Pet Safety

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The Arizona Veterinary Council estimates that 77 percent of families in Arizona own at least one pet. With more than 52 million dogs and 56 million cats in American households, owning a pet has become a popular activity. The care of these animals is often dependent upon school-aged children. Many animals are hurt, injured or killed every day in the Valley because of oversight or carelessness by pet owners.

For more information on vaccinations, stray animals and licensing, visit Maricopa County Animal Control's website by clicking HERE.


Cats love to chew and play with anything that arouses their curiosity. They often are seen on television commercials running after a ball of string or playing with objects in the yard. Although it is perfectly normal for cats to chase, chew and play with objects that arouse their sense of curiosity, be careful that they do not eat these items and allow them to get lodged in their stomachs. Plus, string could get wrapped around their necks and strangle them. Do not allow them to play or chew on electrical cords since the danger of electrocution and burn injury is very real.

Christmas and Thanksgiving can be dangerous for cats. When cooking turkey or roast, carefully dispose of the grease-filled, flavorful strings in the outside garbage can with a secured lid. A cat will quickly get to them and could swallow some harmful items if they are not secured. Tinsel is also a threat. During Christmas, cats may play with the tinsel on the Christmas tree and swallow it. Tinsel is plastic coated and does not appear when x-rayed. This makes diagnosis of a stomach obstruction difficult.

Just like all other electrical cords, Christmas tree light cords also should be placed out of a cat's reach.

Cats frequently eat objects that can cause obstruction or internal injury. A loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea is an indication that the cat is ill. The cat should be taken to the veterinarian for evaluation and treatment.

Even though a cat license is not required in Arizona, make sure your cat's vaccinations are up to date to prevent deathly infectious diseases. Also, be sure the cat has an ID tag on its collar. You have a greater chance of finding your animal should it become lost. The cat also should wear a "breakaway collar" that slips off the neck. This prevents the cat from choking to death should the collar become stuck on something.

The Arizona Humane Society recommends that cats be indoor pets. A commonly-held belief is that cats need to roam outside. This is not true. A cat that is allowed to run loose has a much greater chance of being killed by automobiles or injured in fights with dogs and other cats.


A new puppy is a delight to play with and can bring joy and happiness to a young child and family. However, one must be aware of many hidden dangers, such as swimming pools, poisonous plants, toys, and household chemicals around the home, which can place an innocent puppy in danger. A common misconception is that all dogs can swim. This is not true. Dogs can drown just like children.

Keep young puppies and older, elderly dogs away from the pool. They are at particular risk of drowning since they may not be able to pull themselves out of the water if they fall in. Dogs should be trained to know where the steps are to get out of the pool. As with children, they never should be left unattended around swimming pools.

Dogs, like cats, love to chase, chew and eat any number of things, which may potentially cause illness, injury or even death. Keep all toys that can be swallowed out of a dog's reach. They may cause stomach or intestinal obstructions. Select a ball that is large, relative to the size of the dog's mouth, or use other non-destructible toys recommended for dog's. Keep dogs out of the kitchen while you're cooking. You don't want a dog underfoot when you're carrying a pot of boiling water or a hot dish. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs so keep all chocolates away from them.

In older homes, do not allow dogs to chew on wood molding as this may cause lead poisoning. House plants such as oleanders, dieffenbachias, azaleas, mistletoe and pyracantha berries are poisonous to dogs. These plants should be placed out of the animal's reach. Keep the dog away from freshly fertilized areas. They may become ill if they lick their paws after contacting chemicals and insecticides.

Summertime heat poses a significant threat to the family dog. An animal who spends most of its time indoors may not develop thick pads on its feet. When walking or playing on hot asphalt during summer months, the dog's feet may become burned. Be careful not to let the dog run around a swimming pool too much. Cool-deck concrete can quickly wear their pads down. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are common occurrences when dogs are left outdoors and exposed to the heat. The dog may die as a result. Keep them indoors or otherwise protected from the heat.

Provide plenty of water. If a dog is kept outside, provide a well shaded, ventilated area. A covered dog house in the sun becomes too hot and lacks adequate ventilation. An alternate shelter must be furnished. Be sure there is plenty of fresh drinking water at all times in the shade. It may be wise to provide two sources of drinking water in case one is spilled over. Use a weighted watering dish or dig a hole in the ground so the pan cannot be tipped over. A water device that attaches to a water spigot is available at the pet store.

Avoid taking the animal in an automobile when running errands around town. Even on an 80 degree day, the temperature can reach 105 degrees in 10 minutes inside a car. The temperature has even been recorded at over 215 degrees inside a car on a hot summer day. (Water boils at 212 degrees.) If the dog is overcome by heat, cool immediately with cold water and ice and seek medical attention from a veterinarian as soon as possible.

When traveling with a dog inside a vehicle, it should not be allowed to stick its head out the window. Foreign objects can damage its eyes, and it can develop swelling to its ear flap from the ear flapping in the wind. While traveling, it is best to keep the pet in a dog crate or restrained in a commercially manufactured seat belt. Cardboard containers for cats and small dogs are available for about $3 at pet stores and the Arizona Humane Society.

The back of a pickup truck is no place for man's best friend. More than 100,000 dogs are killed each year from falls out of vehicles and numerous vehicle crashes are caused as drivers try to avoid hitting these animals. Commercially-made harnesses and tethers are available to restrain a dog in the back of a truck. Even so, the metal bed of a truck can be very hot during the summer and can burn the dog's pads or expose it to high temperatures.

Family dogs, especially rambunctious pups between six and 18 months old, frequently escape from their pens or fenced areas. The Maricopa County Rabies/Animal Control office estimates that more than 20,000 dogs escape or are found stray each year. Most are returned to their owners. Place a collar, complete with name tag and dog license, around its neck. Keep pictures of your pet for easy identification and proof of ownership.

Strange or Stray Animals

Children should be aware to never approach a strange animal. If a dog is in a yard, they should not enter unless the owner is present. They should pet a dog only if they've received the owner's permission. When petting a dog, extend one arm, make a fist with the wrist down, and let the dog sniff the back of the hand before petting. Remember, a dog's canine instincts surface when eating, so don't approach them while they eat.

When a loose dog is seen in the neighborhood, an adult should be notified. Do not tease a dog as this might encourage it to attack. Don't run or yell as this may excite the animal. The best advice is to leave all strange dogs alone and keep your distance. If the dog approaches, speak quietly and watch for signs of unfriendliness. If it looks frightened or angry, leave it alone. Don't look directly into the dog's eyes; this may provoke an attack. Lost or stray dogs should be reported to Maricopa County Rabies/Animal Control.

If the dog barks fiercely or shows its teeth, if its ears go back or its hair stands on its back, then face the animal without turning your back. Be like a tree and stand with your hands at your side. Don't stare into the dog's eyes; this is a direct challenge. If attacked by a dog, yell "No!" in a stern voice. Go down to your knees, cover your head with your arms, tuck your head to your chest, and play dead.

Dog bites can be harmful. Report all dog bites to Maricopa County Rabies/Animal Control and seek medical attention. For serious bites, call 9-1-1 immediately. The dog may have to be quarantined to determined if it is free of rabies.

People should take their dog to obedience training. This is where they can learn to communicate with their animal. An obedient, well-behaved and affectionate companion will result with practice.

Do not leave a choke chain, slip collar or choke collar on the dog. They should be used during obedience only. Otherwise, the animal may catch it on something and panic, choking itself to death. Choke chains are not dog collars and should not be used as one. An appropriate collar is a loosely-placed nylon collar, or leather-rolled collar that should be left on the dog at all times with current rabies tags and owner identification.

General Safety for Pets

Pets can be poisoned by all kinds of substances. These include paint, fertilizer, insecticide, weed killer, acids and antifreeze. If you feel your pet has been poisoned, keep the animal quiet and warm, try to determine what the animal ingested and when, and call your veterinarian or poison control center. If the pet needs medical attention, bring a sample of the product, the container and/or vomitus with you.

"Fox tail" weeds pose a grave threat to your pets. When they dry, they look like wheat. The pointed blossoms are sharp and can burrow under the skin or lodge in an ear causing an infection. They also have been known to enter the blood stream and kill an animal. If you should find any of these weeds in your yard, get rid of them immediately. If your pet has been where these weeds were present, check your pet carefully.

The Fourth of July, Halloween and New Year's Eve can be the most frightening time of the year for pets. Keep them indoors during these holidays.

Young children like to put rubber bands on pets. This should be discouraged. A rubber band left on a pet's leg can cause swelling and potential gangrene. A rubber band around a dog's neck will rarely choke it, but can cause friction and cut the skin. On a long-haired animal, a rubber band will not be visible until the damage is already done.

When disposing of garbage, be sure the lid on the can is tightly sealed. Cats and dogs can eat spoiled food and become ill. They also can be injured by glass, pins and other sharp objects in the trash.

When an Animal is Injured

An animal in great pain may bite. Before taking it to the veterinarian, it may be wise to muzzle it. If you don't have a muzzle, use pantyhose or a strip cut from a cotton sheet or a leather belt. A sheet, blanket or a piece of plywood can be used to lift the animal to the car. If an animal develops swelling around its face or body, is nauseous, develops diarrhea or is restless and uncomfortable, suspect an illness or injury. These are signs that the animal should be seen by a veterinarian.

Establish a relationship with a veterinarian so that time is not wasted in an emergency frantically looking through the telephone book for a veterinarian.

If you find a stray animal that is ill or injured, call the Arizona Humane Society. They can dispatch their own ambulance to pick up the animal for medical care.