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Thursday, September 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

How-to pet-proof your home

Seattle Times staff reporter

After months of searching, you've finally chosen the perfect pet. You've taken online pet-soulmate quizzes, consulted friends and family, and visited local animal shelters and breeders. You might be ready for a pet, but is your home?

While most pet owners are familiar with potential poisonous hazards such as chocolate and anti-freeze, many probably don't know that grapes and raisins can be deadly for dogs, and that almost all lilies can be toxic for cats.

Dr. John Sheppard, a veterinary consult for PetProTech pet safety products, says the most common pet emergencies veterinarians see are fractures, intestinal blockage, ingestion of household chemicals, lacerations and soft-tissue trauma — all of which can result from accidents at home.

Pet-proofing your home is a simple and inexpensive way to keep your furry family member safe and happy.

Getting started

Survey each room of your home by getting down on your hands and knees, the same way you would to prepare for a toddler. It will help you pinpoint potential hazards that you wouldn't notice if you were standing up.

"The little things that kids can get themselves in trouble with are the same for a puppy or new animal," said Dana Farbman of the ASPCA Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill.

Physical hazards

Remove anything within your pet's reach that has sharp edges or could be a choking hazard. This goes for toys as well. Plastic bags and wrappers also are hazardous, because they can cause an intestinal blockage, which could require surgery.

Cover exposed electrical cords or outlets to prevent burns and electrocution as the result of chewing. Visit www.ehow.com/buy_5717_cord-cover.html to learn more about cord covers.

Tip

A super-strong screen mesh that is resistant to clawing just arrived on the market. Do a Web search for "pet resistant screens" to find out more.

Secure loose strings from window blinds or curtains by wrapping them around a peg. It's very easy for pets to become tangled and possibly strangle themselves. Secure your windows by repairing torn screens and reinforcing the molding on wooden window frames and the spline on metal ones.

Use baby gates to block off any spaces where your pet could be in danger of falling. Many puppies and kittens lack depth perception, and falling presents a big hazard. Older cats also are at risk because they become less agile with age.

Tip

For houses and lofts with open staircases that are almost impossible to block off, use extra supervision and play with your pet only on the bottom level.

Toxic hazards

Remove pennies, nicotine products, mothballs and batteries that might be lying around. All can result in death to a pet if digested.

Use safety latches to secure all cabinets and trash cans that contain food or cleaning products. Even overhead cabinets sometimes need securing, because cats and larger dogs can be clever when they want something they smell.

Fatty foods, onions, salt, garlic, avocados, macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes, chocolate and alcoholic beverages can be toxic to pets if ingested in large quantities. Rotting food, coffee grounds and fruit pits can cause serious health problems as well. Bones from pork chops, chicken and ribs can splinter and cut the inside of your dog's mouth or cause choking.

Expert

There are more than 230 plants and 13 foods identified by the ASPCA as potential hazards to your pet's health. More at www.aspca.org

If you have a cat and a dog, keep their food dishes in separate areas. Cat food has high quantities of protein that can be hard on dogs' kidneys.

Discard any household plant that could be toxic. Common ones include azaleas, lilies, morning glories, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and irises. Also be aware of plants with thorns, since they can cause eye injuries. During the holidays, keep your pets away from mistletoe, holly and Christmas tree water (it might contain harmful fertilizers). Poinsettias are actually OK, although they can cause your pet an upset stomach.

Lock up all medications. Common painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can cause kidney failure and sometimes death in pets. Even vitamins pose a potential health hazard.

Never use animal-specific medications on other pets. Treating a cat with a dog preventative for fleas, ticks or heartworm could cause serious health problems.

Expert

Dr. Sheppard recommends granular pesticides over pellet-size ones because pets are less likely to eat them. Pesticides should be placed in areas inaccessible to your pet. Use extra caution with products containing metaldehyde, zinc phosphide or methomyl.

Outdoor dangers

Fertilizers should be used carefully and sparingly. If you have to use them, make sure to keep animals away from a freshly fertilized lawn for at least 24 hours. Use extra caution with products containing high concentrations of iron or pesticides.

Wipe up spills of anti-freeze, gasoline, oil, fertilizers, insecticides or cement mix. Keep these products in a locked shed or at least off the floor — curious claws and canines will investigate.

Tip

Dogs love to dig, and if the fence isn't deep enough, they can get out. Burying chicken wire under a layer of dirt around the fence is a good digging deterrent. This works great in gardens, too.

Cat owners should be especially careful before starting a car. Cats love warm places and sometimes will crawl inside the engine. They also like to take naps under or on top of cars. Bang on the hood of the car before starting it. Also check clothes dryers, another warm place.

Dog owners should make sure that backyard fences are strong and that gate latches work.

Emergency resources

ASPCA Poison Control Center: The ASPCA Web site is a great source of information about toxic plants and foods. It also has an interactive pet-proofing walk-through quiz. 888-426-4435 or www.aspca.org; a consultation fee may apply.

The Humane Society: The Humane Society Web site includes a database for dealing with pets' behavioral problems. www.seattlehumane.org).

Local 24-hour emergency veterinary services:

VCA Veterinary Specialty Center 24 Hour Emergency Services, 20115 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood; 425-697-6106.

Five Corners Veterinary Hospital, 15707 First Ave S., Seattle; 206-243-2982.

After Hours Animal Emergency Clinic, 2975 156th Ave. S.E., Bellevue; 425-641-8414.

Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services: 11536 Lake City Way N.E., Seattle; 206-364-1660.

In addition, there are many after-hour emergency clinics in the Seattle area; check with your regular veterinarian for their locations and hours.

In case of disaster: Learn about disaster preparedness for your pet at ASPCA's Web site or at the American Humane Society's Web site (www.americanhumane.org). You also can get a sticker at these sites that lets search-and-rescue workers know a pet may be trapped inside your home.

Vanessa Renée Casavant: vcasavant@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2761.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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