The Last Kid on the Block

A safe pet is no accident

By Andrea Knudsen

Medicine may be helpful to you, but harmful for your pet.

My most important and most challenging job happens to be the one for which I was never given a job description: mom. Whether you’re parent to a child or pet or some combination thereof, you know the general idea: love, feed, shelter, protect. My preparation for the arrival of my children always included “baby proofing”—slightly amusing, since babies are typically stationary for the first few months. But the removal of household cleaners, alcohol and medications (among other things) is critical to a safe home.

Our fish let me off easy: they’re quite safe in their aquatic home, as long as their water is free of chlorine and soaps. But this week a friend experienced a serious scare when his pup got hold of his daughter’s asthma inhaler and punctured the canister, releasing an overdose of medication. The medicine critical to opening a person’s airways also speeds up the heart, and can be fatal to pets without emergency treatment (potassium and beta blockers).

I also use asthma meds, and I understand how you could overlook the danger, particularly when the medication seems safely stored inside a metal container. And inhalers are hardly the only danger to pets in and around our otherwise safe homes—just because a substance is safe for humans does not mean it’s safe for other animals.

With summer upon us, pet owners especially should be aware of dangers lurking in their yards and other outdoor areas.

Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides can be dangerous and should not be ingested. Easy enough. But did you know decomposing and decaying matter in compost bins can be toxic—yes, toxic!—to pets and other wildlife?

Tomato plants and rhubarb leaves can cause gastrointestinal irritation, garlic and onions can cause anemia (particularly in cats), and mushrooms can be poisonous. Grapes and raisins, of all things, can cause renal failure. Lilies are extremely poisonous to cats, and any ingestion requires immediate emergency attention.

If your pet is in or around water, know that algal blooms/cyanobacteria in stagnant water can be fatal if ingested. Stagnant water also can mean mosquitoes, which carry diseases such as West Nile Virus.

Just as I couldn’t attempt to provide you an exhaustive list of how to baby proof your home, I won’t try to list all of the potential hazards to your pet. But do ask your veterinarian about keeping your pet safe. Be prepared for an emergency, and have contact information for your vet readily available. Program it into your home and mobile phones. Keep the address to an emergency clinic in the glove box of your car.

If you do become concerned that your pet may have eaten something poisonous, remove your pet from the area and be sure he or she is breathing and acting normally. If you’re able, try to identify what the poison could have been, and collect a sample in case it might help your vet determine appropriate treatment. Do not attempt home remedies or inducing vomiting (some poisons can be harmful on the way up, too) without talking to your pet’s doctor first.

I’m a firm believer in Ben Franklin’s old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Know the dangers to your pet(s), and be prepared for an emergency. May you never experience one.

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

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