stomach irritation.  Christmas trees, pine, fir or spruce or any evergreen so this would include those garlands around the house, can cause stomach upset because they contain small amounts of essential oils.  The issue with these are basically in volume.  If a large amount has been consumed, then you will probably have to visit the vet, quickly.  So, if your dog or cat has consumed something from these categories, take away any food and water for a few hours and see if their stomach settles.  If the vomiting continues, you will need to go to the emergency vet.  So, again, we have to keep our eyes on our pets throughout this time and if you would like to play it safe, a Christmas cactus is non-toxic.

Also, at Christmas there are many tempting treats and hors devours being put out for guests and if your pup gets into these when you are not looking, you could be dealing with a pupper upset from either end.  Cats too are known to take a trip amongst the yummy offerings and they too can get upset stomachs as a result.  So, again, keep watch and inform your guests not to feed your dog or cat as this will just make things worse.  The other thing I should mention is to keep an eye on your pets and their whereabouts when everyone is seated and enjoying dinner.  One Christmas dinner many moons ago, found our Samoyed had stolen the carved turkey off the counter and had taken it downstairs to eat when everyone had left the kitchen for the dining room.  Not only were we concerned about the bones he was crunching into, it turned out that while he was eating the turkey, he also ate some string that had been used to truss the turkey.  It wrapped around the back of his tongue and belief me this turned into quite the vet visit and he ended up being put under so the vet could cut this string away from his tongue.  Yeah!  That was not fun!! 

Okay, so besides from food, we also need to watch the gift wrap and the ribbons etc. that can be left around while opening presents.  All of this wiggly ribbon is so tempting to cats that they can get themselves tied up in ribbon that can choke them outside and in if they have eaten the ribbon.  After all the wonderful gifts have been opened the next thing to watch for is any small toys or soaps or anything that you can think of that could be a hazard to your dog or cat. Make sure things are out of the way and not left for them to ingest or destroy.  Of course, many of us have mature dog and cats that are not an issue with any of these concerns, but if you have a pup or kitten or a rambunctious dog or cat, these are things to keep ahead of. 

After Christmas, many celebrate New Year with again, food, drink and friends.  Again, we need to watch our pets for an increase in stress and for joining the party partaking in the food or drink.  Alcohol is not for pets nor is cannabis. I’ll talk a bit more about Cannabis later.   It is not funny to have a drunken guest pour beer into your dog’s mouth.  According to puptrait.com, “Feeding a dog alcohol is actually quite cruel and dangerous and feeding a dog beer or booze is a form of animal abuse.  Dogs can exhibit severe central nervous system symptoms, hypothermia, vomiting, coma and diarrhea from consuming alcohol or absorbing alcohol through their skin.  Even small amounts of alcohol can trigger life threatening levels of toxicity, including a dangerous condition called metabolic acidosis.”  This condition creates “an extreme increase in total body acidity. The condition can slow breathing, inhibit oxygenation of the blood, slow heart rates, hypothermia (decreased body temperature) and even cause a fatal heart attack”. So, no alcohol and make sure your quests know the rules.  And remember all those streamers used at New Year’s.  Kitty is probably just waiting to get his paws on all that fun, so we know we have to be diligent here to make sure there is no choking or ingestion of the party decorations. 

Okay, so our next special event is Halloween!  First and foremost, the most important thing to do on Halloween is keep your cats inside!  Cats, particularly black cats were at one time thought to be little witches who had transformed into a cat.  Check out my previous podcast on Cats and their mysterious behaviour to hear about that.  Unfortunately, cats are often the victim of cruel pranks, torture and persecution on Halloween night.  So, please, please make sure your cats are in safe and sound on Halloween.  This means you may have to shut your cat in a room during the trick or treating to make sure he doesn’t do a runner when the door is open.  This also applies to your dog.  The last thing you want is to be out running around the neighbourhood trying to find your dog who took off out an open door.  The next thing to think about during Halloween is all that candy that is coming into the house if you have little ones out trick or treating or the candy you have in the house to shell out.  Remember, our pets are not immune to the temptation and the last thing you need is an emergency vet visit because of chocolate poisoning or gastro intestinal distress.

Another special occasion to think about is Valentine’s Day.  Lots of chocolate is around during Valentine’s Day and again this is one of those temptations that pets share with their humans.  As we know, chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats.  Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine as well as caffeine.  Dogs cannot metabolize theobromine and caffeine as well as people.  So, here is the thing about chocolate.  The darker the chocolate the more toxic.  According to vcahospitals.com “a medium sized dog weighing 50 pounds would only need to eat 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate, or 9 ounces of milk chocolate to potentially show signs of poisoning.  For most dogs, ingesting small amounts of milk chocolate is not harmful”.  So if your dog grabs one chocolate kiss and eats it, don’t panic, but if your entire heart shaped box of chocolate has been consumed, you probably should get to the vet.  Because cats cannot taste sweet, they don’t seem to be too interested in chocolate, but if they are again, its volume and how dark is the chocolate.

I talked about alcohol previously so let me be a bit more specific about cannabis.  When it comes to cannabis, the use has risen as many countries Canada included has made it legal.  People are smoking cannabis and ingesting it through the edibles available.  But, what about our pets? Many veterinarians are reporting a rise in cannabis poisoning with pets.  Many are accidental poisonings and that again is concerning because it means the person has not been cautious and diligent to make sure that their cannabis supply is safely stored away from pets and children, or they have been neglectful while using.  To be safe, pets should not be in the room when smoking cannabis. According to vcahospitals.com “Dogs have more cannabinoid receptors in their brains, which means the effects of cannabis are more dramatic and potentially more toxic when compared to humans.  A small amount of cannabis is all it takes to cause toxicity in cats and dogs.”  As with everything, not all pets are the same, so their reaction can also vary.  So for this reason, there is no level of exposure that is safe for pets that can be identified.  The bottom line on this is, if you have any kind of cannabis in your home, you must keep it away from your pets and be a very responsible pet owner when using.   

So poisoning in general is a very serious concern.  Pets can easily be poisoned through drinking water that has some chemical in it, or eating something that they should not.  People often put out poison for rats or mice and if your cat or dog gets into this, you have a problem.  Any poisons for vermin should be contained in a proper bait trap.  The best thing to do in terms of your pet’s safety when it comes to poisoning is to have the pet poison control phone number readily available.  So, do some research to find that number for your area and write it down!  If you find your pet vomiting and foaming at the mouth, you will be glad you did this. 

To recap here with regards to poisoning or ingesting of foreign objects, what should we do?  First of all we are going to do everything we can to prevent this from happening, but if it does, make sure you have the pet poison control phone number readily available and also, have the nearest emergency vet clinic phone number and address at your fingertips.  I have heard some people have programmed the emergency vet address into their GPS so there is no fooling around when rushing out to the vet.  Make sure you can identify as best you can what you think the pet may have ingested.  Alcohol for example is treated specifically, so if you can tell the vet you know they drank some wine, the vet can be prepared for as soon as you arrive.  Now having said that, the need to rush out to the emergency vet may include something else to think about.  Many emergency clinics will not even look at your pet until they can pre-approve your credit card for up to $1000.00.  Yeah, so this can be a challenge for many reasons.  So, you may want to call your local emergency clinic and see what their policies are so you are prepared in the event that you need to go there.  It always seems that these emergencies take place outside of regular hours so more than likely your regular vet office is closed and this is why you need to know where your 24 hours emergency clinic is and what are their policies.

Okay, so let’s move to some ideas and tips for pet safety that include evacuation or shelter.  A couple of years ago, Fort McMurry, Alberta Canada was hit with a terrible wildfire.  Now, I know that there has been many, many since and all over the world, but this one I had personal knowledge of as I was able to speak personally with one of the large pet retailers that was directly affected.  The biggest thing that happened was that the evacuation came very quickly as the fire raged towards homes.  People were throwing everything they could grab into their vehicles but what didn’t have was crates for their dogs or carriers for their cats.  As it turned out, this pet retailer was inundated with desperate people trying to flee coming to get whatever carrier they could get and extra food, and bowls and leashes.  They basically just pitched what they had out the door and told people to take what they needed and when they returned they could come back and pay then.  Yes, this is a smaller community and most people returned and did pay.  So there was a very big lesson learned here.  Do you have a carrier for your cat or cats and do you have a crate for your dog handy or extra leashes or a tie out available?  Are they easily accessible?  If you are in a fleeing situation where you have to get out of the house as fast as possible, you do not want to be moving boxes and things in the basement to find that cat carrier.  Petful.com has a great 4 step process for dealing with pets during a fire.  First they suggest to know where all your pets like to hide.  If your pet is scared and feels danger he may go to his safe place.  Do you know all the places your pet may have gone to?  If now, learn them.  Secondly, get decals for your windows that clearly shows firefighters and rescue workers what pets are inside, dog, cat how many.  My husband who is an ex firefighter took great pride is being able to save a poor woman’s budgie and bringing it back to life by sharing his oxygen mask.  Thirdly, make sure you have your equipment easily accessible.  This is the leashes and carriers that I pointed out.  The last thing they suggest is to practice.  Ask yourself what you would do if your kitchen was on fire?  So, basically you should have a plan that includes the evacuation of your animals. 

And here is another point that we don’t usually think about and that is how to prevent our animals from starting a fire.  The American Kennel Club suggests that using flameless candles is a good preventive measure as well as stove knob covers.  Also, they suggest not using any glass water bowls on wooden surfaces as the sun can heat through the water and ignite the wood. So yes, a wagging dog tail can send a lit candle flying or a dog surfing the top of the stove for a goody can set the stove alight.  I actually know someone personally that had a nasty fire in their home right before Christmas that sent the family living in a hotel for 6 months.  The husband came home with some groceries and had a pie in a cardboard box.  He set the pie on top of the toaster due to lack of space.  That was forgotten and when the kitchen was vacated, their dog jumped up with two paws to see what was on the counter.  Spying the pie he reached for it and pushed the toaster lever down.  He couldn’t get the pie and gave up but the toaster was now on and the box was on top.  Before my friend new it, the kitchen was on fire. 

So moving to other emergencies, what happens if you have been given a tornado warning or what we have experienced quite a few times, a massive ice storm.  In the event of having to take cover, have you again got your leashes or carriers handy to run to shelter? Do you know where your cat may be hiding?  Do you have a small carrier for your small animals?   If a tornado is on its way, you want everyone hunkered down as safely as possible and you will need that handy equipment to do so.  Power outages is also something to think about as we often use our fireplaces for heat and set out candles.  Again, you can have a secondary emergency if a wagging tail swipes a lit candle onto the rug. And if you are going to have supplies set out in the case of emergency, make sure you have pet food, treats, litter, shavings, etc. for your pets stocked as well.

Well that is quite a lot of info for our pet’s safety.  Most of the procedures and prevention are common sense but we sometimes just don’t think ahead.  So, that leads me to my Pet Peeves section.

As I said, most of the procedures for our pet’s safety is common sense, but there have been an awful lot of examples where common sense has just not prevailed.  We have seen so many disasters where pets are left to fend for themselves simply because they were not thought of in the plan to run to safety.  Plus, some of the irresponsible poisonings that take place with regards to alcohol and cannabis is rather eye raising.  I saw an episode of Bondi Vet from Australia where this poor Border Collie was almost on death’s door because the owner’s stupid roommate had left pot all over the table and he and his friends had smoked up the room to a cloud leaving the poor dog to gasp for air.  Stupid or what?  So, things happen but the goal is to always be a responsible pet owner and putting just a bit of effort and forethought into preventing incidents that could happen can save a lot of heartache.  I suggest doing some research into oils if you use them or how to make an escape plan that involves your pets, plus having those numbers and addresses handy will hopefully have us as prepared as we can be because as I say, knowing is caring.     

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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