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The single greatest danger to household pets is poisoning. Each year, thousands of cats and dogs are accidentally poisoned in the "safety" of their own home. Common household items that you may not even think about keeping out of your pet's living area, are highly toxic and pose potentially life threatening problems. Items like pennies, batteries, cigarettes, coffee grounds, moth balls and fabric softener sheets can kill, even in small amounts.

Are household plants dangerous to pets?

Yes, some plants are highly toxic to cats and dogs, even if the animal's coat has only touched the plant. Like humans, pets can suffer skin allergies. Be especially careful of azalea, oleander, mistletoe, sago palm and Easter lilies. The ingestion of even one leaf or root of such plants can cause long-term damage, irreversible damage to your pet's digestive system. Also take note of what plants and shrubs are in your dog's walking and playing area outdoors.

I've heard that giving candy to a dog is dangerous.

Most candy won't harm your cat or dog, though they will gain no nutritional value from it and the small size presents a potential choking hazard. Chocolate however, is deadly for both cats and dogs. Even one-half ounce of baking chocolate is enough to cause life threatening pancreatic problems in cats.

How do I keep my pet out of the cleaning supply area?

This is a difficult problem, as most cleaning supplies are kept at the dog's level. It is not hard for a curious dog (or cat) to open a cupboard door and investigate the contents inside. Most veterinarians recommend using child safety locks and latches on low cupboards that are easily accessed by your pet. Also, be certain that freshly cleaned areas have completely dried before allowing your pet to wander in those areas. Bleaches and ammonias can cause burns to form on your pet's paws.

It is equally important to keep medicines out of harm's way, as well. Painkillers like Tylenol and Advil can kill a cat or dog in minutes.

Is it safe to fertilize my lawn or use insecticides if my animals play in the yard?

In most cases, yes. Again, make sure to allow the chemicals to dry completely before allowing your pet in treated areas. Also, read the label on products you're using. Some chemical treatments are not as dangerous to animals as others. Your veterinarian can recommend a reliable lawn treatment if you have an especially large area to treat.

What about rodent or insect baits and poisons? Can I use them indoors?

You can use baits and poisons, if you do so in areas in which your pet is not likely to travel. Most poisons have a sweet taste that will tempt your pet, so be especially observant to wear your lay traps and poisons. Cats are more likely to find and eat indoor bait than dogs, simply because they can get to higher levels with ease. Never place any kind of poison or bait in doorways, hallways, in between floorboards, stairways or near your pet's supply of food and water.

Is it safe to allow my dog or cat to wander the garage?

It is safe, as long as you plan ahead for it. Antifreeze, for example, is highly toxic, and even one tablespoon is enough to cause death in felines. Be sure to check under your vehicles for possible radiator and oil leaks and wipe and cover them immediately if your pet has access to the garage.

What are the warning signs that my animal has been poisoned?

There are several signs to watch for, but when in doubt, always call your veterinarian for advice. It takes only moments for permanent damage to occur. Watch for changes in behavior in your pet and any bleeding or breathing difficulty. Any of these symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the nearest veterinary emergency room.

Are there ways of treating my pet at home?

There are things you can do to help slow down the poisoning process, but as a general rule, your veterinarian should be contacted at once. If your pet has consumed pills, antifreeze or other toxic substances, getting the animal to vomit will eliminate some of the danger. Give your dog one tablespoon of Hydrogen Peroxide (3% solution) per ten pounds. You can place the Hydrogen Peroxide in a turkey baster for easier dosing. The dog should vomit within five minutes. If not, repeat the same dosage ten minutes later and call your veterinarian immediately. (Cats cannot be given this same solution. Most cats cannot be forced to vomit, even by a trained veterinarian. Cats who may have swallowed a toxic substance should instead be taken directly to the nearest vet.)

While it's safe to use Hydrogen Peroxide to force vomiting, never administer Syrup of Ipecac to dogs or cats. The contents are even more toxic to animals that what he or she may have already consumed.

If your pet has swallowed a caustic agent (lye, drain cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, kerosene), do not induce vomiting. Doing so will only cause damage to your pet's throat and digestive areas twice. Instead, give your animal three teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice diluted with an equal amount of water, and contact your veterinarian immediately for further instruction.

Animals who consume bleach, acidic materials or batteries can be given one teaspoon of Milk of Magnesia to offset the damage the acid will do to their throat and stomach. Again, this is only a temporary aid. Contact your veterinarian for a plan of action immediately.

Dogs and cats can also be given small amounts of milk to help coat their stomach and soothe their pain.

Are all poisonings dangerous?

No. There are some things that your pet may get into that are not dangerous at all. Candy, pencils, ink and other such items may make your dog or cat ill, but are not life threatening. In instances such as this, it is safe to give your pet Activated Charcoal (liquid or pills) and water to absorb the toxins every four hours.

It takes only a short time to cause serious or life threatening damage to pets. When in doubt, contact your veterinarian. Every minute counts. Even before you call however, you'll need to know what your pet has eaten. Bring the bottle or container with you to help the veterinarian diagnose and treat your loved one as quickly as possible. When in doubt about what your pet has consumed, try bringing a small stool or vomit sample in a baggy for the vet to analyze.