HOME IMPROVEMENT SAFETY FOR PETS: Keep furry family members safe while you tackle autumn projects


Fall is a busy time for home improvement projects, many of which you’ll probably be tackling outdoors during the last blast of good weather with the rest of the family nearby. Setting project safety guidelines with the kids is pretty straightforward, but the family pets aren’t usually as great at taking direction regarding the interesting tools, finishes and other items you’re working with, and can step into dangerous health threats in no time.

Whether the task is redecorating, maintenance or cleaning, it’s important to monitor the products you use and always follow directions for cleanup and storage. Following are some project items that can cause problems.

• Paints: Most water-based latex paints aren’t highly toxic but could cause stomach upset. Specialty paints can contain heavy metals. Never use paint thinner or solvents to remove paint on your pet’s coat or skin, as these could cause a chemical burn

• Tools and supplies: Be mindful of nails, tacks, screws, electrical cords on power tools and even insulation, as all are potential threats. Chewing on electrical power cords can cause electrocution or burns to the mouth. Eating nails and other hardware can cause damage to the stomach and intestines or a blockage.

• Solvents: Mineral spirits, paint thinners and other solvents can lead to skin irritation and damage to the eyes, mouth and stomach as well as central nervous system depression.

• Glue: Some construction glues only cause stomach upset, but expanding adhesive products can cause life-threatening blockages.

• Concrete: Fresh, still-wet concrete can irritate or even be corrosive to skin and the gastrointestinal tract.

• Mold: Mold in the home can cause problems for pets as well as their owners. Some molds produce mycotoxins which can cause tremors and seizures.

• Lead: In homes built before 1978, pets could suffer from lead exposure by eating paint chips or exhaling dust from sanded or scraped surfaces. But paint isn’t the only villain: drapery weights, plumbing parts, putty, linoleum and rug pads can all contain lead.

When you’re ready to start a new project, be sure to keep your pets safely out of the danger zone. If that’s not possible with a more major home improvement endeavor, it’s worth it to board your cat or dog for a day or have it stay with friends for its own protection.

Poisoning from common household items is also a threat to your furry friends. In 2006, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) handled over 116,000 cases, many of which stem from everyday items. Food and beverages as well as mothballs, coffee grounds, dishwashing detergent, batteries, cigarettes, potpourri oils, hand/foot warmers and even loose change can be culprits. Add these to your watch list as well:

• Human medications: Many painkillers are deadly to cats and dogs. Just as with children, never leave medications where a playful animal could knock them over and eat them.

• Antifreeze: Necessary for your car, deadly in even small doses if lapped up off the garage floor or drive by your pet. Clean up spills immediately, since even a teaspoon can have disastrous results. Gasoline and oil should also be stored where animals can’t get to them.

• Plants: Many common house and garden plants have beautiful blooms and are tempting, but are also poisonous for Fifi and Fido. Some popular items to look out for are lilies, including Easter lilies, tiger lilies and rubrum lilies. Other common landscaping plants and trees that can cause problems if chewed or eaten include azaleas, oleander, yews, apple trees, carnations, delphinium, geraniums, lobelia, mock orange, morning glory, oak trees and vinca.

• Fertilizer and weed killers: Follow package directions for these products and keep pets off the grass and away from treated weeds for the proper amount of time. Animals can be exposed not only by chewing on the treated grass or leaves, but also by cleaning their paws after walking over them.

• Flea-control products: It’s important to use only products made for cats on felines and for dogs on canines. A number of flea products made for the hounds include permethrin, an ingredient that even in small doses can be fatal to cats.

• Pest baits: Most slug and snail bait and mouse, rat, ant and roach traps will attract your pets as well as the pests. Be sure to put them in a place that your companion can’t reach.

In case the worst does happen, it’s best to be prepared. Post the phone numbers for your primary vet, an emergency vet and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in a prominent place, and stay calm and focused so that you can best help your pet. Be ready to tell the vet or hotline what type of dog or cat you have, how much it weighs, what type of poison you believe it has ingested and how long ago, and any symptoms your pet is having.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 888-426-4435 and is the only 24-hour poison control hotline for animals in North America. Established in 1978, the Center is staffed around the clock every day of the year with 30 veterinarians, including 12 who are board-certified toxicologists/veterinary toxicologists. A $55 consultation fee may apply to your call, and helps to keep this vital service up and running in the absence of federal funding and other subsidies.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's Web site.

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