Pet–proofing and baby–proofing your home are in many ways one and the same. You must literally see the world from your pet or baby’s perspective, which means getting down on your hands and knees to scope out those hazards-in-waiting.
Anything poisonous to your baby if ingested (plants, chemicals, cleaning agents…) is more than likely also poisonous to your dog. Similarly, anything unsafe for your dog (pools and ponds, electrical cords and wiring, windows, balconies, and decks, small items that can be easily swallowed…) is also perilous to your baby.
The list of toxic or dangerous indoor and outdoor plants alone is overwhelming. Philodendron, a popular houseplant, is toxic if swallowed. Hydrangea, with its dramatic grapefruit-sized flower clusters and pastel blooms, is also toxic. So are lilies, mums, ivy, azalea, tomato vines…the list is long and surprising. While it is impossible to completely rid your home of all things hazardous to your little ones (furry or otherwise), steps can be taken to significantly reduce the risks involved by simply educating yourself.
Accidental poisoning is one of the most common mishaps, mostly because people are unaware that everyday household items that may not adversely affect an adult can be life threatening—even fatal— to a puppy or baby. It’s common knowledge that chocolate is detrimental to your pooch, but did you know that even small amounts could cause Buster to develop pancreatic problems, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, coma, and possibly death? Furthermore, Healthypet.com, the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) website, states that one extra-strength acetaminophen tablet (500 mg), such as Tylenol, can kill a seven-pound cat. One regular-strength ibuprofen (200mg), like Advil or Motrin could cause irreparable stomach ulcers in a ten-pound dog. Painkillers, cold medicine, anti-cancer medication, anti-depressants, vitamins, antacids, and diet pills are all potentially lethal even in tiny dosages. Always find stray pills that have fallen to the floor; never leave medications, prescription or over-the-counter, within your pet or baby’s reach, and don’t trust that child-resistant containers will actually dissuade your child from opening them!
If that doesn’t scare you, consider the fact that low quantities of pennies, mothballs, potpourri, fabric softener sheets, automatic dishwasher detergent, windshield washer fluid, toilet bowl cleaner, insecticide, fertilizer, batteries, hand and foot warmers, cigarettes, coffee grounds, cosmetics, mouthwash, and alcoholic drinks are all highly toxic to your pets and children and very often have disastrous results.
According to Babycenter.com, iron poisoning is the No. 1 killer of children under 6. This is reason enough to NEVER refer to medicine as candy. Children unable to make the distinction, mistakenly overdose on their colorful, cartoon-shaped vitamins or other iron pills.
Antifreeze is another killer. AAHA indicates that one teaspoon of antifreeze licked off a garage floor can prove deadly to a seven-pound cat and less than one tablespoon can kill a 20-pound dog. Note that antifreeze ingested by a pet or baby is fatal within hours and immediate and comprehensive action must be taken. The Humane Society maintains that antifreeze is “one of the most dangerous household hazards to animals and children that exists…[causing an] extremely swift and painful death.”
This partial list should open your eyes to those things worthy of raising red flags when evaluating your home. Ipecac syrup and activated charcoal should be household mainstays in case your baby swallows something you fear is noxious. However, you should NEVER use either product without consulting your doctor or a poison control center first. To find the poison control center nearest you, log on to www.aapcc.org, the American Association of Poison Control Centers website or call 800-222-1222. If you suspect your pet has ingested something harmful, contact your vet or grab your credit card and call the National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) 800-548-2423. Specialists in animal poisoning staff the phones 24-7. This service can truly mean the difference between life and death for your pet.
So you’ve trashed all your plants and moved all the hazardous chemicals, cleaners, and whatnot to cabinets far from Buster and baby’s reach—you can breathe easy now, right? Wrong! Cabinets that once stored cleaners, chemicals, etc., should be shut permanently. The cabinet floor may be saturated from years of storage and neglect.
Alarmingly, the forgotten, dried, spilled poison on the bottom of the cabinet can be easily reactivated by a quick lick from your pet or baby’s wet hand.
Bathtubs, toilet bowls, cleaning buckets, ponds, and pools all present drowning risks to both pet and baby. In fact, baby can drown in as little as an inch of water left in a dog bowl if her face falls into it and she is not able to lift her head out. Baby’s head weighs more than any other part of her body. Gravity, curiosity, and determination, draw her head into the dog bowl, toilet bowl or cleaning bucket then she isn’t strong enough to pull herself out. It takes moments for a child to suffer brain damage or succumb to the effects of drowning. Your pet’s chances are not much better if he finds himself in the same situation. Make sure toilet lids are closed, water is not left standing in buckets or bathtubs, and that pets and children are constantly supervised around lakes, ponds, and swimming pools. Remember, not all dogs are natural swimmers.
Few people associate falls with puppies and kittens, but puppies and kittens are babies. They can be uncoordinated (finding stairs challenging to master), and over-zealous (unaware that windows, decks, and balconies, as alluring as they may be, are actually things they can fall from.) Safety gates on stairs, window stops or guards, and barricading decks and balconies reduces the likelihood of a plummeting pooch or tumbling tomcat.
“Bigger is better” is the rule regarding toys and choking. If a toy or part can fit through an empty toilet paper roll then you can bet your child or pet can choke on it. The same goes for buttons, paperclips, rubber bands, tape, thumb tacks, staples, pen caps, needles, thread, bits of broken wicker, plastic bags, balloons, pet kibble, cat litter…Buy bigger toys with bigger parts that can’t fit into small mouths and throw broken toys away immediately.
Don’t think toy boxes are the answer, though. Toy boxes are a huge threat. Toy boxes must have air holes. Buster or baby could climb in and not be able to climb out, one child may put another inside the box but isn’t able to let them out, or your child may put your pet inside and forget he’s there. A spring-loaded lid support helps prevent serious head injuries, but removing the lid altogether is best.
Armoires, bookcases, nightstands, dressers, TV cabinets, or any other large pieces of furniture should be bolted to the wall to prevent them from toppling over. A cat jumping from the TV to the dresser could cause an unintentional squashing of your baby, canine, or other feline.
If you live in a house or building constructed before 1978, it may contain flaking or peeling lead paint, which can cause lead poisoning. Children exposed to lead through fumes, dust, or ingestion can develop learning disabilities and other more severe neurological problems. For pets, exposure can be equally serious.
With so many things to be conscious of, the task of pet and baby proofing your home may seem never ending. In fact, home safety is an on-going process. With each new skill comes the potential for danger. Risks must be always be evaluated from Buster or baby’s ever-changing perspective. Diligence, common sense, and awareness go a long way when it comes to protecting your loved ones. In the end, no matter what steps you take to safe-guard your pets and babies from falls, poisoning, suffocation, choking, electrical hazards, and other unforeseen disasters one thing is certain, there is no substitute for prudent supervision.