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How to Prevent Common Pet Emergencies During Quarantine



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social distancing with pets

Pets and Coronavirus

Coronavirus and COVID-19 has changed the world for everyone … and that includes our cats and dogs!

While it still doesn’t appear that dogs (or cats) can actually become infected with this novel coronavirus and develop the COVID-19 disease*, your pets can still be at other heightened health and safety risks during this time of self-isolation while we’re all working together to try and flatten the curve. [*Update: Apr. 8, 2020 — New cases and studies appear to show that cats (and ferrets, but not dogs) may be able to become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus. There is still no evidence or suggestion though that any pets can pass the virus or infection on to people. For an updated analysis of these new findings, please see our "Pets and COVID-19" podcast and article.]

This article will help you keep your pets as healthy and safe as possible in your home during this time of changed routines and #coronaquarantine. Not only will this help your pets, but it’ll also help save you additional stress (and costs) during this difficult time.

Preventing pet problems during this coronavirus pandemic will also help conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and other vital resources for our human medical teams that are putting their health and lives at risk trying to keep the nation safe. So please take these extra precautions to help keep your pets – and everyone else – as safe and healthy as possible in these difficult times.

Watch my interview with Portland's KOIN news where we discussed what you can do to prevent common pet emergencies during quarantine:

In-home risks to cats and dogs during coronavirus quarantine

Kids’ toys, crafts, and snack risks

With more schools closed and more kids spending their days at home, and more parents trying to channel their inner Martha Stewart in an effort to entertain their kids (while suppressing their inner Jack Torrance and not go "all work and no play" on them!), there’s likely to be more baking, crafting, snacking, and playing happening in your home …  some of which can carry health and safety risks for your pets.

  • Xylitol: If you have dogs and you’re watching your sugars or carbs in your baking or snacking, xylitol is definitely something you need to be aware of … and extremely careful with! This popular, natural sugar substitute is HIGHLY toxic to dogs, even in very small amounts. Learn more about how xylitol is dangerous to dogs, and also see the places that xylitol is commonly found.
    Xylitol is more toxic to dogs than Chocolate
  • Chocolate: Hopefully you’re already aware that chocolate can cause problems for cats and dogs. What you may not yet know though is that the types of chocolate we typically bake with – cocoa powder, Baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet – are the most dangerous types! See how chocolate affects cats and dogs, as well as what you should do if your pet eats chocolate (the article includes a handy chocolate toxicity calculator, too!).

  • Yeast-containing bread and pizza dough: With the store shelves quite sparse these days, and a little “extra time” on your hands, if you’re tempted to bake some fresh bread with the kiddos or make your own pizza dough, just be sure to keep the uncooked dough well away from your dog’s curious nose and mouth.

    When uncooked dough containing yeast is eaten, the warm, moist environment of the dog’s stomach will activate the yeast, triggering fermentation. This will release carbon dioxide gas and alcohol into your dog’s stomach and bloodstream, neither of which is good! And that’s on top of the now risen mass of dough that can cause a digestive obstruction, which could require surgery to remove.

  • Raisins, grapes, and currants: Maybe you’re trying to get your kiddos to have these as healthier snacks, or maybe they’re just fans of oatmeal raisin cookies or cinnamon raisin bagels? Either way, be sure to keep these snackable fruits out of your dog’s mouth, as grapes, raisins, and currants can cause serious kidney damage in some dogs!

  • Potato chip, tortilla chip, pretzel, and other snack bags: While the snacks contained in these bags could cause your pet a bout of painful pancreatitis, what I’m talking about here is more the risk the bags themselves pose! Many dogs (especially) suffocate and die in empty snack, cereal, and other “mylar-type” bags each year. It can happen quickly and even when people are home! Learn more about snack bag suffocation in pets, including simple steps you can take to prevent it.

  • Yarn, thread, and other “string-like” things: If you or your kids are going to turn to sewing, knitting, or anything of the like during the #coronaquarantine, just take extra precautions to not leave your stuff out where your pets can get to them. Not only can the yarn and thread cause a dangerous and painful linear foreign body obstruction, but any swallowed needles can do some pretty serious damage, too! Note that linear foreign body obstructions from strings (and even rubber bands or dental floss, which some kid’s crafting projects might call for) usually happen more often in cats, but dogs are by no means immune!

  • Magnetic balls: While these nifty mini magnetic balls can be highly entertaining for kids (and adults), they can also be EXTREMELY dangerous for cats and dogs (and young children)! They’re so dangerous in fact, that so many small children swallowed them and had resulting intestinal perforations, requiring surgery and life-altering, life-long medical problems (and even some deaths) that the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned their sale nationwide in 2012.

Of course, it was the danger to children that got these magnetic balls banned, but they are equally as dangerous to dogs and cats, and for the same reason. Sadly (in my opinion) the ban has been reversed and a whole host of these neodymium, rare Earth magnetic toys are now back on the market and in homes and, as you might imagine, the cases of dogs (and kids) turning up in hospitals to have swallowed magnets removed and severe intestinal damage repaired have returned.

If you let your kids play with these small magnetic balls be VERY (and I mean VERY) careful to ensure that neither your pets, nor your kids, swallow any of them. And, if they do, get them IMMEDIATELY to the ER before the magnets cause an intestinal perforation!

  • Kinetic sand: Whether it’s kinetic sand you buy in the store or DIY at home with your kids, this fun to feel and play with toy can cause some very serious, surgery-requiring problems for your pets should they eat any (and, given some of the ingredients, it’s likely quite appealing to many a dog!).

    When the sand globs together in your dog’s gut, it’ll cause an impaction that’ll almost certainly require surgery to remove. So this is another one to make sure your kids clean up well (yeah, it makes me laugh every time I say it, too 😁) and keep well out of your pet’s reach.

Home repair and cleaning risks

Many of us are cleaning and disinfecting our homes more often these days. But perhaps you’re also taking this quarantine opportunity to (finally) get some of those pesky home repairs done, or even just the laundry and other chores that have been piling up.

Be aware that some of these activities can actually put your pets at risk, too. Now I’m not suggesting that you use this as an excuse to not do those home repair projects, cleaning, and laundry … but if you’re looking for an excuse, who am I to stop you.

  • Gorilla Glue® (and similar glues): These isocyanate polyurethane adhesives are in many homes due to their usefulness in woodworking and other projects. The fact that they expand when they get damp or wet is a key factor in their use around homes, but this very property (along with their attractive smell and taste) is also exactly what makes them so dangerous for pets.

    When eaten, the glue expands tremendously within the wet, acidic environment of the stomach, forming a solid mold of the stomach and causing a digestive obstruction that requires surgery to remove. Learn more about the danger of these polyurethane glues and watch this cool time-lapsed video of what happens when Gorilla Glue® gets into a dog’s stomach (don’t worry, it’s not gross).

  • Liquid potpourri and other scents: Since you and the rest of your family, including your pets, are going to be spending more time indoors, your place might start to smell … hmmm, shall we say “not as nice as usual.” To help combat this, you might decide to set up some liquid potpourri, essential oil diffusers, deodorizing plug-ins, or other odor improvers.

    While these can help to combat odors and make sheltering-in-place a bit more tolerable for you, they can unfortunately cause some problems for your pets. See the potential respiratory and other risks associated with potpourri, essential oils, scented candles, and other “nice smelling things” for your pets.

  • Household cleaners and disinfectants: Let’s face it, you are (hopefully) going to be doing a lot more cleaning and disinfecting around your home in this day and age of coronavirus, and that’s a good thing! That said, be sure to pay attention to the ventilation in your home, follow all label instructions, and be aware that some cleaners and disinfectants can cause problems for your pets (especially bleach and ammonia).

    And, as a special note, be careful – for your pets AND yourself – if you’re thinking about mixing different cleaning chemicals, as doing so can release some seriously dangerous chemical gasses!

  • Laundry detergent and fabric softeners (including dryer sheets): Not only can the detergents in laundry soap and fabric softeners cause serious digestive and/or breathing problems for cats and dogs, but if your pet swallows a dryer sheet they can also develop a digestive obstruction that is likely to require either an endoscopic or surgical removal! Read the harrowing story of one of the Preventive Vet team member’s cat’s sad run-in with laundry detergent.

  • Cats shut in dryers: Speaking of laundry, be sure to double-check (or perhaps even triple-check during these exhaustive days of COVID-19!) your clothes dryer prior to closing the door and turning it on. Many cats love warm, dark spaces, and many have had the unfortunate experience of having their cozy dryer nap accidentally interrupted buy the dangerously high temperatures and tumbling of an active dryer. Don’t let this happen to your cats, always check before closing and turning on your clothes dryer!

  • Cats falling out of windows: If being cooped up just as the weather is getting nicer has you thinking about opening your windows to let some fresh air in, just be extra careful if you’ve got cats and live anywhere above the second floor! Every year, thousands of cats suffer from High Rise Syndrome when they fall from open windows and off of balconies … and it’s actually those that fall from between 2-7 stories that tend to suffer the worst injuries! See more about High Rise Syndrome in cats.

cat safety tips for home

Generalized stress risks

With people and pets spending more uninterrupted time together in homes these days, everybody’s daily routine is being upended. This is no doubt causing increased stress and anxiety for many people, and it can do the same for your cats and dogs, too.

Not only can our pets pick up on our emotions, but even just a small change in routine for some pets can “throw them off” and directly cause them stress. Stress and anxiety in pets can show up in a variety of different ways, many of which are listed below.

If possible and practical, take steps to try and keep your pet’s routines as “normal” as possible and increase the quality time you spend snuggling and playing with them … as this can help to relieve stress for you both.

See tips and tricks to help your cat stay active and playful in your home.

See how interactive toys and food puzzles can keep your dog entertained and 10 boredom busters for dogs.

*Note: While the signs below can be an indication of fear, stress, and/or anxiety in your pets, some can also be an indication of an underlying medical problem. When in doubt, contact your veterinarian.

Potential signs of stress in cats:

      • Urinating and/or defecating outside of litterboxes
      • Straining and/or vocalizing in the litterbox (note that, especially in male cats, this is often a sign of urinary (urethral) obstruction, which is a very painful and rapidly fatal condition that requires immediate emergency veterinary care)
      • Diarrhea
      • Vomiting
      • Increased grooming (possibly with increased hairballs)
      • Decreased food intake (this can rapidly lead to a dangerous case of hepatic lipidosis, especially in overweight and fat cats – here are some tips to help get a cat eating again)
      • Hiding
      • Aggression

Potential signs of stress in dogs:

      • Diarrhea
      • Vomiting
      • Decreased appetite
      • More “reserved,” less playful
      • Abnormal barking
      • Aggression
      • Destructive chewing (furniture, shoes, etc.)
      • Increased chewing and/or licking of themselves

Keeping your pets safe and protected around your home is always an important goal, but it’s even more so now that many people aren’t working and so family finances are likely tighter (meaning an emergency vet visit could really strain things even more so than usual).

Also, vets offices all across the country are being told to put off/cancel all non-emergent surgeries and other procedures in an effort to conserve the already limited supply of personal protective equipment that our human medical teams and first responders so desperately need to keep themselves, their families, and everybody else safe during this global pandemic.

I hope this article will help you and your pets during these difficult times. For more tips and insight, be sure to check out our 10 Point Checklist for Dog-Proofing Your Home and our 10 Point Checklist for Cat-Proofing Your Home.

Stay safe and healthy and feel free to share in the comments the things you and your pets are doing to pass your time and stay sane during this time of social distancing.