Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Spring Safety

The season of renewal can be perilous for pets. Household poisons come in the form of pretty plants, tasty (human) treats and more

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Is your home ready for spring? If you live with dogs, cats or other pets, you may need to do some extra preparation to ensure their safety as your garden comes to life, your home fills with flowers for spring holidays, and you or your neighbors fight off unwelcome spring guests such as rodents and external parasites. Here’s what you should know about preventing pet poisoning from common plants and products.

Lilies are lovely, but they can be fatal to cats. A cat who eats any part of a lily -- flowers, leaves, stems, pollen -- or drinks water in a vase of lilies can develop fatal kidney failure. Don’t plant lilies in your yard if you have outdoor cats, and don’t accept them into your home if you receive a bouquet for Easter or your birthday. Give them to a friend or family member whose home is cat-free.

Other common spring plants that can be toxic to pets include bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Pets who eat the tops or flowers of bulbs usually suffer only mild stomach upset, but if they eat the bulb itself, the result can be bloody vomiting and diarrhea and low blood pressure.

Cats are also sensitive to certain flea- and tick-control products, especially those made for dogs. Never give your dog’s parasite-prevention products to your cat, thinking that she’ll be safe if you just use a little less. Feline physiology is not the same as that of a dog or human. Cats respond in different ways to certain chemicals, so it’s important to purchase parasite preventives made specifically for them.

What about dogs? We all know that they are indiscriminate eaters, willing to chow down on whatever they come across in the hope that it’s edible. Check labels to make sure food items such as baked goods, candy, chewing gum and even peanut butter aren’t sweetened with xylitol. Pets, including cats, who ingest xylitol-sweetened items show signs such as vomiting, sudden and life-threatening low blood sugar, and liver failure. If your dog considers himself a professional taste-tester, read labels carefully, and keep these items well out his reach.

Chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs, especially those made with dark chocolate, can be toxic to pets. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine that is harmful to dogs, cats and parrots. Baker’s and dark chocolate have the highest concentrations of theobromine and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, depending on the size of the animal and how much he eats. Take your pet to the vet if you find evidence that he has broken into your chocolate stash.

If you are a savvy pet owner, you probably avoid putting out mouse or rat poison for fear that your pet will ingest it, but neighbors or family members you visit might not be so careful. Ask if they have put out any bait traps, where they are and if they’d be willing to take them up while your pet is there. Rodenticides containing anticoagulants are treatable with blood transfusions and vitamin K if the poisoning is caught in time, but alternative poisons that contain a neurotoxin called bromethalin are more harmful to pets and have no antidote.

Finally, for many people, spring means allergy season. Human medications are the number-one reason for calls to animal poison control hotlines. Decongestants can be deadly to pets who accidentally ingest them. They can cause vomiting, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors and seizures. Seek veterinary help immediately if you discover your pet has ingested these types of drugs. Remember, it takes dogs only about 15 seconds to break into a childproof bottle.


Fear of storms

common in dogs

Q: It’s thunderstorm season, and my 3-year-old Australian shepherd has become so afraid of the noise that he tries to jump out the window. I’m really afraid he’s going to hurt himself. He has never seemed afraid of storms before. Is there anything that can be done? -- via Facebook

A: Many dogs are fearful of the sound of thunder -- and possibly the accompanying lightning flashes, loud wind, and changes in ozone levels and barometric pressure. Research has found that herding breeds like your Aussie seem to be more prone to this type of fear. In these breeds, at least, the fear may have a genetic component.

Signs of this type of fear usually begin with barking, seeking attention (pawing at people, for instance) and pacing. The signs can swiftly escalate to trembling, panting, howling, destructiveness and attempts to escape, even if that means jumping through a window or chewing through a door.

Those early signs can be subtle. People might not notice them, or they think their dog will outgrow the fear as he matures or becomes used to thunderstorms.

Unfortunately, repeated exposure simply makes the problem worse. If you notice that your dog is fearful during storms, talk to your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist right away. Medication in the very early stages with drugs that help to reduce panic can make the fear easier to manage, but it’s essential to give it before the storm starts. Often, the best solution is medication combined with snug-fitting shirts and capes, which have a soothing effect, and canine ear muffs and eye shades, which help to limit the dog’s exposure to the frightening phenomena. It can also be helpful to teach your dog to go to a place where he feels secure. That can be a closet, a crate lined with a towel or blanket (keep the door open), or a bathroom or bathtub. -- Mikkel Becker

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Labs hold on to

Top-dog status

-- For a record 26th straight year, Labrador retrievers are the No. 1 pick of dog lovers in the United States. The American Kennel Club’s registration statistics track the numbers of the 189 AKC-recognized breeds. The Lab hit first place in 1990 and hasn’t left it since, mainly because of his friendly character and ease of training. “You don’t have to be an expert dog owner to own a Lab,” says AKC vice president Gina DiNardo. Following the Lab are the German shepherd, golden retriever, bulldog, beagle, French bulldog, poodle (all three varieties), Yorkshire terrier and boxer.

-- It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week. Too often, those bites happen when trying to break up a dogfight. Here’s what you should know to prevent problems: Keep your dog close at hand and under control by using a 4-to-6-foot leash instead of a retractable leash. Don’t let your dog approach other dogs or people unless you ask permission first. Ditch the earbuds -- if you aren’t aware of what’s going on around you, you won’t see or hear an approaching off-leash dog. Avoid dog parks. Inattentive or inexperienced owners can let their dogs get out of control.

-- We think of cats as loners, but they can live together amicably given enough space for each cat and a consistent and predictable daily routine. According to cat expert Tony Buffington, DVM, a happy cat has unrestricted access to high-perch resting areas free of loud noises and pursuit by dogs and small children. There should be enough space in a room for each cat to keep a social distance of at least 3 feet. Some cats are happy to share space and groom each other, while others take turns using resting areas at different times of day. Sort of a kitty timeshare! -- Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.