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Ask the SPCA: Household pet safety

September 11, 2016

Question: I have heard of so many household hazards that affect the safety of my pets. How can I keep my pets safe?

Many of us have “pet-proofed” our homes at some point, stashing medications in locked cabinets, tucking away electrical cords and storing cleaning products high up on shelves but despite our vigilance, household dangers may still lurk in unexpected places. The following are some common but harmful items that may surprise you:

Dryer sheets contain corrosive substances known as cationic detergents. Cationic detergents can cause eye, skin and gastrointestinal irritation. Unused dryer sheets are particularly harmful. “Some cats like to roll in and play with the sheets,” says Meghann Cant, animal welfare educator for the BC SPCA. “Unfortunately, cats are especially sensitive to cationic detergents.” Effects of exposure include eye ulcers, skin rashes, drooling and loss of appetite, as well as burns to the mouth and throat.

Cute ginger coloured cat looking sleepy lying head down onto blanket

Ornamental bulbs, such as those from lilies, daffodils and tulips, contain a variety of toxic chemicals. “Dogs have been known to get into bags of unplanted bulbs,” says Cant. “They may also dig up and eat freshly planted bulbs, especially when tasty blood or bone meal fertilizers have been used.” Symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to seizures. In severe cases, ingestion can lead to death.

Liquid potpourris are made from essential oils. Ingestion can cause loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle tremors. “Compared to other pets, cats may be more at risk of poisoning because potpourri containers are often kept in areas where they like to hang out, such as on countertops,” says Cant. Cats may lap the liquid up directly. Exposure can also occur when cats groom themselves after a spill or leak.

Sugar-free gum contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener toxic to dogs. “Xylitol has a wide margin of safety in humans,” says Cant. “In dogs, however, ingestion can be fatal.” Xylitol is absorbed more rapidly in dogs than in people, leading to hypoglycemia and acute liver failure. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of muscle coordination, collapse and seizures.

Spot-on flea control products sold over-the-counter for use in dogs contain permethrin, an insecticide that can cause life-threatening seizure activity in cats. “Some people mistakenly use these products on their cats,” says Cant. “Others just ignore the ‘dog-only’ warning on the label.” Cats may also be exposed when they come into contact – by sleeping, grooming or playing – with recently-treated dogs.

Should you suspect your pet has had contact with something potentially poisonous, call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic immediately. “Time is of the essence in poisoning cases,” says Cant. “How quickly treatment is started can mean the difference between life and death.”

For more information on common household hazards, check out our pet care section.