Watching over a typical toddler — who will pick up and eat anything in front of him — can be a daunting task. Now imagine that same toddler with four legs, boundless energy and the ability to jump. That’s what it’s like to have a dog or cat in the house.

The average home can be a dangerous place for such curious critters. The best way for a pet parent to help ensure the safety of a dog or cat is to be aware of possible household dangers and be prepared in case an emergency arises.

Preparing For a New Pet

Before bringing a new pet into your home, veterinarians recommend getting on the floor, in the same way that you would if you were child-proofing your house. Look for any potential hazards, such as electrical cords and breakable decorations and make sure they are thoroughly secured or well out of reach.

Your cat may enjoy batting at the hanging cords on blinds or curtains, but these cords are an entanglement danger and should be kept out of your feline’s reach. String-like materials — such as thread, dental floss and holiday tinsel — are also extremely dangerous to both dogs and cats because if ingested, they can become lodged in the intestines.

Flower arrangements, plants and gardening materials can pose a threat to your animals as well. Lilies are especially dangerous to cats, while cocoa mulch, which may attract dogs, can be deadly to them. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center offers an extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants.

It’s also important to be aware of other less obvious hazards to your pet. For example, pennies minted after 1982 contain a high zinc concentration that can poison dogs and cats. In addition, mothballs, batteries and tobacco products (including cigarette butts) are all highly toxic and should be kept out of your pet’s reach.

Dangerous Delicacies

Although it may be tempting for pet owners to feed table scraps to their dog or cat, many common human foods have the potential to cause serious health problems in pets. Even in small amounts, chocolate can be quite dangerous to pets. It contains methylxanthines (such as caffeine and theobromine), which can harm dogs and cats and can even cause death at certain doses. Grapes and raisins may cause kidney damage in dogs or cats. Cooked or raw onions can cause anemia in dogs and cats, leading to possible depression, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness.

Xylitol, a sweetener often used in sugar-free gum, can cause a severe drop in blood sugar and possibly even seizures and liver failure in dogs if ingested in large enough amounts. Xylitol is also found in other products such as toothpaste and sugar-free candy. The effect of the sweetener on cats is unknown, but to be safe, it is best to keep these products out of the reach of all household pets.

Raw bread dough can also be a danger to your pets. When leaving bread out to rise, make sure your pet cannot get to it. If ingested, the dough can expand in the stomach and may need to be surgically removed. Yeast in the dough also produces ethanol gas, which, if eaten, can be absorbed and can cause toxicity.

And while it may seem harmless for your pet to poke around in the trash can, garbage or moldy foods can make him ill if ingested. It is wise to keep your garbage can out of your pet’s reach or closed with a tightly fitted lid.

Medications can also pose a threat to your pet. It is best to keep all medications in a secured cabinet out of paws’ reach. It is also an inappropriate and dangerous practice to give any human medication to your pets. Consult your veterinarian before administering any medication to your pet.

Curiosity Did What?

We all love the playful, fearless manner of our furry friends, but sometimes their roving noses can get them into trouble. Many veterinarians are now suggesting that owners consider crating their dogs while they are away. Puppies go through a chewing phase that can last for many months. And what pets chew may make them sick — or worse.

As a general rule, owners should always be aware of their pets’ whereabouts. Many cats enjoy the warmth of laundry in the clothes dryer, so take a peek inside for paws and whiskers before turning on a load. Also, cats and small dogs can be crushed by recliner chairs, so make sure no napping pets are snoozing under these chairs before closing them.

Having a dog or cat does not mean that you cannot also enjoy a germ- and pest-free household. However, you should take precautions to ensure that the chemicals in your cleaning products kill only what is intended and don’t hurt your pet. Follow the product recommendations. Use the product only as directed and do not mix products. After using cleaning products, keep the area secluded and your animal confined until the area is thoroughly dry. Lock away all products when they are not being used.

Avoid the use of rodent poisons. Unfortunately, these products are a common source of companion animal poisoning. Pet owners should strongly consider not using such chemicals and instead stick to live traps for rodents. In addition, pets should be kept away from rodents that have possibly ingested rodenticides.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

If you believe your pet has come into contact with a poison, toxic plant or harmful food, immediate action must be taken. Make sure to have all emergency numbers handy. In addition, you will need key pieces of information — such as your pet’s weight and the names and doses of any medications he’s on. Finally, you will need to provide information about the specific situation: If it’s a product poisoning, have the label with you when you call; if it’s a plant, knowing the scientific name is ideal because that name is universal.

If you suspect that your pet may have consumed a poisonous material, you should immediately call your local veterinary clinic or emergency center or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (a fee will be charged for this service).

Although many potential hazards exist in the typical household, taking the right precautions and being prepared and aware will give you the peace of mind to safely enjoy sharing your home and heart with your feline or canine friends.

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