Gayle Finkelstein is the Northern New England Poison Center Vermont Educator, and Poison Outreach Educator at the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Improvement Office.

More than half of Americans own a pet.  We love them like family and want to keep them healthy.  Here are some tips to keep your pets safe and healthy.

Install a Smoke Detector and CO Alarm in your Home
Dogs sometimes act as an alarm and wake people up in a house fire or when there is carbon monoxide in the home.  But dogs and cats are at risk for dying in a fire or from carbon monoxide (CO) just like us.  A smoke detector and CO alarm are the best way to keep your family and pets safe.  It is important to install a CO alarm in your home, close to where your family sleeps.

Keep Dangerous Foods, Plants and Chemicals Out of Reach
There are a number of things in your home you need to keep away from your pet:

  • Food like avocado, chocolate, garlic, grapes, raisins, onions, macadamia nuts and coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Medications
  • Chemicals to kill rats, mice, ants, roaches or other pests
  • Antifreeze, motor oil and other automotive products
  • Fertilizer and weed killers
  • Cleaning products
  • Plants such as lilies, ribbon plant and corn/cornstalk
  • Fumes from hot nonstick cooking surfaces and self-cleaning ovens can be deadly to birds.

You can call the Northern New England Poison Center (NNEPC) if your pet eats or drinks any of these things, or another nonfood item.  Although NNEPC staff are trained to manage poisonings in humans, not animals, they do have limited information about the effects of poisons on some animals.  If the NNEPC is unable to help, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center is available 24 hours a day at 1-888-426-4435 ($65 fee).

Use Flea and Tick Treatments Wisely
Flea and tick treatments such as shampoos, powders, soaps and collars can be harmful to your pet if not used correctly.

  • Read and follow the label directions.
  • Use the right product for your animal.  Flea products intended for dogs can be toxic to cats.
  • Use the right product for the size of the animal.  Products for big animals can be poisonous to small animals.
  • When possible, apply the product to your pet outdoors.
  • Wash yourself and your clothes with soap and water after using a pesticide.
  • Call the Poison Center (1-800-222-122) or your veterinarian if your pet stops eating or drinking, vomits, or has diarrhea, tremors or seizures after applying a flea treatment.

Keep Pets in Mind when Preparing for an Emergency
Keep your pet in mind as you prepare your family for a potential emergency and pack your emergency stockpile.  Your packed stockpile should include at least three days of food and bottled water for your pet.  Remember to include your pet’s food and water bowls.  If your pet takes medicine, include a two-week supply in your stockpile.  An extra-long leash for your dog can come in handy.  Include a couple photos of your pet, in case you get separated.  Store these supplies in a water- and pest-resistant container, out of the reach of young children and pets.  Check your emergency preparedness supplies when you change your clocks for daylight-saving time in the spring and fall.  Make sure they have not expired and are in good condition.

It is best to plan to bring your pets with you if you need to evacuate in an emergency.  Bring a separate carrier for each pet.  If you have a bird, bring a blanket to drape over the cage.   Some emergency shelters and hotels do not allow animals.  Plan ahead by finding shelters, kennels, family or friends who can keep your pet in an emergency.  For more information on how to keep your pet safe during an emergency visit

Keep Yourself Healthy, Too
Even though having a pet can be good for both you and your animal, some people—including children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems—are at risk of getting sick from animals.  There are some basic steps you can take to help prevent sickness:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals.
  • Keep your pet clean.
  • Keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date.
  • Supervise young children playing with animals.  Keep kids from kissing animals or putting their hands in their mouth after touching them.
  • Don’t bring turtles, frogs or other amphibians, or baby chickens into your home.  They may shed salmonella, a bacterium that can cause serious illness.
  • Don’t clean the litter box if you are pregnant; cat feces can spread a disease called toxoplasmosis that can put your pregnancy at risk.  If you are pregnant and cannot have someone else clean the litter box, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water after changing the litter box.

The Poison Center provides immediate treatment advice for poison emergencies, as well as information about poisons and prevention.  It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Call the NNEPC at 1-800-222-1222 if your pet is exposed to an incorrect product, medication or poison, or if you want more information on how to protect your furry family member.

Gayle Finkelstein is the Northern New England Poison Center Vermont Educator, and Poison Outreach Educator at the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Improvement Office.

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