Safety Tips for Pets

Keep Your Pet Safe During the Winter Holidays

It's that wonderful time of the year for family, friends and holiday traditions. Here are some tips to keep your pets safe during the winter holidays:
  • Careful with Christmas Trees.  Christmas trees pose a number of hazards to pets during the holidays. Trees can tip over (especially if you have a kitty that wants to climb it!). Try to secure it to the ceiling or in a corner so that it can't tip over. Ornaments can also be an issue with pets. Try to avoid breakable ornaments that could cause injuries to paws (think glass ornaments) or intestinal blockages if eaten. Keep food-based ornaments (such as salt dough) away from pets. Finally, tinsel can also be an issue, especially with cats, if it is eaten! 
  • Christmas Lights & Candles. Keep cords safely out of reach of pets. Keep candles out of reach of pets (especially cats who can jump onto counters). Candles should never be left unattended. 
  • Holiday plants can be toxic. Some holiday plants can be toxic to your pet. Mistletoe, balsam, pine, cedar and poinsettias are among a few of them. Make sure to have your veterinarian's information and the local emergency clinic's information on hand if your pet ingests any of these plants. 
  • Holiday Entertaining. Although holiday parties may be fun for humans, they may not be seen as fun for our pets. If you are having a lot of people over, it may be best to secure your cats in a separate room. This will keep them from getting out as people come and go. Some dogs like to be the life of the party ... some not so much. If you have a dog that is nervous around strangers, maybe isn't too keen on large groups or maybe has a food allergy, it may be best to keep your dog in their crate or locked in a room away from the party activities. This will keep your dog safe and your guests having a good time. Finally, make sure all pets have ID tags and microchips just in case they do get out.
  • Holiday Food. The smell of turkey can be very enticing for pets. However, turkey and the skin can sometimes cause pancreatitis in some pets. This can be a life-threatening condition. Chocolate is another toxic food that should be kept away from pets. Clear off the table of scraps and make sure the lid is on the garbage can tightly, to ensure your pet is safe. Some other foods that can cause issues or be toxic for pets include sweets or baked goods that contain xylitol, onions, grapes or raisins. Yeast dough is another item that can cause painful gas and potentially dangerous bloating if ingested. 
  • New Year's Eve. The noise of poppers, fireworks and confetti can be fun for us and troublesome for our pets. Secure your pets as midnight approaches to minimize their ability to escape. Clean up streamers of confetti before your cat can ingest them. 

If you are concerned that your pet ingested a toxic plant or food item, you can call your local veterinarian, local veterinary emergency clinic or the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

Cold Weather Preparedness Tips

Here are some tips for keeping your pets safe during the cold winter months:
  • Bring your pets inside during cold winter weather! If you can't bring your pets inside, follow these guidelines for sheltering your pets:
    • They must have a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough for them to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in their body heat.
    • The floor of the enclosure should be raised a few inches off of the ground.
    • The enclosure should be bedded with straw or shavings.
    • The doorway to the enclosure should be covered to prevent wind from coming in. The doorway can be covered with heavy plastic or other waterproof material.
  • All animals must have access to non-frozen, clean drinking water. During extreme low temperatures, water must be changed out often to ensure that non-frozen water is available. 
  • Hair Coats:
    • Long Hair - don't shave your dog down to the skin in the winter. The longer coat will provide more warmth.
    • Short Hair - consider getting them a coat or sweater!
  • Winter Walks:
    • Massage petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents.
    • Booties provide even more coverage and can present sand salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation.
    • Ice melt can irritate a pet's paws. Use "pet-friendly" ice melt if possible. If not, wipe their paws with a damp towel to remove the chemicals and to prevent your pet from licking their paws. 
  • Outdoor Cats:
    • A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor cats but it can prove deadly for them. Make sure to check underneath your hood, bang on the hood and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage cats to remove themselves from under your hood. 
    • Caring for Feral Cats? Check out ASPCAPro's Top Ten Tips by clicking here.
  • Hypothermia - Symptoms you should watch for include whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, starts looking for warm places to burrow. If you suspect hypothermia, consult your veterinarian immediately. 

Summer & Heat Safety

Summer in North Carolina means we have to take extra care to make sure our furry friends are safe in the heat – check these summer heat safety tips that could save your pet's life!

Chocolate Toxicity in Pets

Heart shaped package filled with chocolates on Valentine's Day.  Chocolate bunnies for Easter.  Halloween Candy.  Most people love chocolate, however, this is not the case for our pets.  According to the Pet Poison Helpline, dogs make up 95% of their calls regarding chocolate as cats are usually too discriminating to eat chocolate! Who knew?! Well, for our less discriminating canines, let's discuss the problems with chocolate.

The toxicity of chocolate comes from the amount of theobromine and caffeine in the chocolate. There is 3-10 times more theobromine than caffeine in chocolate and it is the primary agent when discussing toxicity. An easy way to know how much theobromine is in chocolate is to remember: The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. 

Dark = Dangerous! Darker chocolates would include baker's chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, cocoa powder and gourmet dark chocolates to name a few. They are all more dangerous than white chocolate. White chocolate has very little theobromine. Almost all ingredients of baker's chocolate can result in poisoning and are considered emergencies. Chocolate toxicity can also occur after a pet ingests mulch made from cocoa-bean hulls.

Signs of chocolate toxicity:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

Some dogs can even develop pancreatitis due to the amount of fat in chocolate. 

Prognosis for recovery is typically excellent for dogs that ingest a small amount or have mild signs of poisoning with prompt veterinary care. If a dog is showing severe signs (seizures, collapse), the prognosis is poor. 

A chocolate toxicity calculator can be found here.

If you think your pet ingested chocolate, you should seek immediate veterinary care by your regular veterinarian or a local emergency clinic. A good number to have on hand is the Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 Animal Poison Control Center - (855) 764-7661 (there is a $59 per incident fee). 

Safe Dog Walking in Your Community

Many dog owners LOVE going out with their dogs into the community. It can be in the form of daily walks in the neighborhood, enjoying a local greenway or park or going out to their favorite dog-friendly establishment. All of this time spent with your beloved canine is wonderful. Here are some tips to help keep your dog, and other animals, in your community safe. 
  • Identification - all dogs should have an ID  on their collar and be microchipped. This will ensure that if your dog were to get away from you, that you could be reunited with your pet! 
  • Properly Fitted Collar / Harness - with so many collars and harnesses to choose from, there isn't a one-size-fits-all choice. Make sure that the collar or harness you choose fits your dog properly (isn't too loose or too tight) and provides adequate control and safety. 
  • Appropriate Leash - when out in the community, it is the best to use a 4'-6' nylon leash. This is to ensure that your dog cannot get too far from you or interfere with another dog that may be out for a walk. Retractable leashes are not recommended since your dog can get too far away from you and, in the case of larger dogs, they can easily break the leash and become loose. A shorter leash allows you to remove your dog quickly from a possible negative interaction, such as with a loose dog or wildlife.
  • Off Leash Play Time - only allow your dog to be off leash in designated areas, such as community dog park or your yard. Do not allow your dog to roam off leash when out walking as you may not have control over them. Also, we want to encourage more spaces to allow dogs and that will only happen if owners follow the rules and dogs behave appropriately. 
  • Your Path - in summer, owners should limit their excursions to early morning or later evening hours when it is not so hot. Also, if walking on concrete or asphalt, check the temperature by placing the back of your hand on the ground - if you can't comfortably leave your hand there, then it is too hot for your dog. (Think about walking barefoot on a concrete patio in the summer - it's hot!!) In the winter, you also need to make sure that your dog isn't being walked on icy paths that could cause them to slip and injure themselves.
  • Their Feet - if the ground is too hot (or too cold) for your dog, but you still need to take them out to do their business, there are dog booties that can be used that will protect your dog's paws. Some dogs like them, some don't. Make sure to get the appropriate size and allow your dog time to get used to wearing them. Also, when you return from a walk, check your dog's paws for any cuts, bruises, etc. that may have occurred during your walk. 
  • Poop Patrol - let's face it ... if you take your dog for a walk, they will poop. It's a fact. Maybe twice. Therefore, be prepared! Carry a baggie (or two!) with you and be a responsible pet owner and clean up after your pet. Many greenways have poop bag stations and garbage cans along the paths to encourage owners to clean up after their pets. Don't rely on stations being available - be prepared with your own poop bags because nobody wants to step in poop and we don't want to transmit disease between pets! 
  • Water - if taking your dog out for a walk in the summer, be sure to carry water for yourself and your dog! Make sure to offer your dog frequent drinks especially if on a long walk. There are many different types of collapsible water bowls and water bottles designed for dogs on the market today and can be found anywhere pet supplies are sold.
  • Breed / Age of Dog - carefully monitor older dogs in extreme weather as they may not be able to tolerate it as well as younger dogs. You may need to limit your walks or break them up into more frequent, shorter walks. Keep an eye on your dog's behavior to determine how they are doing on the walk. Also, be careful in the summer with walking "smushy-faced" dogs such as pugs and bulldogs. They don't do as well in the summer and can overheat. Make sure to limit their exposure to the extreme heat and keep their walks to early morning and late evenings. 
  • Other Dogs - just because YOUR dog is dog friendly, does not mean that the other dog is. Remember common dog courtesy when out in the public:
    • Always ask the other person, "Can my dog meet your dog?" before approaching them and given them an opportunity to respond. Some dogs are not dog friendly - some don't like big dogs, little dogs, certain breeds of dogs, etc. - it can be any reason that the other owner doesn't want to let the dogs interact (which may be why they are out walking their dog instead of going to the dog park). Don't be offended, just say ok and walk on. 
    • If you can let two dogs meet, make sure you watch their body language. They may be okay at first and then not okay. Also, make sure you don't get tangled up in their leashes. 
    • Don't let your dog lunge at other dogs while out on a walk.
    • Don't run up with your dog behind another dog. This could startle that dog and cause him to react negatively due to the situation. 
    • If you dog is leash reactive (meaning that he barks, growls or carries on like a fool on his leash when other dogs are around), then, for your dog's well-being, try not to walk on really busy paths or at busy times of the day. It is also recommended to work with a dog trainer to help with this behavior so that you can both enjoy your walks more! 
Most importantly, enjoy this great time to bond with your dog as well as get in a bit of exercise at the same time! 

Dog Bite Prevention

The majority of bites that occur each year are preventable. Children, the elderly and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites, with children the most common victims. Surprisingly, most dog bites to young children occur during everyday activities and by familiar dogs.

Tips for our children:

  • Don't run past a dog! Dogs love to play chase and may grab at a running child.
  • Never disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. 
  • Never reach over or through a fence to pet a dog.
  • ALWAYS ask "May I please pet your dog?" before reaching out to pet someone's dog.
  • If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your head and neck. Protect your face. 
  • If a dog approaches you, stand still like a tree. Don't scream or yell. Avoid eye contact with the dog. Don't turn and run. Try to stay still until the dog leaves or back away slowly until the dog is out of site. 

Tips for parents: 

  • NEVER leave a child unattended with a dog - even your own dog. Remember, most bites occur by familiar dogs. 
  • ALWAYS teach your children to ask before petting someone's dog. Not all dogs like children. If the person says no, teach your child that that is okay and best for both them and the dog.
  • Teach your child proper behavior around all animals. Children should not lay on dogs, pull their ears, ride them like ponies or poke at them. 
  • The video, STOP THE 77, is an eye-opening video to how dogs and children interact and what, sometimes, we aren't seeing.

Tips for dog owners:

  • Socialize your dog. If your dog isn't properly socialized or isn't good with kids, strangers, etc., be aware of that and don't put them in those situations. 
  • You are responsible for the actions of your dog. Be mindful of your pet if you are out in public and who may be approaching your dog. 
  • Don't set your dog up for failure by putting them in situations where bites could occur. For example, you are having the whole neighborhood over for a cook-out. Your dog isn't great with kids and there are a bunch in the neighborhood. It would be best for your dog to confine them to one part of your home where they cannot interact with the party. It will be less stressful for them and keep everyone safe. Make sure everyone knows where the dog is so that parents can advise their kids to stay away from that area.
  • Remember, any dog can bite - even yours! They all have teeth.
What happens if you are bitten by a dog or your dog bites a person? - under North Carolina law, a dog must be quarantined for 10 days if they bite a person. It doesn't matter if they are up to date on their rabies vaccinations or not. Depending on the circumstances of the bite, rabies vaccination status and jurisdiction where the bite occurred, will determine where the quarantine must be done (home, veterinarian's office, animal shelter).  All bites must be reported by law. 

For more information on Dog Bite Prevention from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), click here.

Water Safety Tips for Dogs

Here are some tips to keep your dog safe around water: 
  • Dogs are natural swimmers! Some short nosed breeds, such as pugs and English bulldogs, are just not built to swim. Even your water loving Labrador should be allowed to be acclimated to the water.
  • NEVER throw your dog into a body of water! First, that can be really scary for your dog and they can certainly panic if they are not used to the water. Second, if your dog is not able to swim, they can drown quickly.
  • Treat dogs and swimming pools the same as kids and swimming pools. Never leave dogs (or kids) unattended around the swimming pool and make sure that there is a fence around your swimming pool. This will keep the dogs and kids from accidentally falling into the pool! 
  • If you do take your dog swimming, monitor their level of exhaustion. Swimming is fun, but tiring. An exhausted dog is more susceptible to drowning. Make sure to get your dog out of the water to rest! 
  • Drinking pool water, ocean water or lake water can be bad for your dog due to chlorine, salt and parasites. Always have fresh, clean water available for your dog! 
  • After swimming, make sure to rinse off your dog to remove any chlorine or salt water from their coat, which can dry out their skin. You also want to make sure that you dry your dog's ears well (inside and out) to prevent infection. 
  • Finally, you should invest in a life vest for your dog while on the water! This will help keep him afloat, make him easier to spot in the water and they have a handle to help getting your dog out of the water. 


When enjoying your dog and the pool/ocean/lake, make sure to take the above precautions to ensure that both of you have a fun, safe day!! 

Fireworks Safety Tips

Fireworks are a staple of summer celebrations.  We love to see the sky light up in color and celebrate America's independence. However, our pets don't understand this and the following tips will keep them safe during these celebrations:
  • Leave your pet at home. They are safest and mots comfortable in their own surroundings. If you know that your pet is already sensitive to loud noise (such as thunder), leave a TV on for some soothing sounds. If your pet is crate trained, it may be best to leave them in their crate if you don't think they will injure themselves. You want to choose an area in your home that is quiet, sheltered and escape proof. You don't want to leave your pets outside during fireworks.
  • Maybe you are the host of the celebration! And your pets are at home, with you and the whole neighborhood of guests that have come to celebrate. Make sure that guests know to not feed your pets table scraps and to ensure that they are secure in an escape proof room before any firework celebrations are started. As the host of the party, it would also be best to ensure that guests don't bring any pets with them either.
  • Glow jewelry is awesome on kids - don't put it on your pets. If they were to chew the glow sticks, they could begin to drool and get gastrointestinal irritation. If they were to swallow a large piece, they could get an intestinal blockage.
  • Never use fireworks around pets (see #1 - leave pets t home). Humans get burned and severely injured by fireworks every year. This is also a risk for your pets! Fireworks could also contain toxic substances that can harm your pets! 
  • You may want to see the huge firework display your town puts on, but your pet doesn't (again, see #1!) Leave them at home in a quiet, sheltered and escape proof area. 
  • Even with the best precautions, your pet may escape. Be prepared and make sure your pet is wearing a collar with ID tags that have a current number and that they are microchipped with up to date information. If your pet goes missing, begin searching and make sure to check the Wake County Animal Center!
What about July 5th? The celebration is over and life is returning to normal. Make sure you check your yard for any firework debris that may have landed there before letting your pet out. 

Halloween Pet Safety Tips

October 31st ... the scariest night of the year with witches, ghosts and goblins out prowling in the night.  Who doesn't love to dress up and eat candy? Here are some tips to keep your pets safe during Halloween:
  • Keep candy away from your pet! Chocolate and the sugar-free candies containing xylitol (an artificial sweetener) can be very dangerous! Symptoms of chocolate poisoning can take hours to develop and may last for days. Symptoms depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. Symptoms can range from vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, panting, restlessness, excessive urination and racing heart rate to sudden death from cardiac arrest in older dogs that eat large amounts of high quality chocolate. Symptoms of xylitol poisoning in dogs develop rapidly, usually within 15-30 minutes of consumption. Signs may include vomiting, weakness, lack of coordination or difficulty walking, depression, tremors, seizures and/or coma. It is important to contact your veterinarian if your pet ingests chocolate or xylitol. You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680.
  • Careful with the Costumes! Some pets LOVE getting dressed up!! Some pets hate it. The first thing to do is see if your pet wants to wear a costume. If it stresses out your pet, then it isn't fun for them. Let them wear a less stressful, but festive bandana instead! To help them relax further, spray the bandana with Feliway (for cats) or Adaptil (for dogs).  If your pet thinks the costume is awesome, make sure it fits well. You don't want it to rub them or cause a tripping hazard that may lead to injury. Also, make sure that there are no small pieces that could cause a choking hazard. 
  • Avoid Dangerous Decorations. Jack-O-Lanterns are a fun holiday tradition but can be unsafe around animals. Pets can knock them over and the candle inside can cause a fire. Curious cats can be burned by the candle. Try the fake candles that are battery operated to increase safety around pets! Pumpkins and corn are traditional fall decorations. If ingested by your pets, they may cause GI upset or blockage. Glow sticks and glow jewelry are another concern for pets. Although not likely toxic, if ingested, the liquid may make your pet salivate excessively and the item may possibly cause a GI blockage.
  • Identification & Keeping Pets Safe at Home. Ding Dong! ... Door opens ... "Trick or Treat" the kids sing out ... then it happens.  Sparky bolts out the door. It can happen. How do you prevent it? First, keep pets secure in your home while accepting Trick or Treaters at your front door. Keep cats locked in a room. Keep dogs in their crate or locked in a room away from the front door. All pets should also have an ID tag on their collar and have a microchip with up-to-date information, just in case they do get out. 

If you are concerned that your pet ingested a toxic plant or food item, you can call your local veterinarian, local veterinary emergency clinic or the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680.

Dog wearing holiday antlers