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Common pet poisons in our home environment: Part II


© Zoe Greenfield

Pets can get into the darndest things, and as pet owners, you need to have possible toxins on your radar. These toxins can be everyday items in your home. Small amounts can spell big trouble.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) issued their top ten categories of animal poisons in the home environment. They ranked categories according to the number of calls to their poison control center hotline in 2009. The top 5 concerns are discussed in Part I of my two-part series. This article discusses the other 5 categories on the ASPCA list.

These last 5 categories are a serious concern, even if they are lower on the ASPCA list. Antifreeze and lead are bigger concerns in the Chicago area than in some other places. Antifreeze poisoning is a concern in winter in colder climates like Chicago (see Part I of this series). A few licks can cause severe health problems. And lead poisoning is a concern in Chicago, particularly for wood-chewing puppies. Lead paint is more common in older homes that have paint dating prior to 1978, and Chicago has a large proportion of older homes.

Also be aware of zinc poisoning, particularly for puppies. "Pets can be exposed to zinc from chewing on metal bars in caging made from galvanized metal or from ingesting pennies that were minted after 1982," said Dr. Dr. Robyn Barbiers, President of The Anti-Cruelty Society, located in Chicago. She cautioned that puppies who chew indiscriminately need special attention to protect them from many hazards in the home environment.

Here is the second half of the ASPCA list (for the first half, see Part I of this article series):

  • Rat and Mouse Poisons Many baits that attract rodents also attract pets. The chemical recipe is designed to be tasty. Also, outdoor cats who eat poisoned mice can be poisoned themselves. Last year, the ASPCA received 6,639 calls about pets who had accidentally ingested rat and mouse poisons. Depending on the type of poison, ingestion can lead to life-threatening problems including bleeding, seizures, or kidney damage. Place baits well out of reach of your exploring pets.
  • Household Cleaning Products Everyone knows that household cleaning supplies can be toxic to adults and children, but few take serious precautions to protect them. Common products to secure include bleaches, detergents, and disinfectants. Last year, the ASPCA received 4,143 calls related to household cleaners. Cleaning products can cause serious stomach and gastrointestinal problems, as well as lung problems.
  • Heavy Metals Lead, zinc, and mercury are next on the list. Metal poisoning accounted for 3,304 calls to ASPCA in 2009. Lead is the leading problem of all the metals. Pets can be exposed to lead from paint chips (especially older paint), linoleum, and lead dust produced when surfaces in older homes are scraped or sanded.
  • Garden Products Certain types of fertilizer and other garden products can cause severe problems for outdoor cats and dogs. Last year, the ASPCA fielded 2,329 calls related to fertilizer exposure. These products can cause severe gastrointestinal problems.
  • Chemical Hazards A category on the rise, chemical hazards—found in ethylene glycol antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners, and pool/spa chemicals—form a substantial danger to pets. In 2009, the ASPCA handled approximately 2,175 cases of pet exposure to chemical hazards. These products can cause gastrointestinal upset, depression, breathing difficulties, and chemical burns.

What can you do? Think of pet-proofing your home as you would child-proof your home. Place rodent baits well out of reach. Secure all cleaning products and chemical hazards. Keep pets off treated lawns and gardens. And check for lead and heavy metal hazards, which are toxic to animals and humans alike. Creating a healthy home enivironment for your pets will help you and your family as well.

If you are worried about possible poisoning, call your veterinarian. Be sure to post the phone number of your veterinarian and your local emergency animal hospital for easy access in case of emergency. You may call the ASPCA national poison control hotline (888-426-4435), but they are likely to tell pet owners to call their vet and may charge a $65 fee.

For more info: ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center; The Anti-Cruelty Society pet health information; tips for pet-proofing your home.

Suggestions, comments, questions? Anything about environmental health that you would like to know about? Email your Chicago Environmental Health Examiner at Follow me on Twitter @chicagoenviron.


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