I’ve been a vet for nearly a quarter century now. Over that time I’ve seen just about everything go wrong that can.
Pet disasters tend to go along recurring themes. If you know what they are, you have an excellent chance to avoid them.
I’ll tell you some of them in a minute. First, I want to share with you a general philosophy of mine that’s become an obsession.
I call it…
Keeping Two Degrees Of Separation
Too often I see terrible things that could have been prevented just by asking “what can possibly go wrong here?” Everything dangerous to your pet should be separated by two levels of protection. At least.
Just watch me at work and you’ll see how I compulsively shut doors everywhere I go. An open door is one less barrier between your pet and the road. Why have just one?
You’ll see lots of other examples of this thinking below. They’re usually cheap, easy and a whole lot better than the alternative. Let’s dive in!
Ten Tips To Keep Pets Safe
Here’s how to keep dogs, cats, rabbits, and chickens from unexpected and totally preventable danger.
Restraint Is Needed
Are you made to feel guilty using a leash? Don’t be. Restraint of animals when out of your property is the single greatest protection you can give them. Too many times we see:
- Running on roads and being hit by cars
- Being hit by cyclists along the river
- Attacks from other dogs
- Snake bite
- Escape and loss
- Public liability from accidents and bites when dogs are loose
As a vet who sees the consequences, I’m very careful about when and where I let my dogs off leash. Once you do it, you’ve lost the most important level of protection you have.
Extendable leads are particularly dangerous. Anyone who’s used one knows how easily dogs can run onto roads. Other problematic areas are children walking dogs without adults and pets not restrained properly in cars.
Store Chocolate Like Poison
Look at our rates of dog poisonings and you’ll see that chocolate is the greatest problem. Here’s what we hear:
- It was left somewhere that no one thought the dog could go
- The owner didn’t think the dog would eat it
- It got knocked down, a cupboard was left open or it was wrapped as a present
You can read more about chocolate poisoning in dogs here. Keep it in a secure place, just like you would any hazardous substance. Like medicines for example!
Store Medicines Like Poison Too
Again this mainly concerns dogs, in two situations:
- Dogs that watch you take a pill every day think it’s a treat and often pounce on any you drop
- Some idiot thought it would be a good idea to put a sugary coating on ibuprofen tablets
Be careful by storing medicines securely and taking your own in private. And if any get eaten, come straight down so we can make them come straight up again.
Here’s a list of the things we’ve had to remove from pets:
- Cooked bones (dogs, cats, ferrets)
- Meat skewers and wrapping (dogs, cats)
- Corn cobs (dogs)
- Fruit stones (dogs)
- Underwear & hygiene products (some dogs)
Nearly all of these were either put in an insecure bin or left where pets could find them. If your bin’s getting raided, don’t wait.
I know vets who think that good yard fencing has been the single greatest advance in dog health. These days a common story is a gate that gets left open. Sometimes it’s a tradesperson, sometimes it’s during home theft, but often it’s just a maintenance issue.
For cats, whether you have an enclosed run or not, they should be in after dark at very least. That’s when most car accidents and cat fights occur.
Rabbits and chickens kept outside are at great risk of fox attack anywhere in Adelaide. Just ask anyone who’s tried to keep chickens without a coop.
As for ferrets, they get everywhere! Down drains, under fences. They really need a secure home.
Pesticides? Just Say No
Even two degrees of separation aren’t enough for something that’s actually intended to kill. A poison made to be eaten by snails or rats is just as attractive to a dog. Cats even get poisoned by eating the affected animals.
I believe the risks are too great. If we sign up for pets we’re better off giving up on pest control.
Fertiliser Is A Poison Too
It might come as a surprise to learn that dogs like fertiliser. Not so surprising when you learn that it’s often made from chook poo or animal products. The same goes for compost made from food waste.
Both are highly toxic and can cause serious illness or kill. Easy to prevent by storing them securely.
They’re Hotter Than Us
If people didn’t sweat, I don’t think dogs would ever get heat stroke. We wouldn’t stand there completely unaware that our dogs are getting hotter and hotter.
Anything over 26 degrees is too hot for a dog to run around for very long. Anything over 35 and they need a cool place to rest. Even less for flat-faced and long-haired dogs.
Take water with you on warm days but also make sure the water supply at home can’t run out or be knocked over.
Don’t Go Changing
What about how to know when your pets need the vet? The best clue is unexplained change. Animals don’t suddenly alter their behaviour without a good reason.
It might end up being a minor problem, or it could be major, but it’s worth a look. They never tell you how much pain they’re in. Read here about five patients of ours who needed the vet but didn’t make it easy to tell.
Know Your Region
The top nine are all relevant to Adelaide, but for the tenth I’ll go national. Here are some examples:
- Paralysis ticks in eastern Australia
- Poisonous toads in northern Australia
- Puffer fish and sea hares on beaches
- 1080 baits in farmland and national parks
- Grape ‘marc’ in wine producing areas
- Local disease outbreaks
How do you know what to look out for in your area? Simple! Ask your vet.
Want to add some extra tips? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. We do not accept payments or incentives in return for stories. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.