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Top Tips! Pet Proofing Your Home

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Small animal internal medicine specialist Dr Lawren Durocher Babek
outlines some common household dangers for pets, so that we can
wise-up and become the best pet parents possible

PHOTOS BY Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com.hk

Recent reports about dog poisonings at Cyberport Waterfront have emphasised the issue of pet safety both outside and importantly inside the home. No matter their age, cats and dogs can get into serious trouble with ordinary household objects – from the medicine in our cabinets to the flowers on our side tables. We can minimise these risks by increasing our awareness of the common threats, and either eliminating them from our homes or keeping them well out of reach.

Dogs and cats are naturally curious; when they are out of sight, they are all too capable of chancing upon and ingesting something harmful. So, one of the first things you need to know about keeping pets safe is to treat them like inquisitive toddlers. This cat-and-dog safety primer will help you pet-proof your home and prevent accidents from happening.

The food we eat everyday poses many hidden dangers for pets. Chocolate and caffeine contain a chemical called theobromine which is toxic to dogs, causing high heart rates and possible seizures. The amount of chocolate toxic to dogs is dependent on the dog’s size, as well as the type of chocolate consumed; for example, dark chocolate is deadlier than milk or white chocolate.

Xylitol (sugar substitute) causes low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs – even a small number of grapes or raisins can be toxic. Raw yeast dough can cause severe stomach upset for pets; onions and garlic, eaten in high quantities, can cause anaemia. Macademia nuts can cause weakness, overheating and vomiting; alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning, just as it does in people.

insider vet august 2021

Whilst not appealing to us, dogs and cats can be very tempted to try human prescription medication. Oestrogen creams and hormone replacement medications can harm bone marrow; high blood pressure medication can cause plummeting blood pressure. Medications used to treat cancer can cause a dangerously low white blood cell count; ADHD medications and antidepressants are dangerously toxic to dogs.

Dogs and cats cannot process over-the-counter pain medication like people can. Paracetamol is extremely toxic to cats because they lack the enzyme needed to metabolise it – even a small dose can destroy a cat’s red blood cells and cause liver failure. Dogs are slightly less affected but may still develop liver failure at high doses. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause kidney failure in dogs and cats.

A word here about Chinese and herbal medications. Some ancient remedies can be toxic to dogs and cats, especially those that contain certain types of mushrooms. Furthermore, veterinary research is still on-going as to their effectiveness in treating animals. Should your pet be prescribed these medications, it is important to follow dosing instructions carefully. If one of your pets accidentally ingests your supplements, have them checked quickly by a vet to preempt any ill-effects.

Veterinary prescription medications are often flavoured to make them easier for pets to ingest, so whilst they may be enticing, be sure to keep them out of reach – if taken in large quantities they can have dangerous effects.

It is important not to apply dog products to cats and vice versa. Always use the appropriate dose as directed by your veterinarian, and do not allow your pet to chew or ingest flea and tick preventative collars. If you accidentally apply the wrong product, or your pet is out of character after being treated, wash your pet well with a gentle dishwashing soap and contact your vet for further instruction.
Flea and tick preventatives sold by veterinarians undergo rigorous safety testing. Unfortunately, there are some other over-the-counter products that are similarly marketed but are not bona fide. There have been numerous reports of toxicity associated with these counterfeit medications.


Urban environments like Hong Kong are rife with rats and mice, and the chemicals used to kill rodents can also harm our pets, who are attracted to them by their pleasant smell. Rodenticides can cause bleeding, high calcium levels and brain swelling in pets, depending on the type used. Keep all
rodenticides out of the common areas in the home and watch out for signs indicating their presence when you are outside walking your dog.

Ant baits, bug sprays and bug foggers can be toxic to pets, usually causing respiratory issues. If it is necessary to treat your home for pests, make sure your pet is not in the house. As an easy rule of thumb – if it makes it difficult for you to breathe, it’s not good for your pet either!

Many of the beautiful plants around us can be toxic to our pets, so do your research before bringing them inside the home. Most plants will simply cause your cat or dog to have a stomach upset when eaten, but others can be deadly. Any form of lily can cause severe kidney failure in cats (but not dogs). So, if you have a cat, do not have lilies in the house. Oleander is commonly found outdoors as an ornamental shrubbery and causes heart failure and arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat) when ingested by dogs and cats.

All parts of Sago palms (including Bonsai) are extremely toxic – especially the seeds. This plant causes liver failure and death quite rapidly, and the effects are difficult to reverse. Rhododendrons can cause severe stomach upset and eventually death in some pets, especially smaller breeds. Jessamine plants can cause muscle weakness and paralysis.

Home remedies discussed online, such as hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting or feeding your pet charcoal to absorb the toxin, should only be used when seeing a vet is not possible. While they can be administered safely, they can have adverse effects. Pets can aspirate while being forced to drink hydrogen peroxide or charcoal, and hydrogen peroxide can cause chemical irritation and burns in the mouth and oesophagus.

Hong Kong has several veterinarians that are open 24/ 7 – you are never far from a vet if your pet ingests something toxic.

• Keep all medication in a closed cabinet
• Regulate your pets’ diet and avoid giving them ‘human food’
• Buy plants for your home that are known to be kind to pets
• Store all chemicals and cleaning products in a safe place
• Keep all rodenticides out of the common areas in the home

Dr Lawren Durocher Babek is a specialist in small animal internal medicine who is certified in hospice and palliative care.

To find out more, visit www.drlawrenvet.com.

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