Whether you’re about to bring home a new dog or cat or you’ve had pets for a while, pet-proofing your house is one of the best ways to protect your four-legged friends. But some seemingly harmless fixtures of your home, like your purse and your laundry, can pose serious risks to your pets. Read on to find out which household items and areas can be dangerous and how to keep your furry family members safe and sound.
What’s life-saving to humans can be deadly to dogs, even in small doses. “The number one thing pets are poisoned with is human prescriptions,” says Marty Becker, DVM, pet expert at . “If you drop a pill in the bathroom or leave medicine on the nightstand, your dog might scarf it up.” And child-proof bottles are no match for an inquisitive dog, says Dr. Becker. But over-the-counter meds can be dangerous, too. For instance, ibuprofen can cause ulcers and kidney failure in dogs, so avoid treating a sick pooch with human meds without your vet’s okay. To further ensure your dog’s safety, Camille DeClementi, DVM, senior toxicologist at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) , recommends closing the bathroom door when you take medicine. That way, you have time to pick up any dropped pills before a quick canine can get to them. And be sure to store drugs high up in a cupboard or drawer—not on a counter. “A dog could get up there,” says Dr. Becker.
Underwear, socks and pantyhose are three of the most common choking hazards for pets—makes you think twice about leaving dirty clothes on the floor, doesn’t it? Dogs in particular like items with a strong human scent, aka dirty clothes, so if you—or your teen—hasn’t cleaned up a cluttered floor, keep the bedroom door closed. “Dogs sometimes do okay chewing on clothes, but cats often ingest underwear and socks,” says Kemba Marshall, DVM, director of merchandising, pet quality and education at PetSmart. “If your pet gets in the laundry basket whenever you pull clothes out of the dryer, change your routine. Ingesting clothing is harmful,” says Dr. Marshall. “Or get a laundry basket with a lid that’s too heavy for a dog to lift—I’ve seen a dog pick up a lid while a cat got the stuff.”
No matter where in the house they are, garbage cans are chockfull of potential pet hazards. The kitchen trash can be full of foods that are incredibly desirable—and dangerous—to dogs. Grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate and fatty meats can cause liver damage, macadamia nuts can cause tremors and muscle weakness and chicken bones are a choking hazard because they can splinter. But it’s not just food that’s risky. “Dogs will eat food-coated plastics, which can cause them to choke,” says Mikkel Becker, certified professional dog trainer and VetStreet.com expert. Bathroom trash pails also contain unsafe goodies that attract pooches. “Don’t throw a mostly finished tube of toothpaste or mouthwash in a trash can your pet can access. Fluoride can be toxic to dogs,” says Dr. Marshall. “Don’t throw out disposable razors or razor heads where your dog can get to them either.” If you can’t always take the trash out right away, use a garbage pail with a heavy lid that your pet can’t open, or keep your trash inside a latched cabinet.
When it comes to edible hazards, your kitchen is ground zero, according to Dr. Becker. “It’s stuff you don’t think about: You’re preparing meatloaf with onions in it, bread dough is rising on the counter [and yeast can expand in a dog’s stomach] or you just pulled grapes out of the refrigerator,” he says. Your best bet is to keep your pet out of the kitchen, but if your dog’s food and water is in there, supervise your pooch while you’re cooking or taking out your food. And clean up the counters as soon as you’re done. “Pets are like toddlers who can climb on things, so we must be sure they don’t get things we don’t want them to have,” says Dr. DeClementi. Extend the courtesy of mindfulness to friends and family. “If you give a food gift with toxins like raisins or macadamia nuts, label it as ‘not pet-friendly’ or remind the recipient not to leave it on the counter,” recommends Dr. Becker.
Some of the biggest pet poisons just might be lurking in your handbag. For one thing, you may carry medication in there. For another, your pocketbook may hold chocolate and gum. “It takes 3 oz. of milk chocolate per ten pounds of dog to cause an issue, so that risk has been overinflated,” says Dr. Becker. “But people are less aware of the threat artificial sweeteners pose.” According to Dr. Becker, not all artificial sweeteners are toxic to pets, but xylitol, which is commonly used in sugar-free gum, cookies and mints, is deadly. “It takes only one stick per 25 pounds of body weight to cause a problem—even death,” he warns. So don’t place your purse on the floor or on a chair your dog can reach. Instead, put it up where your pooch can’t get it or in a closet or drawer.
Steps are especially dangerous to puppies and kittens who aren't used to the features of your home. “Block off stairs or keep pets contained until they get bigger,” suggests Dr. DeClementi. Another hazard: screen doors and sliding glass doors, which your four-legged friend may not realize are there until it’s too late. “A new pet may not understand that they’re a barrier. They may see you go outside and not see you close the door,” explains Dr. Marshall. Consider blocking these off too or adding special dog doors to these doors.
They can be a hotbed of risks to your pet, and since you don’t have complete control over the environment, be extra cautious. “Lilies are particularly poisonous to cats, and if you have a dog that digs, avoid Lilies of the Valley because the bulbs can cause heart disease,” says Dr. DeClementi. “Also, watch out for plants called Sago Palms, which grow in certain warm climates. They can cause liver failure.” (For a full list of toxic and nontoxic plants, go to .) Be choosy about your mulch too. According to Dr. DeClementi, cocoa mulch is risky for the same reasons as chocolate. Another outdoor concern: insecticides, which are even riskier before the chemicals are dry. Keep your pets off the grass for the amount of time specified on the pesticide label, advises Becker. Lastly, while it’s great to be eco-friendly by composting, block off piles from curious dogs, who are drawn to smelly things. “Compost piles can get bacterial contamination, so your dog can get food poisoning as well as fungal poisoning from them,” explains Dr. DeClementi.
Whether one’s parked in your driveway or you’re driving around with your pet in tow, cars can pose a serious risk to cats and dogs if you’re not careful. First, consider keeping your pet out of the garage and driveway so they don’t accidentally get run over as your family comes and goes, says Dr. DeClementi. Plus, “cats can climb into the car where the engine is, or slip in on top of a wheel for a nap. And they won’t have a chance to get away before the car starts moving,” she adds. If your cat spends time outdoors, always check she’s not near the wheels before you start driving. And if your pet’s going for a ride with you, keep your cat in a carrier and buckle up your dog with a special seatbelt. “I recommend a , preferably in the back seat, so your dog can’t walk around to adjust the gear shift or distract you,” says Dr. Marshall. One more reason to do this: A buckled-up dog is safer if you get into an accident.