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Educating New Pet Parents About Poison Prevention

Camille DeClementi, VMD, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, Urbana, Illinois

August 2014|Web-Exclusive
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In 2013, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handled more than 180,000 cases of animal poisonings,1 many of which could have been avoided if the pet owners had taken some simple precautions. Poison prevention is common sense to the veterinary team, and it is important that team members share information with clients, especially those with new pets.


Household poison prevention involves controlling the environment to decrease exposure to dangerous substances, so owners need to be knowledgeable about potential risks. Before bringing home a new dog or cat, advise clients to pet-proof the animal’s areas, including making sure that electrical cords are taped to baseboards or under rugs, medications and household chemicals are moved into high cabinets or inaccessible areas, and plants and breakables are removed. These are particularly important for puppies and kittens, although even older dogs and cats can get into trouble.

The guidelines for keeping household pets safe from poisoning are very similar to those for children.

Remind clients that dogs are like toddlers—they explore the world with their mouths—and they should set up the new pet’s areas as if they were protecting a child. Cats require even more protection because they can easily jump onto surfaces small children cannot reach. It may be helpful to suggest to a new pet owner that he or she get on the floor to look at the space from the dog’s point of view and to check high areas (eg, countertops, shelves, the refrigerator) for things cats might knock over, spill, and ingest.

Clients should also know that potentially hazardous materials, including cleaning and auto-care products, pesticides, and insecticides, should be stored out of their pet’s reach. Garbage cans should be sealed with tamper-proof lids. An animal’s outdoor enclosure should be routinely checked and unfamiliar or questionable items removed. Companion animals should be supervised when they are outside and should be kept in a securely gated area when unattended.


Clients should be reminded to keep all veterinary and human medications, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC), out of reach. Since some pets can climb onto high surfaces and into open cabinets, medications are not adequately “out of reach” in those places. Dogs can chew open “childproof” containers, so even those should be inaccessible. Suggest that clients take their own medications behind a closed door (eg, in the bathroom) so that if a pill drops on the floor, there is time to retrieve it before a pet grabs it.

Instruct clients to give their pets medication only as directed by their veterinarian. Clients may not realize that giving an OTC medication they consider safe can be life-threatening for a pet; for example, one 500-mg acetaminophen can kill a cat. Human and pet medications should always be stored separately to avoid accidentally giving pets human medications.

Read the Label

Urge owners to read all label information before using a product on their pet or in the pet’s environment and to always closely follow the instructions. Veterinarians should educate clients that products should always be used on the species for which it is intended; for example, a concentrated permethrin flea product labeled for dogs could be deadly for a cat.

Poisonous Plants

Clients must be aware of the plants in a pet’s environment, both inside and outside, because many are poisonous. Any floral bouquet brought into the home should be checked, because both dogs and cats are frequently attracted to flowers that can be dangerous if chewed; for example, lilies, commonly found in commercial floral arrangements, can cause life-threatening renal failure in cats.

More at Risk

The guidelines for keeping household pets safe from poisoning are very similar to those for children, especially toddlers. Dogs and cats can be at even more risk because, unlike children, they are commonly left unattended. Dogs chew into things, and almost any place is accessible for cats.

Resources such as the ASPCA website1 contain valuable information about poison prevention. Veterinary teams can make a big difference in preventing the high number of pet poisonings by educating their clients about the potential risks and precautions.

Teaching clients about basic poison prevention can be a lifesaver for pets. Advise them to ensure that:
  • Electrical cords are securely taped under rugs
  • Hazardous materials are safely stored
  • Medications are out of reach
  • Plants, inside and outside, are not poisonous
  • Flowers will not cause harm when chewed.


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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