Dr. Marty Becker
When it comes to food, household cleaners and plants, veterinary experts say that pet lovers spend too much time worrying about products that aren't much of a problem and generally don't know about the things that truly are.
How can you know what's safe and what's not?
"Check multiple sources for confirmation," says veterinarian Dr. Steven Hansen, head of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, noting that the APCC's website (ASPCA.org/APCC) is a great resource, as is the urban myth website Snopes.com. "Question it all, and if you have any question at all, ask your own veterinarian."
Here are Dr. Hansen's biggest concerns -- and most overblown worries -- based on the 150,000 calls a year into the APCC:
CHOCOLATE: RELATIVELY SAFE. Many dogs love chocolate, and although you shouldn't be offering it as a treat, you don't need to panic if your Labrador eats a bar of milk chocolate -- the worst she'll likely get is a bellyache. But do be careful with darker chocolates and smaller dogs: A tiny Maltese eating a a few ounces of dark chocolate will need a trip to the emergency clinic.
XYLITOL SUGAR SUBSTITUTE: UNSAFE. Read the label of your favorite sugar-free gum, candy or even cough drop, and you'll likely find this newly common ingredient on the label. But unlike chocolate, Xylitol means an immediate trip to the veterinarians', day or night, if a pet eats any.
COMMERCIAL CHEWS: RELATIVELY SAFE. Commercial chews made to be ingested and most pet toys are usually fine. Hansen says to buy appropriate sizes and use as recommended: Watch for wear and replace as necessary.
SOCKS, UNDERWEAR AND NYLONS: UNSAFE. Keep laundry picked up and in hampers, and always watch what your dog has in her mouth -- especially during the chew-everything stages of growing up. And don't give soft dog toys to puppies who eat everything.
MEDICATION: UNSAFE. Medication, both human and pet, prescription and over-the-counter, can also seem like a toy to many pets. "It seems counterintuitive to anyone who has tried to give pills to a dog that they'd eat medication," says Hansen. "But once pills are rattling around in the bottle, it's a toy, and it's fair game."
SOAP-BASED CLEANERS: RELATIVELY SAFE. Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, soap-based cleaners such as those found in some Swiffer products present no risk to pets. Nor is that "blue water" toilet cleaner a problem, although Hansen recommends keeping the lid down anyway.
DISINFECTANTS: UNSAFE. Hansen warns that stronger cleaning products are dangerous. Don't store any household cleaning products under the sink, even with child/pet-proof latches on cabinet doors. Put these products behind closed doors in high cabinets.
RELATIVELY SAFE 'PEOPLE FOOD': Some "people food" in moderate amounts, such as carrots, apple slices and even pizza crusts, is generally OK, although not really recommended because it can contribute to behavior problems (begging, counter-cruising) and the health risks caused by obesity.
UNSAFE 'PEOPLE FOOD': Some "people food" that's fine for us should be off-limits to pets. This includes raisins and grapes, macadamia nuts and bread dough. If the latter seems strange, consider that the inside of a dog is perfect for getting yeast to increase, and that means a little dough soon becomes a big medical problem that may need to be addressed surgically.
SILICA GEL AND ROACH MOTELS: RELATIVELY SAFE. The APCC gets a lot of calls on both, says Hansen. The little gel packets put in boxes to keep products dry are harmless, says Hansen. And as for that roach motel, "Not enough insecticide to be of concern," he says.
CAT LITTER: UNSAFE. Many dogs like to consume the contents of the cat's litter box, which may form a blockage that will need surgical intervention. As for cats, playing with yarn or string, or plucking from the garbage pail the cord that held together a roast, can mean a trip to the veterinarian and possibly surgery if these items are eaten.
Tips for placing
a homeless cat
Q: My mother died recently. I brought her cat home, and she's living in the patio because I don't want to stress out her or my own two cats. I don't want to take her to the shelter, but getting her a new home isn't going well. Suggestions? -- P.A.
A: The first step to placing an adult cat may be convincing prospective owners with one cat that two cats truly are better than one. It can be a hard sell, as adult cats have low adoption rates, especially during kitten season. But if you're patient and persistent, you'll likely find a home. Here are some tips to follow:
-- Do everything you can to make the animal more adoptable. The pet has a better chance for adoption if her vaccinations are current, she uses her litter box reliably, and she's altered.
-- Don't lie about the pet's problems or why she's being placed. Although finding a new home for a pet with problems takes longer, you can usually still do so. But the person who gets such a pet without warning is likely to bring her back, take her to a shelter or give her away -- perhaps repeating the mistake.
-- Spread the news. Make up fliers and post ads everywhere that you can: bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and your veterinarian's office. Put the news out on social media -- with a great picture. Talk up the cat (at least briefly) with everyone you know every place you can. Even people who don't like cats (or don't want one) may know someone who is looking for a pet. If a thousand people hear or read about the animal, you probably will get no interest from 999, but you need only one person to provide a good home for the cat. And that's the one person you need to reach.
-- Ask lots of questions and verify that the answers are true. Don't forget to ask prospective adopters whether they've had pets before and what happened to them. My favorite question: Who's your veterinarian? Someone who cannot at least name a vet or a veterinary hospital may have pets who don't go there very often.
Above all, don't give up! It may take weeks to find the right home for a pet, but it's always worth the time to get it right. The goal here is not to "get rid of" an animal, but to find a loving, caring and, most of all, permanent home. They're out there, and if you keep looking, you'll likely find the home that's just right for the pet you're trying to help. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
dog cancer risk
-- Mammary tumors are three times more likely in dogs than breast cancer is in women, according to a Swedish study of 600 English springer spaniels, and this cancer is the leading tumor disease in female dogs. Spaying before the female dog reaches sexual maturity is the most reliable method to avoid mammary tumors. Owners of female dogs should also regularly check their pets for lumps in their mammary glands, similar to women monitoring for breast cancer.
-- Most bugs tend to bounce off the windshield of vehicles going slower than 37 mpg; above this speed, bugs generally splatter on impact.
-- A normal cat weighs about 8 to 10 pounds. Your cat is normal for his body type if a comfortable pad of fat lies over his ribs, but you can still feel the ribs if you press gently with your hands. The easiest way to weigh your cat? Step on the scale with your cat, note the weight, and then step back on alone. Subtract your weight from the total to get your cat's weight. Talk to your veterinarian if your cat is too fat, too thin or especially if his weight changes rapidly. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.