Pet-proofing your home

Just like a child, a new pet is a part of your family. And just like a child, it is prone to get into things it shouldn't.

While much is written about child-proofing a home, new pet owners may not think their house needs to be protected for -- and protected from -- a puppy or kitten. Pets are just as likely as toddlers to break things or to get into dangerous situations with household products.

They can also make a real mess.

According to dog trainer Cheryl Miller, many precautions match measures taken for a child but for perhaps different reasons.

"You will want to crawl around and make sure that all wires and outlets are hidden and all breakables are secure - not just from the dog's mouth but from the pet's tail as well," said Miller, of Academy 4 Paws in Cornville.

She also suggests never allowing a pet to stay by a swimming pool unattended.

A curious kitten can get in trouble with a fish pond quickly, too.

Adopting a pet means you have become a new parent. Dogs, cats and other house pets, no matter what age, are coming into a new environment. They will have fears and snooping adventures. Letting them loose in the house or garden while thinking "animal instincts" will keep them out of trouble is a major misconception.

Animals can choke on small objects and unfamiliar items. They can also have toxic run-ins with plants. Puppies and kittens do not yet have strong immunities, and contact with the excrement or urine of another pet can cause illness, according to Tim Kelly, a certified professional dog trainer.

"Be mindful of materials lying around the house that your dog could eat that will cause intestinal blockages: Panties, stockings, socks, plastic bags, sandwich bags, bubble wraps and packing 'popcorn'," Miller added. "Those are obvious ones. The less obvious are finger rings, reading glasses and even coins."

Get your house in order before you bring in a new pet. Move breakables like vases and lamps to out-of-reach shelves. Cover exposed wires. Create a specific area where your pet will know he can relax and play without getting scolded.

"You might consider sectioning off potential danger areas with baby gates," Miller said.

Cats love to be off the floor, whether on a climbing post, a table or (when your back is turned) on the kitchen counter. It is wise for your own health and your pet's to keep surfaces clean and sanitized.

Puppies and kittens will have accidents. Pets that feel lonely, neglected or frustrated may also leave "treats" around the house. Even older pets can have urinary illnesses that will not allow them to control their bladders. Muddy paw prints are likely, as well.

The right flooring to handle messes and stains is important.

Michael Normandin of Builder's Choice Carpet One suggests choosing a durable hard surface flooring, instead of carpeting. He said they can be scratch-resistant and easy to clean.

"Laminate or vinyl flooring is a perfect option for pet owners," Normandin said. "And you can choose something with a hardwood or ceramic tile look, so you're not sacrificing style for functionality."

But if you prefer carpet, seek out the brands created specifically to withstand spills and stains.

"You want to make sure you have an enzymatic cleaner and a durable carpet to battle the messes," Kelly said. "Look for carpeting with special stain protection."

Miller points out common products that are dangerous.

"Some household cleaners, antifreeze, bleach, bug killers, mothballs, and rat and mouse repellants are always a danger if they are not stored safely away," she said. "Don't fall into a false sense of security and think your dog won't like the smell of something so she/he won't drink it. What you may find displeasing may be quite yummy to your dog."

Miller said to avoid toilet cleaners that linger between flushes. If you are concerned about what your pet is drinking out of the toilet, you can buy a toilet-seat lock at hardware and baby-supply stores.

Also in the yard, fertilizers and pesticides should be sealed and kept away from pets. Miller said to be sure to let the product dry after application before letting your pets outdoors.

Just like a child, a pet should not be allowed near you when you are operating machinery and power tools. Unplug tools when you are not using them. A misplaced paw from a curious pet could set things off.

While it would seem to be common sense to keep your pet away from personal-care products like shampoo and deodorant - which contain chemicals that could kill your dog - Miller also lists food items that should not be fed to canines.

"Chocolate and grapes are very toxic to dogs," she said. "Chocolate has theobromine, which can't be processed by the liver. Grapes cause the kidneys to fail. Avoid giving your dog onions, pineapple and avocado - these are all foods that can be poisonous to dogs."

As a final note, for those who have small children and pets, it is important to protect them from each other.

"Always place a safety clip on the door of the puppies' crate or pen," Miller suggested. "Be sure not to let the children watch you open these safety clips or how you open the doors or gates. This will stop children from letting the dog out or, even worse, bothering the dog while it is eating.

"Most dog bites come from the family dog and not the mean dog down the street. These bites are most often in the face, so beware."

Stain-Removal Tip

If you have a pet food stain, scrape or blot up the excess spill, and then apply dry baking powder. Scrape that up and then vacuum. Use a damp sponge to wipe up the remaining baking soda, but don't over-wet the area. Then blot, but don't rub.

Apply a presoak solution (which is one teaspoon enzyme laundry detergent mixed with one cup water). Then wipe with a damp sponge again and re-blot.

Afterward, apply a dry powder cleaner. Final vacuuming of the spot should take care of it.

-- Courtesy Carpet One, www.carpetONE.com

Dangerous Outdoor Plants

Plant toxicity is complicated because not all parts of a plant may be toxic, or they may be toxic only at certain times of the year. The amount consumed is also relevant; with the exception of oleander and castor beans, one bite is rarely fatal.

Azaleas & Rhododendrons: Large quantities of the green leaves must be ingested before lethal poisoning occurs.

Boxwood: These evergreen shrubs are widely used for hedging and edging. All parts are toxic.

Castor Beans: The seeds are very toxic and just two can kill a human. Since only the seeds are toxic, this popular, fast-growing shrub can be safely included n the garden by removing the flowering head of the plant.

Datura: Also known as Angel's Trumpet, all datura species are poisonous.

English Ivy: Although the foliage and fruits are toxic, the poisonings reported have been from the fruits.

Heavenly Bamboo: The leaves contain cyanide.

Jimson Weed: Is an abundant native of California. Its seeds are most likely to cause toxicity in pets.

Larkspur: All species of larkspur and delphinium should be considered poisonous. The plants are most toxic in their early growth and seed stages.

Monkshood: Also known as wolfsbane, it was cultivated in Europe for centuries and used to poison wolves.

Oleander: Because odeander is bitter, animals rarely eat it. But puppies and kittens may be at risk if allowed by play among its dried leaves.

Ornamental Tobacco: Nicotiana is a fragrant, flowering ornamental in the tobacco family that, although toxic, rarely causes death in the animal ingesting it because the nicotine is absorbed slowly in the body.

Oxalis: There are many varieties of this low-growing perennial. All species contain oxalates.

Pigweed: A member of the Amaranth family that is grown for ornamental leaves and grain, pigweed is considered a weed and contains oxalates.

Purple Foxglove: The leaves are poisonous.

Spurges: Besides gopher spurge, other types of euphorbia are poisonous. Perhaps the most widely known as poinsettia. Its milky sap irritates the skin and gastrointestinal tracts of puppies, kittens and birds.

Yew: Both foliage and twigs are toxic. Although many popular garden ornamentals are grown from bulbs or corns, these can be poisonous. The bulbs of tulips, daffodils, amaryllis and iris should be stored and planted where pets can't reach them.

New research reveals that feeding avocados to birds, rabbits and cats can cause severe toxic reactions and even death in birds.

Apricot and peach pits contain cyanide, and pets should never be allowed to consume them.

Some vegetables can be toxic to animals. These include spinach, rhubarb stalks, potato vines, onions and tomatoes.

-- Cheryl Miller, IACP #1624, Academy 4 Paws

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