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Shared Environments

(a.k.a., We all breathe the same air)

Cshutterstock_10956106-with-frameAlthough we may seem very different, we share much in common with our pets. Over the years our pets have gone from living outdoors in barns or dog houses to gradually coming into the house and then onto our couches or in our beds. Our environment is their environment, which means that the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink are common to both of us.

As we have embraced our furry companions in our home, we know that we share a common environment. Our pets share the same air and water and are exposed to the same chemicals in our yards and our house. What we spray or apply to our carpets or floor, what we grow or eat in our house, and what chemicals we use in our garage or on our lawns can have an impact on our animals.

THE DOSE EFFECT: Our pets are much smaller than us so it takes much less to make them sick. They also spend more time on the ground both in the house and in the yard so anything that sprayed in the house that settles of the floor or anything we track in on our shoes will have an effect on our pets. When our cats groom themselves, they will swallow chemicals on their fur giving them an even bigger dose.

What can I do?

  1. For questions about whether products, plants, insects, and chemicals are toxic to pets or not, check the ASPCA Poison Control website for a list of common items.
  2. In an emergency, call 911 or poison control
    a.    People – American Association of Poison Control Centers, 1-800-222-1222
    b.    Animals –  ASPCA Animal Poison Control, 1-888-426-4435

FOODS: While some foods are perfectly fine for people, they can be dangerous and unhealthy to pets. Some common examples are chocolate, onions, grapes/raisins, alcohol, avocado, macadamia nuts, and xylitol (an artificial sweetener found in many gums, candies, and baked goods).

What can I do?
1.    Choose foods that are marketed for pets or make your own, but stay away from foods that can make your cat or dog sick.
2.    If your pet has eaten one of the foods on the list or is acting ill, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435

PLANTS: Some common plants found in our house or yard can be poisonous to animals and some of these are poisonous to us too. Common plants that cause problems are Easter lilies that can cause kidney failure in cats. Some plants can be dangerous to both people and pets including the Sago palm, Daffodil bulbs, and Oleander. Some plants are also invasive and can damage the local ecosystem and overwhelm native plants.

What can I do?

  1. Read the ASPCA Animal Poison Control list of common poisonous plants for animals
  2. Read articles about poisonous plants for people including an article about poisonous house plants
  3. If your pet has eaten a plant or is acting ill, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435

HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS: There are many chemicals that we use in and around our house daily including animal and human medications, anti-freeze (ethylene glycol), pesticides, and household cleaners. While useful, these products can represent a danger to pets and people especially children.  Properly dispose of all chemicals according to the laws in your state or city to avoid putting these chemicals into the environment and contaminating our water and air.

When using household products, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings and keep poisons stored safely out of reach, which generally means high up in a secured cabinet. Unsecured cabinets and counters are not safe enough because we all know a pet that has pulled open a cabinet door, climbed on the counter, or pulled an object down from the counter. Pets can chew through plastic bottles or pill vials so this alone is not enough to keep our pets safe.

MEDICATIONS: Only give your animal medication that has been prescribed to your pet or recommended by a veterinarian. Although it might be tempting to use our own medications for our pet’s illnesses, some medications can make animals very sick. They are much smaller than us, and how they process medications can be completely different, which means something that will make you better, may make them very ill.

ANTI-FREEZE: Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) is used to protect cars from cold temperatures, but since only a few licks of it from where it splashed on the garage floor or driveway can cause kidney failure

INSECTICIDES (insect control)/Rodenticides (Mouse and rat poison):
Choose flea and tick medications that are meant for your size or species (dog, cat, rabbit) of pet and follow the instructions on how often and how to apply a medication. These medications are vital to protecting our pets from illnesses carried by fleas and ticks but can make them sick if use incorrectly.
Chemical baits for insects, mice, and rats can be toxic to both animals and people. Follow the manufacturer’s directions, keep them in areas away from pets and children, and call poison control right away if your child or pet is exposed to these chemicals.

HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS: Common household cleaners can be a risk both to animals and people. Pets can breathe in fumes, they can lick them off fur or surfaces, or they can get them on their skin or in their eyes. Common cleaners include bleaches, detergents and disinfectants.

What can I do?

  1. Remove or store cleaners, medications, and chemicals away from your pet and either place plants out of reach from your pet or remove them from your home.
  2. For tips on creating a poison safe home, visit
    a.    Poison Safe Home for people
    b.    Poison Safe Home for pets
  3. Visit the American Academy of Feline Practitioners page on Toxins and Poisons affecting cats
  4. Choose chemicals that are safer for you, your pets, and the environment, by visiting The EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) Safer Choice website
  5. If a person or pet has gotten into chemical, call 911 or poison control.
    a.    People – American Association of Poison Control Centers, 1-800-222-1222
    b.    Animals –  ASPCA Animal Poison Control,  1-888-426-4435

FLAME RETARDANTS: Flame retardants are commonly used in household products and have been found to bioaccumulate (build up) in people, animals, and the environment. Changes have been made to what chemicals are allowed in the United States but older products and products made in other countries may still contain these products. Pets are relatively smaller than people so it takes a relatively smaller dose to cause illness. Cats can be particularly vulnerable because they lick and groom themselves so they are exposed not just through breathing or contact with the chemicals but also through swallowing them.

What can I do?

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using a damp mop or a HEPA filter to reduce the dust that can contain flame retardants.
  2. More information can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Website
  3. Selected Articles online:
    a.     “Flame Retardants Might Make Cats Sick.” Emily Sohn. Discovery News, 21 March 2012.
    b.    Indiana University. “Study finds flame retardants in dogs.” JAVMAnews, 31 May 2011.
    c.    Duke University. “Flame Retardants Effects on Health.” Mary Russell-Roberson. Duke University. 18 June 2013.
    d.    University of New Hampshire. “Flame retardants found to cause metabolic, liver problems, animal study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2015.
  4. Selected Research Articles:
    a.    Veneir, M and Hites, RA. Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and in Their Food. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2011, 45 (10): 4602–4608. DOI: 10.1021/es1043529
    b.    Reif, JS. Animal Sentinels for Environmental and Public Health. Public Health Rep. 2011; 126 (Suppl 1): 50–57. PMCID: PMC3072903
    c.    Mensching, et al. The Feline Thyroid Gland: A Model for Endocrine Disruption by Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)? J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2012; 75(4):201-212. DOI: 10.1080/15287394.2012.652054 PMID: 22352329

Tobacco smoke not only affects people but can also harm our pets. They can also inhale things we spray or put into the air in our home includes things like deodorizing sprays or plug-ins, potpourri, scented candles, perfumes, or fumes from cleaning products. Pouring cat litter into a box can generate dust that we breathe, and the particles of dust and perfume that is added to some types of litter can be more concentrated if using an enclosed litter box. Scented laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dish and hand soaps, and lotions are other sources of perfumes.

What can I do?

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and warnings for using a product.
  2. Move your pets to another room when you are using sprays to avoid spraying onto their skin or near the nose, mouth, or eyes.
  3. Be aware of where you place scented candles, sprays or plug-ins. When located next to a pet’s bed or favorite sleeping area, they will be exposed to more of these chemicals.
  4. Use a litter box without a lid. This will prevent dust, smells, and perfumes from building up inside the litter box. Your cat will also thank you because it will smell better when they go to the bathroom.  The inside of a closed litter box with used litter and scented particles can be to a cat what a Port-a-Potty is to us on a summer day; to be avoided except in emergencies!
  5. For cats with allergies or asthma or dogs with breathing problems, smoke, perfumes, etc. can be particularly troubling. As much as possible, remove these items or stop using these items in the house. Change your clothes after using these items because they can cling to our clothes and expose our pets when we snuggle and sleep with them.
  6. If you think your pet might be sensitive or allergic to these products, your veterinarian can examine your pet, talk to you about what you are seeing, and determine the best treatment to improve your pet’s health.