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Potential Pet Problems in my Home

Items I routinely pick up in my multi-pet and multi-person household


Keeping potentially hazardous things out of my pet's reach would be easy if: 1) the pets always behaved as safely as possible (hey don't chew on that) and 2) if the humans heeded my warnings and picked up after themselves. Neither 1 or 2 happen with any predictable frequency, so I am left with this list of items I am always picking up to keep everyone safe.

1. Rubber Bands and Hair Ties

Rubberbands / dullhunk on Flickr
dullhunk on Flickr
Some cats just can't resist chewing on, or eating, rubber bands and hair ties. And, no matter how many times I remind my family to pick them up, I find more. I always cringe when I find one chewed on by a cat. Did they eat one too?

A veterinary internist friend of mine examined a cat that the owner brought in because he had noticed a "hard lump" in the cat's abdomen. Turns out, the 11-month old Maine Coon cat had ingested many, many rubberbands over a period of months and they collected as a large mass in the stomach, requiring endoscopic removal.

Cats are sneaky too. I rarely see them chewing on these bands, but know that they are a hazard, even to seemingly uninterested cats.

2. String and Yarn

Yarn / .curt. on Flickr
.curt. on Flickr
A similar, but different, hazard is string. Anything "string like" counts here; yarn, packaging string, tinsel, Easter grass, ribbon, craft thread... you get the idea. Animal yarns - sheep/alpaca/llama wool, mohair, angora, cashmere - are particularly enticing to pets.

Unlike rubber bands and hair ties that tend to bunch up as a mass in the stomach, string can bunch up the intestines, which is quickly life-threatening.

The string, whether elastic or not, usually hangs up while the intestines keep moving (normal gut movemet called peristalsis). This creates an accordion-like bunching up, leading to tissue damage, ripping of intestines, and ultimately leakage of intestinal contents, causing infection and death.

String is another "irresistible" for cats, and once they start chewing it and swallowing, it is hard to stop (peristalsis in action). Be sure to pick up all ribbons, bows, and other string items to avoid a serious problem.

Related: Strings and Other Linear Foreign Bodies

3. Food Items

Pizza / BritishMum on Flickr
BritishMum on Flickr
While there are many human foods that are toxic to pets - chocolate, raisins and grapes, onions, to name a few - the foods that I always have to keep an eye on are those left out. Uneaten pizza, chips, or other "safe" food items left unattended (usually by household teenagers) also pose a risk to pets, especially as a contributing factor for pancreatitis or other gastric upset.

Holiday gatherings are another risk factor for this, both in terms of food being out and "available" as well as guests sneaking pets one too many snacks. Be sure to keep snack plates and pets separate.

4. Batteries

Batteries / Anton Fomkin on Flickr
Anton Fomkin on Flickr
Perhaps the most "unappetizing" item on this list, but don't discredit the curiosity (and taste preferences) of pets.

My Greyhound Purl, for reasons unknown to me, decided to chew open a pack of AA batteries. After a panicked count, I accounted for all of the batteries. A relief, as this type of problem takes a while to show up as a health issue, but it can be deadly. Even small watch batteries can be a problem.

Learn about:Battery Types and Toxicities

5. Medications

Medication Bottle and Pills / The Javorac on Flickr
The Javorac on Flickr
You get home from the pharmacy and put the medications on the counter while you get busy with other things. This doesn't seem like it would be a problem for pets: the medications are packaged up, unopened. Never assume with pets. Even solidly packaged items, such as an inhaler, may be inspected by pets, with possible life-threatening results.

Always make sure medications (including vitamins and supplements) are out of reach from pets and children. Never give human medications to pets unless under direction from your veterinarian.

Related Reading:
Well-Intentioned Pet Owners Unknowingly Poisoning their Pets
Poison Proof Your Home

6. Gum

Sugarless Gum / @stalkadam on Flickr
@stalkadam on Flickr
I always keep gum in my purse, and the kids love a treat of sugarless gum. That said, I rarely give my kids more than one stick at at time for fear of them leaving the entire pack out in reach of pets. It has happened, despite my frequent reminder warnings. Luckily I found the gum before the pets did.

The gum itself isn't the problem, it is the sugarless sweetener, xylitol. The amount contained in different brands of gum varies, and each animal's sensitivity to this ingredient varies, too. Xylitol is also found in "sugarless" backed goods and candies.

7. Gorilla Glue

Gorilla Glue © PriceGrabber
© PriceGrabber
My husband loves this stuff and uses it in the shop and house to fix all sorts of things. Trouble is, sometimes the glue is left out on the counter or shoe bench or wherever he sat down with it last.

If enough of this glue is eaten (and it doesn't have to be much; it expands in the stomach), surgery is often necessary to remove the hard glue mass.

8. Packing Peanuts

Cat and Packing Peanuts / Anosmia on Flickr
Anosmia on Flickr
I have yet to meet a cat who isn't at least curious about packing peanuts, and most of my cats have also tried to eat them. The biodegradable kind, made from starch, will dissolve easily, the styrofoam ones don't.

Not worth the risk of intestinal upset or blockage. Keep these (annoying, in my opinion) packing materials out of pet's reach.

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