Spring has sprung in the northern hemisphere — or at least the spring equinox, the first astronomical day of spring, has passed. Longer sunlit days and warmer temperatures mean all kinds of indoor and outdoor activities for us, our families and our pets. It also means your pets may be exposed to new dangers and health risks.
Before you tackle spring chores and spend more time outdoors, take time to identify the potential hazards that may be hiding around your home, in the garage or in your yard and gardens. Then, take the necessary steps to keep your pets safe.
1. Start spring with careful cleaning
Giving your home a deep cleaning each spring is a rite of passage for many people. Just be sure to keep all household cleaners out of paws’ reach. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, nearly all cleaning products — including all-natural products — contain compounds that can be harmful to dogs and cats. Some household cleaners can mildly irritate a pet’s mouth or skin, while others can cause tissue burns, vomiting or diarrhea. Still others can lead to liver or kidney damage. To keep your pets safe, always use cleaning products according to their label directions, keep pets out of the area being cleaned until surfaces are dry, and store cleaning products out of your pets’ (and children’s) reach.
The same goes for laundry detergent pods, automatic dishwasher packs and fabric softener dryer sheets. These products contain cationic detergents (a type of man-made detergent that has a positively charged ion as its active molecule) that can cause serious symptoms, such as ulcers in the mouth and throat, excessive drooling, vomiting and fever. If your dog eats several dryer sheets — whether used or unused — an intestinal blockage may occur.
2. Inspect window screens to avert fresh air fears and falls
Ready to throw open your home’s windows to let in fresh spring air? Be sure to inspect your window screens and have them securely installed before you open the windows. Windows with loose screens or none at all pose a risk to your pets — especially your cat — who may jump onto the sill and fall through. Any unscreened window can be opened just enough to let in fresh air without letting out your cat.
3. Prudent plantings help avoid lethal landscaping
Spring showers bring spring flowers. While a beautiful flower garden is a delight for all the senses, some of the most common spring flowers can be dangerous to your pets. If ingested, spring-blooming crocuses, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and lilies of the valley vary in their ability to injure pets.
Several toxic compounds can be found concentrated in tulip and hyacinth bulbs. Pets that chew on or eat these bulbs can experience irritation of the mouth and throat, which results in profuse drooling, vomiting or diarrhea. If your chowhound Labrador should eat a large number of tulip or hyacinth bulbs, more severe symptoms such as increased heart rate and changes in breathing can occur.
Daffodils are pretty yellow flowers that contain a compound that triggers vomiting in your pet. This can occur when your pet chews on or eats the bulb, leaves or flower. Besides vomiting, daffodils can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even irregular heart rhythms or slowed breathing.
A variety of lilies are available for garden plantings, and only some of them are dangerous to pets. Some lilies, such as peace, Peruvian and calla lilies, contain compounds that irritate tissues of the mouth and throat. It’s the “true lilies” — the tiger, day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese show lilies — that are more dangerous and potentially fatal to cats. Small amounts of petals, leaves, pollen or even water from a vase containing some of these lilies can result in kidney failure for a cat.
Spring-blooming crocus can cause general stomach upset if ingested. Of the two types of crocus, the autumn crocus is the more dangerous, and ingestion can result in severe vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage, and respiratory failure.
Despite their tiny size and wonderful fragrance, lilies of the valley can pack a punch if your pet eats them. Like their relative foxglove, these beauties contain compounds that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased heart rate, abnormal heart beats and possibly seizures.
If you’ll be updating or adding new landscaping this spring, you’ll want to do your research before choosing new plants. Be sure to check out ASPCA’s toxic and nontoxic plants list and Pet Poison Helpline’s poisons database. You’ll want to remove or avoid plants that can cause severe or life-threatening toxicities, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, oleanders, sago palms, yews and true lilies.
4. Mary, Mary, how does your garden (and lawn) grow?
Fertilizers, compost, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides help lawns and gardens grow healthy, green and vibrant. But they can also pose a safety risk to our outdoor feline and canine companions.
While many fertilizers cause only mild digestive system irritation that produces vomiting and diarrhea when eaten, some can have deadly effects if left untreated. Bone meal and blood meal are excellent organic fertilizers that also appeal to dogs. Blood meal can cause vomiting and diarrhea if consumed; more importantly, it can trigger severe pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Bone meal that’s eaten can form a large, cement-like ball in the stomach that blocks the movement of food. And if any fertilizer is fortified with iron, iron toxicity is a possible concern.
Compost is a wonderful way to recycle because it provides organic matter for garden soil. But it can also attract animals, especially dogs and some wildlife. Molds growing on decaying plants or leftover food like bread can produce potentially toxic compounds called mycotoxins, which cause tremors and seizures if eaten. Other foods that can make dogs and cats sick, such as grapes, onions and garlic, may be present in a compost pile.
Consider keeping pets inside when fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide or other products are being applied to lawns, trees and other plantings. Your pet may follow you around as you’re working and be accidentally sprayed. Or your dog or cat may lick the product off of plants as it’s being applied. Keeping pets out of an area that’s being treated is one of the best ways to avoid potential problems.
Finally, be sure to follow all labeled instructions when applying any lawn-and-garden products. It’s also a good idea to keep your pets off of the lawn or out of garden beds until products have been watered into the soil or it has rained and the ground has dried.
5. Seasonal celebrations host hidden dangers for pets
Easter celebrations often mean Easter lilies, egg hunts and baskets filled with chocolate bunnies and fake grass — which also means extra precautions are needed to protect your dog and cat. Chocolate and xylitol-containing sugar-free candy and gum can be harmful to dogs (and cats) if enough is eaten.
Few curious cats can resist checking out new plants and flower bouquets on display. Unfortunately, chewing on or eating a small amount of any part of an Easter lily plant or other true lily blooms and leaves can be enough to cause kidney failure in cats. Cats are notorious, too, for chewing on and swallowing the plastic grass in Easter baskets and other string decorations. Eating string can result in life-threatening injury to the intestines, severe vomiting and dehydration. For your pets’ sake, keep all baskets and treats out of paws’ reach.
6. Tell fleas, ticks and mosquitoes to buzz off!
Warm spring weather likely means that you and your pet will be spending more time out and about in the great outdoors. And you won’t be alone. With warmer weather, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes become active, too. While some areas of the country require year-round prevention of fleas and ticks, pet owners in colder areas often stop during the winter months. If you’ve stopped for the winter, now’s the time to start again. Fleas are one of the most common causes of itching in dogs and cats, and they can transmit immature tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum) to unsuspecting pets. Ticks can carry the microorganisms that cause several diseases, some of which can be dangerous, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mosquitoes can carry and transmit a parasite that causes heartworm disease, which can cause heart failure and even death if left untreated. Stay tuned for more information about heartworms and the disease they cause in a future post!
In the meantime, talk with your veterinarian about the best way to protect your dog or cat from these pests and the potential disease-causing agents they can transmit.
Enjoy spring knowing you’ve made pet safety a priority
While springtime brings added safety risks, you can greatly reduce your pet’s risk of harm by being aware of these potential dangers. If you suspect your dog or cat has been exposed to something that’s potentially toxic, contact your veterinary clinic or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital for advice. You may also want to call Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) or ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) for help in determining if exposure has occurred, what you can do at home to manage your pet or if you should seek veterinary care immediately.
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