Pet Safety – Every day in every way

by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

It is always a surprise to breeders that potential pet buyers cannot understand our concerns about safety. After all, they are dogs. Shouldn’t they know how to take care of themselves? And the answer is a big and resounding NO!

There are certain givens when you buy a puppy and those are food, water and bedding. Training is too often an afterthought but very essential to family happiness and pleasure in a new pet. Training is the first key to safety and can best be described to you by a qualified obedience trainer. Training is what enables the owner to get a runaway dog to “Stay” upon command and may be a lifesaver for your pet – and maybe for the child who is running behind him. So let’s talk about interactions between child and pet for a start.

Children see those adorable little fluffy Bichons and fall in love! The vision is that of a stuffed animal come to life. But those little pups are fragile and are adjusting to a new situation away from known family and surroundings. So the first safety rule is to remember that pups do break! And they can be taught bad manners if they are handled roughly, teased, have tails pulled and eyes poked. Or if they are interfered with as they are eating their dinner or in their crates where they have gone for rest.

One of the important safety tips to teach your children and their friends is that chasing a dog is almost certainly creating an unsafe situation. A dog running away may run into traffic. Do not chase your pet but instead allow him to follow you so that you can guide him into a safer area. And did you know that water that has come from a garden hose can be harmful to animals (and young children)? Marine hoses and RV hoses are manufactured with safety for drawing fresh water but not the ordinary hoses from garden shops and garden shops which are PCV and contain lead. So draw water for your outdoor water bowls directly from the tap rather than through a garden hose unless the hose is of RV quality.

An immediate concern should be obedience training which can begin as early as 3 months of age (called puppy kindergarten). The basic commands of sit, down, stay and come are the start of having the control that will enable you to call your dog back to you if he heads into a dangerous situation. Bichons are incredibly fast for little stuffed animals! They do not recognize danger because, after all, they are the cutest, sweetest and most adorable critters alive so what could harm them. The answer is automobiles! Bichons are small, they are fast and they should never be off lead unless they are in a secure and fenced yard.

Household chemicals are a danger to child and to animal, as are electrical cords that can be chewed or tripped over. It is important to assess anything that might endanger a child and consider that a pet can also be harmed. Human medications, dropped under the table and forgotten, can kill in small doses that are big doses for a tiny dog. Xylitol, an ingredient in candy and other sweets, chewing gum and toothpaste, can be fatal to a dog and is often found in products meant for dieters or diabetics.

Along with chemicals, think about contaminated food and pass by those torn dog food bags that may have been exposed to pesticides or other dangerous products. At the very least, you know that the protective aspect of these specially manufactured food bags will not have been effective, allowing for loss of quality of the ingredients. While speaking of food bags, you should always check the sell by date. That date is usually good for one year but would you buy for your family food that was prepared a year ago? Your pets also deserve fresher food than that so reject any bags that may have sat on the shelf for months and seek out more recent sell by dates. They usually indicate the month and the year of manufacture but may show as an end of sale date. If you are not sure how to read the code, ask a store employee to show you.

Speaking of bags, dogs will often consume or play with objects, plastic bags and other items that contain the scent of food. So, remind your children not to leave their drink boxes, chip bags and other food-scented items on the floor or furniture within reach of your pets. An animal that can get its head inside a plastic bag can suffocate.

These are mostly obvious safety issues that you may already have considered but it is important to review your surroundings from time to time to see what you have missed. Remember that health can be negatively affected by overexposure to chemicals in the environment and this little dog is small in proportion to the humans who share his home.

The two tools you should have at hand for your dog’s safety are a good lead and a properly sized crate. Every dog should have a crate that is his bed, his refuge, his place for dinner, his protection in the car and the one place in the house that is for him alone. There are so many reasons for a dog to have a crate that books could be written on that topic alone.

Crate training is the one and only way to quickly house train a pet. There are articles elsewhere on the topic. Dogs fed in their crates will eat quickly and finish their food. They rarely become picky eaters as do those that are free fed by leaving food in a bowl all day long. Would you want to eat that dry stuff that has been sitting around for hours? As a refuge, his crate should be the one spot in the house that is off limits to children. When a pup (or adult dog) goes into his house, he is saying, I am tired, I have had enough of play and attention, I need a nap and – emphatically – “Leave me alone please!”

There is no time a crate is more important than in an automobile. There are statistics over the years, as well as personal experience accounts, of dogs whose lives have been saved in accidents because they were securely contained in their crates! If the dog is in the car, he SHOULD be in a crate! And every car should contain an extra lead for an emergency. Enough emphasis cannot be placed on these essential rules. In the show world, we have all heard about handlers who were in accidents in their large vehicles (never their fault, we hope!) and the dogs have come through with their lives despite heavy damage to the van or motor home. There have unfortunately been times when these same handlers have allowed their own dogs to ride free of a crate, only to be injured, to escape from the wreck and to be hit by another vehicle or to vanish when they ran away out of fear. You do NOT want this to happen to your dog.

The dog in a crate can nap, can throw up in the event of car sickness, can have an accident if you can’t find a place to stop for a walk, can bounce off the roof of the crate if that is the nature of the animal. All of these can happen in the crate and the car remains clean, the pet remains safe and the driver can pay attention to the road. If the puppy seems unhappy, throw a lightweight towel over the crate. This simple act can make a difference in teaching a dog to be contented while he rides. One theory is that the passing scenery confuses a dog unaccustomed to riding. Try it – it works! And teaching him to be happy riding in his crate is best for animal, driver and all other occupants of the car. It is the SAFE way for everyone.

Check your yard for possible escape holes. A low spot under the fence may be unseen because the grass is cut at the same level so this takes detective work on your part. A good chore for school age children – “find the escape route”. In the home, children need to understand that small toys or toy parts are going to vanish when left where pup can find them. And mom and dad may find themselves with an unexpected veterinary bill if those toys have to be surgically removed.

Candy dishes must be placed way high because chocolate can kill. Antifreeze will kill within hours so dogs must never be allowed to consume even so little as a spoonful. Certain plants can kill and there are lists available to tell you which are most poisonous. Potting soil is dangerous so any pet that has consumed dirt should be taken to the vet at any sign of sickness or nausea. Aforementioned electrical cords can electrocute an animal if chewed. Large objects of any kind can plug the esophagus or the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. The pet owner should also be aware that ingesting certain “foods” to control tartar or “toys” such as rawhide can have serious implications if the owner is not watchful. Either has the potential for blockage of either the esophagus or the intestinal tract. Therefore use those products but with a cautionary eye to the possibility that they will not be fully digested if consumed.

As this article is written, our state is under a tornado watch. Storms happen, all kinds of storms, from ice to snow to rain to hurricanes and/or tornados. If you are wise, you already have a plan of action for your human family. NOW is the time to make plans for your pet in the event of a storm. Tornados that require the family go to a basement or interior room will also require that your pet do the same. Hurricanes have been proven disastrous for pets by the events of Katrina. Shelters may now allow small dogs to be brought to the shelter and, once again, a dog in a crate will more likely be admitted. This holds true for motels and hotels, whether in a disaster or for normal travel.

A final four letter word – FIRE! Many fire departments will provide window or door stickers that show a pet or pets may be inside. These can make a huge difference in any emergency, including storms, so you should have them in place or suggest that your fire department provide them if they do not already have them available. Fires in apartment buildings seem to occur far too often but many pets get saved. Your apartment pet may owe his or her life to a pet sticker on the door to your apartment.

These are just a few of the emergency situations that you may encounter. You will know your own life style and may think of others as you read the information provided. It is always heartbreaking to lose a pet. No heartbreak is as painful as the pet lost to an unsafe situation that could have been prevented. Be safe, plan ahead, be prepared every day in every way you can. Most Red Cross centers offer pet emergency first aid classes (contact your local Red Cross for details). These teach first aid procedures such as CPR and Heimlich for pets, medications that can be used safely and techniques for transporting an injured pet.

In order to be prepared in advance, there are certain measures for pet owners to take prior to any emergency event. One is to have posted in a convenient location (or programmed into your telephone) the address and telephone numbers of your local 24 hour or overnight emergency veterinary clinic. Few vets are on call 24 hours a day but major cities and many small towns have at least one overnight emergency clinic available. Know where it is before you need it!! You may want to write that information on the line below and print out a copy of this article:

EMERGENCY VET CLINIC: __________________________________________

Kansas City State Veterinary Toxicology hotline  785-532-5679 (poison center).

More items toxic to dogs:

  1. Small batteries such as those from hearing aids, watches, cameras, toys
  2. Poisons such as antifreeze, moth balls, and D-con for mice
  3. Laundry items such as bleach, detergent, and fabric softener
  4. Grapes, raisins, and chocolate
  5. Xylitol, and artificial sweetener found in gum, candy, toothpaste, baked goods
  6. Cocoa mulch used in gardens
  7. Onions and garlic in large quantities
  8. Macadamia nuts
  9. Seed of apples and pears, and the pits of cherries, peaches, apricots, and plums may produce cyanide if ingested
  10. Avocados, including skin, leaves, bark of the tree
  11. Potpourri- may contain arsenic and other harmful substances. Arsenic is 100% fatal if ingested.

Human medications can be dropped or left out for pets to find and can be fatal!
Call the Toxicology Hotline or Animal Poison Control Center  888-426-4435

  1. NSAIDS can cause ulcers and kidney damage
  2. Antidepressants – watch for agitation, elevated heart rate and BP, disorientation, vocalization, tremors and seizures
  3. Acetaminophen – liver damage and red blood cell damage
  4. Methylphenidate (for ADHD) – elevated heart rate and BP, seizures
  5. Fluorouracil – (anti-cancer drug used on skin) – Rapidly fatal to dogs in minimal amounts! Seizures and cardiac arrest.
  6. Isoniazid (used in treating TB) – Seizures leading to death.
  7. Pseudoephedrine (decongestant) found in many OTC products – elevated heart rate and BP and seizures.
  8. Anti-diabetic meds – cause a rapid drop in blood sugar and lead to disorientation, lack of coordination and seizures.
  9. Vitamin D derivatives may not show signs for 24 hours but signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased urination and thirst due to kidney failure.
  10. Baclofen (muscle relaxant) affects the central nervous system. Depression, disorientation, vocalization, seizures and coma, leading to death.

Knowledge is power so be aware and be prepared!