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Pet protocols
Create a safe and healthy environment in your home for cats and dogs



More than 62 percent of American households now own pets, up from 56 percent a decade ago, according to the American Pet Products Association annual survey. For many of us, our pets are just like another family member. We want to make sure that they are safe and well cared for. Consider the following ideas to make sure your home is a pet-friendly environment.

1 Eliminate toxic foods. Itís best to feed your dogs and cats their own food. But if you must feed them people food on occasion, stay away from onions, raisins, grapes and chocolate, according to Judy Mikkelson, owner of Critter Supply Central in Cedarburg. Other poisonous foods include the artificial sweetener xylitol, as well as avocados, coffee, garlic, citrus fruits and milk.

2 Avoid deadly plants. Keep your pets away from indoor plants that can be poisonous to them, such as the azalea, lily, philodendron and dieffenbachia, says Angela Speed, director of development and community relations, Wisconsin and Ozaukee humane societies. "Some other common toxic plants include mistletoe, rhubarb leaves, daffodil bulbs, iris, morning glory, tulip bulbs, calla lily, crocus, holly, hydrangea, trillium and sweat pea." For a full list, including photos, visit And, when you have a bouquet of fresh flowers, discard the silica packets, which pets should not eat.

3 Prevent garden dangers. Any toxic fertilizers and insecticides (check the labels) should be allowed to sit for 24 hours before your pet is allowed near them. "Cocoa shell mulch should be avoided because it has the same active ingredient that is toxic to pets in chocolate," Speed says.

4 Put away kidsí toys. "If you have kids, keep their toys away from your pets. Many childrenís stuffed animals contain a fire retardant that is poisonous to dogs and cats if it is eaten," Mikkelson says.

5 Tie up drapery cords. "Just like babies, animals like to play with string, rubber bands and the cords to blinds and drapes. Along with the danger of strangulation, they also can block the intestines if swallowed," Speed says.

6 Puppy- and kitten-proof your house. "Itís almost like baby-proofing your house," Mikkelson says. "Anything that babies can choke on or ingest should also be kept away from puppies and kittens or other small animals. That includes putting child-proof locks on cupboards and keeping poisons well out of reach."

7 Teach boundaries. Establishing boundaries outdoors is important for your dogís safety as well as your neighborsí safety, says Jeff Remy, owner of Invisible Fence of Greater Milwaukee in Germantown. "Before we install the invisible fence for our customers, we work with the dogs to get them to respond to certain signals," says Remy. "It works best if the dog is respectful of the boundaries before the fence is installed."

8 Accommodate senior pets. As pets age, owners should expect to make some changes to meet their needs. "Older dogs cannot regulate body temperature as well as younger dogs, and should be kept warm and dry in the winter. In summer, watch for heat stroke. A dog with arthritis will benefit from a soft bed, ramps and extra blankets," Speed says. If your dog is going deaf or blind, keep the house free of clutter. Be wary that a dog losing his sight may be more apt to snap at sudden movements.

9 Safely introduce a new puppy or kitten. "Before you bring home a new animal, it can be helpful to get down on the floor and see your home at your animalís level. Look out for items that may be fascinating to your new kitten like telephone or electric cords," Speed says. A wealth of information about making a safe introduction between resident animals and a new pet is offered on the Wisconsin Humane Society website at

10 Establish hierarchy. "Dogs are pack creatures and they need to know their place in the home. If you have a new puppy, create a place in the hierarchy of your family for him with training," Remy says. "Especially if there are small children in the house, you want to put the dog in its proper place for safety reasons."