Is Your Home Too Dangerous for Your Pets?

Are you putting your pet's life in danger?Our furry friends are part of the family, but you may unknowingly be putting their health at risk by having certain harmful foods, plants or other substances in and around the house. To keep pets healthy, it's important to know what's safe and what's not. Here, some expert advice for making sure your home is animal-friendly.

Hide Your Halloween Stash Chocolate can be toxic to dogs, and the darker it is, the more dangerous it is. "The component in chocolate called theobromine can cause hyperactivity, increased heart rate and arrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures," explains Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services at Petplan pet insurance. "If the dog ingests enough, it can even lead to sudden death." 'Nuf said? So store chocolate candy and baked goods like chocolate chip cookies in a secure place your dog can't reach. And in case of accidental ingestion, call your vet immediately.

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Keep Pets Away From Antifreeze As the weather gets colder, people start adding antifreeze to their engines. And while it's great for protecting cars from extreme temperatures, it can be deadly to cats and dogs that encounter a puddle of it in the driveway. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, just a few licks of antifreeze (like a cat cleaning its paws after walking through it) can be enough to cause kidney failure and possibly death. If you spill some, hose down the driveway and let it dry before letting your pets outside. And if you encounter suspicious puddles while walking your pets, steer them in another direction.

Buckle Up in the Car Most people wouldn't think of getting in a car without wearing a seatbelt, but few give their pets the same safety consideration. "Larger dogs should be harnessed in the back seat," suggests Dr. Benson. "This not only prevents them from wandering around the car and distracting the driver, but it will also keep them secure in case of an accident." For smaller dogs and cats, a better option may be to keep them in a pet carrier or crate while riding in the car. Just be sure to secure the carrier with a seatbelt so it doesn't go flying when you hit the brakes.

MORE: The Health Benefits of Owning a Dog

Steer Clear of Trash If you have a dog who likes to rummage through the kitchen garbage can or scavenge for scraps on the sidewalk, you need to keep a close eye on what he's putting in his mouth. "Pets who nose through the trash can easily come across food that could cause serious illness," warns Benson. Chicken bones are hollow and can splinter when chewed, causing oral or intestinal damage. But bones aren't the only hazards in the trash. "Scraps from onion and garlic can damage your pet's red blood cells and even lead to life-threatening anemia," notes Benson. Other dangerous foods for dogs: grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure, and gum or snacks that contain the sweetener xylitol-it can lead to a harmful drop in blood sugar.

Pick Your Plants Carefully Some of the popular flowers, shrubs and plants you use to decorate your home and yard may pose a risk to your pets. Don't let your pets nibble on lilies, azalea, chrysanthemums, amaryllis, English ivy or poinsettias. Different parts of different plants are toxic-for some it's the leaves, for others, the seeds or bulbs-but to be safe, it's best to just avoid having potentially dangerous flora around your pets. For a complete list of toxic and non-toxic plants, check out the ASPCA's site.

MORE: Plants That Are Toxic to Cats

- by Sally Wadyka

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