4 Ways to Keep Your Pet Away From the Vet

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Don't want to pay a big vet bill? Then don't let your dog eat marijuana. Or your cat eat a bra strap. A few minutes now can save you a lot of money later.

When a Golden Retriever named Isabella got sick last year, the vet bill cost $1,500 – all because she got into some marijuana

The drug – along with a razor and a bra strap – is just one of the strange things pets managed to swallow last year, according to Embrace Pet Insurance.

When company officials analyzed accident claims from 2011, they found vet trips cost from $32 to $3,000 after a pet swallowed something dangerous. Many were mundane items. But here’s Embrace’s Crazy Top 5 by name, breed, item, and vet bill…

  1. Isabella, Golden Retriever: THC (marijuana) intoxication ($1,475.50)
  2. Sasha, Samoyed: razor in stomach ($1,452.05)
  3. Peanut, Labrador: ingestion of marbles ($312.25)
  4. Regen, Bernese Mountain Dog: soft toy ingestion ($156.86)
  5. Sappho, Russian Blue cat: ingested portion of bra strap ($121.46)

But the craziest part isn’t what pets swallow: It’s that the suffering and expense are preventable. From houseplants to medication to human foods, our homes can be a dangerous place for furry friends. Learn what’s harmful to your pet and you could save both money and a life.

Embrace Pet Insurance has created a list of some of the most common pet poisons, but it’s just a starting point. The way to make sure your pets are safe is to learn what makes them unsafe. Fortunately, almost everything you need is online….

1. Know your houseplants

Marijuana isn’t the only plant that can make your pet sick. Dieffenbachia, popular for its air-cleansing abilities, is toxic to cats and dogs. The castor bean plant contains ricin, which can be lethal to cats, dogs, and humans alike in even small doses. Beautiful flowering plants like daffodils and lilies – popular at Easter – can make your pet sick.

If you own houseplants, the only way to be safe is to research every one. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, offers a free database of hundreds of plants with thorough notes on whether a plant is toxic to cats, dogs, or horses. It’s a great starting place, but you shouldn’t rely on it exclusively. To be safe, mention your houseplants to your vet.

2. Reserve human food for human beings

Chocolate – which many dog owners already know can be lethal to their best friends – isn’t the only human food that’s dangerous to pets. The American Humane Association says onions can destroy a dog’s red blood cells, causing anemia. Grapes can cause kidney failure, leading to death.

Unless you’re trying to give Fido a costly weight problem, you shouldn’t be feeding him from the table in the first place. But if you’re going to do it anyway, at least be sure you’re not about to feed him something poisonous. As with houseplants, the only way to be safe is to do homework first.

3. Be careful with medications

WebMD lists human medications as the No. 1 cat poison, and the ASPCA’s list of the Top 10 Human Medications That Poison Our Pets includes some of the most commonly prescribed human medications: antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, and diabetes medications. The ASPCA’s list even includes over-the-counter medications like vitamin D and the decongestant pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed and other name brands).

To keep your pets (not to mention your children) safe, store all medications and supplements out of reach. If your prescriptions don’t come with safety lids, talk to your pharmacist. Most will provide them free.

And be careful when you take your medications. I find it’s easy to accidentally drop a pill, not be able to quickly find it, and take another pill from the bottle without thinking. But if you don’t find that pill, your curious pet or child might. When I managed a doctor’s office a few years ago, this happened with an elderly patient: Her daughter called because her Yorkie ate a thyroid pill that the patient didn’t realize had been dropped. (The Yorkie lived.)

4. Store cleaners, chemicals, and pesticides safely

If you have children, you’ve probably already checked your house to ensure cleaners, chemicals, and pesticides are out of reach. The same goes for pets.

While you’re double-checking the house, don’t forget the garage. Antifreeze’s sweet smell and taste make it particularly dangerous to pets, says the Humane Society. It only takes a few tablespoons of the liquid to put your pet’s life at risk, so the Humane Society recommends switching to a brand that contains propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.

And don’t overlook cigarettes and alcohol. They’re not healthy for humans in large doses, but they can be deadly to pets in small doses.

For more ways to keep pets healthy and vet bills down, check out 5 Tips to Help Your Pet Lose Weight.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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