Make a pet-safe home
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 10:52 p.m.
For emergency animal care vet Robin Schaffner, not a day goes by without her treating at least one, if not several poor pets who have feasted on something that made them very sick.
On a recent Thursday, Schaffner treated a German short-hair pointer experiencing tremors after snacking on snail bait, a golden retriever urinating uncontrollably and unable to walk after getting stoned on a marijuana brownie and a cat who was vomiting violently after nibbling on a lily plant. Cats seem to like lilies, and many varieties, such as Easter lilies, daylilies, tiger lilies and Asiatic lilies, are highly toxic.
Schaffner was able to save both dogs, but the cat went into severe kidney failure and was euthanized.
“Dogs love rat bait and snail bait because it tastes really good,” said Schaffner, who works at the 24-hour VCA Animal Care Center in Rohnert Park. “In order to entice those rodents and snails and slugs to eat it, they have to make it taste yummy. So it's important to put poisons in a place where they can't get them. Or just not use them at all.”
Dog and cat owners often don't realize until it's too late that they need to pet-proof their properties in the same way that new parents baby-proof their homes. Being aware of the many dangers that lurk in cupboards and on shelves, and even grow in the garden, can prevent costly trips to the vet and protect a beloved pet's life.
Roger Baldwin, a pest management expert with the University of California Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Fresno, recommends that pet owners be especially cautious and use traps instead of poison, whether they're dealing with unwanted rats, mice, gophers or ground squirrels.
Not only is it safer and better for the environment, but it can prevent unintended consequences.
“If a poisoned animal dies behind a wall and you can't get it out,” he warned, “you have to live with the smell for weeks or months.”
Rick Williams, the co-owner of Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastopol, said the best defense against rodents and other critters is prevention. First inspect your house for any possible entry points and seal any holes. Then make sure you have no food available to attract critters, he said, by keeping everything in securely closed containers.
Williams said traps are effective and there are many types available, from the old-fashioned metal traps to humane catch-and-release models, to more revolutionary designs like a new trap that strangles the rat or mouse instead of crushing it.
Dog owners also should consider trapping gophers as well.
Pocket gopher bait must be placed in the gopher's underground burrow. Even there, Baldwin of UC said, some dogs will dig up the dead ones if they are close enough to the surface.
Toxic snail and slug baits that contain the ingredient metaldehyde can cause severe neurological symptoms in dogs that eat it, including seizures, hyperthemia, multi-organ failure and death, said Schaffner, although the prognosis is good if a sick animal gets treated immediately.
There are many safer ways to combat snails and slugs. One popular product is Sluggo, a less toxic alternative that contains iron phosphate rather than metaldehyde. Williams said copper strips applied around planting beds or containers are also effective and safe.
When a slug crosses the strip it causes a chemical reaction in its slime that results in an electric shock.
Master gardener Gloria Whitely of Santa Rosa said you can also just go out and collect them. Slugs come out at night. They like to crawl into little places and hide. Put out a piece of wood, or, in Whitely's case, abalone shells. In the morning lift up them up, remove the pests and kill them.
One household toxic that a lot of pet owners don't consider are mothballs, said Mary Louise Flint, an entomologist at UC Davis and associate director for the University of California's statewide integrated pest management program.
Mothballs rolling around a bedroom or kitchen are like toys for cats and dogs. As with rodents, she said, prevention is best when it comes to moths. Clean out your closet and everything within it, then seal woolens in airtight containers. There are also pheromone traps that will detect moths.
Other things that can sicken and kill pets range from over-the-counter and prescription medicines to deadly wild mushrooms on your property.
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at email@example.com or 521-5204.