As our cats and dogs usually have the run of the house, it's important to make sure that they don't come into contact with anything potentially dangerous- and to make sure that nothing we feed them, or use around them, will be harmful.
There are of course the obvious products like pesticides, slug repellents and rodenticides, which you no doubt already keep safely secured out of reach of inquisitive pets... but did you realise that seemingly innocuous things such as lilies, grapes or chocolate could all be poisonous to your animals as well?
Theobromine, one of the compounds found in cocoa and chocolate, is toxic to both dogs and cats. Never be tempted to use human chocolate or other sweets as a treat for your pet. Theobromine acts as a diuretic and cardiac stimulant, causing the heart to race and affecting the central nervous system.
Dogs are often incredibly enterprising food thieves- never leave cooling cakes or bars of chocolate unsupervised within their reach!
Alcohol, coffee and tea are all similarly dangerous for your pet.
Onions and garlic both contain sulphodioxides and disulphides, which destroy red blood cells and can lead to a severe form of anaemia in pets. Remember that onion and garlic are used in many processed foods which you may not immediately think of as containing them, including ready meals and some savoury baby foods.
Mushrooms can contain toxins which affect the central nervous system, and cause nausea, vomiting, seizures, liver damage and allergic reactions, sometimes fatally.
Both raisins and grapes have recently been discovered to have a toxic effect on some dogs- as little as a handful of either can act as a poison. While research is still underway in cats, it is believed that they may also be similarly adversely affected by these fruits.
Macadamia nuts can cause muscle weakness and tremors in dogs- Avoid giving any foods containing nuts to your dog.
Xylitol, a popular sugar substitute in products such as artificial sweeteners and sugar free chewing gum, can lead to liver damage and in severe cases death, even in small doses.
As a general rule, it's best not to give scraps of human food to your cat or dog. Some foods which are not directly poisonous are nonetheless not suitable for the digestive systems of pets, due to high levels of fat, salt and sugar.
Raw or cooked bones, while delicious to carnivorous pets, can splinter and cause obstructions or perforate internal organs. This is particularly true of small chicken bones.
Several types of plants are dangerous to companion animals- one of the most high profile to receive attention in recent years is the lily. Any part of the plant can be potentially lethal to cats, even in small doses- less than one leaf ingested can kill. It is wise to not keep lilies in any home where cats are present, even out of reach- lilies drop pollen, which cats can walk through or get on their fur, and ingest by grooming. Azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips and daffodils are all also toxic.
An important rule to remember is to never give your cat or dog any medications meant for people. Lots of medicines designed for humans are lethal to animals, even in very small doses. Always secure your medicines in a cabinet out of reach of your pets in much the same way as you would do for children.
Aspirin in particular is very dangerous to cats- their digestive system can't break it down effectively, and aspirin poisoning is a condition which all vets are unfortunately only too familiar with.
An easily overlooked poison is ethylene glycol- the main ingredient in antifreeze and engine coolants. It has a very sweet taste, which can lead to accidental ingestion by pets if spilled or left in unsealed containers.
Some flea treatments for dogs contain ingredients which are lethal to cats- never be tempted to use flea treatments for dogs and cats interchangeably. Always buy and use the product created specifically for the relevant species.
Also, some non- prescription flea remedies for cats that can be bought without prescription in the supermarket and pet shops, contain an ingredient called 'Permethrin.' This can be found in many products, including spot- on flea treatments, spray applications, and flea collars. Permethrin can cause an extreme adverse reaction in a small percentage of cats, leading to shock and death. While lobbying is currently underway to have flea remedies containing Permethrin removed from sale, they are still readily available for purchase in many outlets.
Always check the ingredient listing on the product you are considering buying, and bypass any containing Permethrin. Better still; ask your local veterinary practice to recommend the best product for your pet.
This list is by no means exhaustive- always consider the implications of new products and substances brought into your home or within reach of your pet.
If you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn't have done, or has been poisoned, the most important thing to do is to stay calm. You will need to act quickly, but keep your head.
If you know or suspect the cause of the poisoning, gather up any remaining product and any packaging which may help your vet or poison control specialist identify the toxin ingested. If your pet has vomited, try to get a sample of this.
Contact your local vet immediately for advice- do not be tempted to induce vomiting or encourage your pet to eat or drink anything without speaking to them first.
Your vet will probably tell you to bring your pet to the surgery right away, either for monitoring and investigation or in order for them to try and minimise the extent of the damage and treat the symptoms.
Try to keep your pet calm, avoid exertion and remove the suspected source of poisoning from the reach of any other pets you may have.
Remember, in case of suspected poisoning in your pet, early intervention could save their life.