The moment a puppy, older or rescued dog comes into our homes and into our hearts, we must take full responsibility for his or her health and well being, socialization skills by giving it an abundance of love, understanding and guidance. Your dog’s life is dependent upon you and- at the risk of sounding heavy – sometimes it’s matter of life or death. 

For some of us, caring for a puppy or older dog comes naturally and some of us will learn as we go; but it should never be at your dog’s expense. You never want your dog to pay the penalty of trial and error, as some errors cannot be undone.

Dogs are not people too, and they cannot safely consume every type of food that we take for granted. Here’s a few you may not be aware of: alcohol, avocados, candy, chocolate (baker’s and dark being the worst), coffee, tea, onions, garlic, grapes, macadamia nuts, raisins, salt, green potatoes and potato skin, apple seeds, fruit pits, dietary products including sugar-free gum, caffeine and tobacco. Peanut butter is a favorite treat for dogs but some manufacturers like GNC use Xylotol in manufacturing, which is extremely toxic to canines.

An accident waiting to happen may not be obvious and can be hiding out in plain sight, like plants that you would never suspect are poisonous. Less obvious hidden dangers may be lurking behind closed cabinet doors and come in the form of: prescription drugs, household chemicals and insecticides. Last but not least, the least obvious offenders that appear relatively benign may actually prove to be just as toxic to your dog. These items, manufactured and marketed for human consumption, may be found in family households and supermarkets. And even though you could never imagine a dog would chow down on clothes detergent, you never know.

Because love, a meal and a warm blanket are not enough, keep the following information handy in your kitchen or taped inside a cabinet door for quick reference. This is by no means a complete list of all the hazards that need to be eliminated, but rather an informative beginning to a subject that might have us thinking to ourselves, “Hmmm. I didn’t know that!”

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are highest on the list for cases of poisoning. Painkillers, cold medicines, antidepressants, vitamins and diet pills can be lethal to dogs and cats, even in small doses. Even dog friendly pharmaceuticals must be dosed correctly by your veterinarian. Please check with your vet first before giving your dog or cat any medications.

Household cleaners and chemicals are highly toxic. Detergents, stain removers, soaps, disinfectants, antiseptics, bleach, antibacterial agents, toilet/drain/oven cleaners, mold and mildew removers, counter, floor, and window cleaners, as well as personal bathing, shampooing and hygiene products and even toothpaste may be exceedingly harmful to our pets. Any chemical used for care of a car, lawn, swimming pool, septic tank or cesspool should be considered highly toxic and handled and stored appropriately. Keeping chemical products in bins inside cabinets can help reduce easy access if a cabinet is unintentionally left open.

Pest control and insect repellents are not only toxic when consumed directly by your dog but the consumption of a poisoned animal can result in secondary poisoning. Fly bait, mothballs, ant traps may look like chew toys to your dog. Flea and tick powder, mosquito repellents used by humans and pets can be highly toxic. Oral tick and flea control as well as heart-worm medications should be stored safely – especially since they’re made to be palatable to your pet.

Indoor and outdoor plants, whether common year round household variety or seasonal holiday specialty plants, pose a danger if ingested. It is imperative that you know the species and recognize the symptoms of poison in case your dog or cat decides to dine on any them. Some of the names you may recognize are: Lilies, Azaleas, Rhododendron, Schefflera, Kalanchoe, Sago Palm, Ferns, Ivy, Hyacinth, Narcissus, Daffodil, Oleander, Dieffenbachia, Jasmine, Mistletoe, Poinsettias, and Easter lilies.

Small enough to swallow doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Beware of pennies from the 1980s to present day, which contain zinc. Zinc toxicity can result from the ingestion of one single penny. Independent of the date, be scrupulous about keeping all coins out of your dogs reach.

It’s hard to remember all the details outlined in this column. So, the quick and easy way to puppy proof your home, for the love and longevity of a happy pet, is as follows:

1) Make a list of “undesirable” products.

2) Make these products inaccessible to your dog.

3) Keep your vet’s phone number posted – better still, put it in your cell phone “contacts”.

4) Ask your vet for his 24-hour emergency referral phone number and address, and know how to get there. If you have a GPS, store the information

5) Keep your local Poison Control office number posted or call the ANIMAL POISON CONTROL CENTER 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435). A fee may be charged to your credit card.

Love your pet within a sphere of safety and well-being.