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Is your home, ‘safe as houses’ for your pet?

16 August 2023

Your home is a safe and special space for you, your family, and pets to live in. When a baby arrives, parents will ‘baby-proof’ the house to ensure the place is safe for little ones. But paw-rents should also do a safety sweep of their home as well – as pets can be in danger from household items and chemicals, too!

Is your home, ‘safe as houses’ for your pet?

Your home is a safe and special space for you, your family, and pets to live in. 

When a baby arrives, parents will ‘baby-proof’ the house to ensure the place is safe for little ones. But paw-rents should also do a safety sweep of their home as well – as pets can be in danger from household items and chemicals, too!

According to the National Poisons Centre, dogs are the most commonly poisoned pets. Puppies will chew on anything and everything, and dogs can eat large amounts of a toxic substance unknowingly.

Cats are also susceptible to poisoning, as they often lick their paws and fur. Anything spilled or applied where cats roam could be ingested if it gets on a cat’s fur or paws.

Smaller pets like rats, guinea pigs and birds are good at getting into enclosed areas if unsupervised, and they often have chewing behaviours, putting them at risk of nibbling on something they shouldn’t. Chickens are susceptible to things in the home garden, such as lead poisoning from old paint flakes in soil around old sheds or houses.

Garden products

Your neighbours might have rat poisons along their fence line or in their backyard. These are potentially very dangerous to all mammals and bird pets; if they are ingested, they can make your pet very sick or even be fatal. The same goes for ant poisons (in granule, powder and liquid form). These can be eaten by a curious animal if left unattended.

If you suspect your pet has ingested any poison, it’s important to know what the poison is so that your vet can act appropriately.

Keeping garden shed items such as lawn products, snail/slug baits, and potting mix away from curious pets is important as many of these products contain hazardous ingredients. Follow the label instructions and keep pets away from areas where they have been applied accordingly.

Karaka tree berries

In New Zealand you should especially watch out for Karaka tree berries whilst walking your dog during summer. Throughout the warmer months (January – April) the berries ripen, turn orange and fall off the trees – these berries can be fatal if eaten by dogs.

The kernels in the fruit contain the alkaloid karakin, which is very toxic if ingested by your dog. Signs of Karaka berry poisoning include weakness, vomiting, confusions and convulsions. These symptoms can be delayed by a day or two, so even if they are not displaying symptoms yet, if you have any concerns that your pet may have eaten any please seek veterinary treatment immediately.

It is also important to note that the berry kernels remain toxic for a long time, so dogs can be poisoned by eating even a previous year’s fruit.

The trees themselves are quite distinct and easy to spot; they have thick dark leaves and can grow up to 15 metres with the berries turning a bright orange colour during fruiting season. These are native trees and are a vital food source for Kereru so we advise that if you have spotted any in your local area, to keep your dog on the lead or take them to an alternative location for a walk.

In the garage

Spills and leaks in the garage cause accidental poisonings for pets every year, leading to pet death. This includes water coolant leaking from cars, so check your vehicle regularly to ensure it isn’t leaking coolant.

Take care when storing, using, and disposing of antifreeze, as it is quite palatable to cats.

Under the sink

Any cleaning product that your pet comes into contact with can be an irritant to them. Take special care in keeping pets away from leave-on products, for example bathroom cleaners if your cat likes to drink out of the shower!

Human drugs including common pain killers can cause severe complications in pets. Cats are extremely sensitive to both aspirin and acetaminophen (such as Panadol) and can be poisoned by very small doses.

Around the house

Keep cosmetics away from pets as some of these products can be irritants or toxic to them, and their bright colours sometimes make them quite appealing or tasty to pets! Similarly, nail polishes and nail polish remover should be kept well away from pet areas, as some of these products can contain hazardous ingredients or solvents that might be harmful to pets upon ingestion or inhalation.

For those who draw or paint, keep graphic materials away from pets as some can be toxic if chewed.

A note on pet products: flea treatments, worm pills, and mite powders can all be useful for keeping pets healthy and happy. But always seek advice to make sure you are using the right amount for what you want to do. Before you use the product, read the label carefully so you know exactly how to stay safe. Your pet could get sick if you use the product in the wrong way. When you have finished using the product, store it safely, wash your hands, and anywhere on your skin that might have come into contact with the product.

Storing items safely

You can keep your pets safe by making sure you store all potentially hazardous products carefully in a place that is hard for pets to access. The best place is in a cabinet or cupboard that is higher than they could reach or climb, with a locked or child/pet-safe door. Keeping items away from pet food will also cause less temptation.

When putting hazardous items away, be sure to keep all products in their original packaging, and clean any drips or spills on the outside of the bottle or container. Make sure the lid or cap is closed properly and can’t spill open.

Dispose of items

Dogs and even some cats are great at getting into bins, so make sure you’re disposing of products properly and keeping bins securely closed. Pets who like to scavenge food and items from your household bins should be kept a close eye on or use bins and receptacle containers that have non-budging lids.

The EPA partnered with Consumer NZ to develop a council-by-council guide on disposing of hazardous waste that should not go in the bin.

If you suspect your pet has been poisoned

If you suspect your pet has ingested a harmful substance and your pet is awake and alert, do NOT induce vomiting. If the product is corrosive or irritating, make water available, and call the Vet immediately.

Identify the poison – look for any chewed up material, spills, empty containers, residue around the animal’s mouth or in vomit, distinctive smells.

Keep an eye out for symptoms – unusual licking, chewing or swallowing, unusual body language (posture, eyes, and ears), breathing rate and body temperature, increased salivation urination, lethargy, twitching or shaking, drooling or vomiting, diarrhoea. Report these to your vet.

There are several signs of poisoning but these do vary depending on the type of toxin ingested. Some symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Increased urination
  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Muscle twitching or shaking
  • seizures

For more information on keeping your pets safe around hazardous substances please visit the Environmental Protection Authority’s website .

Looking for more advice? Check out our Advice and Welfare section for any other questions you may have.

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