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Helping Vet Teams and Pet Owners Prevent Pet Problems During COVID-19 Quarantine

dog with leash at door
Apr 30, 2020 at 4:52 pm
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed (Hons)

COVID-19 has changed the world for everyone, including veterinary practices, pet owners, and pets.

In a world where everyone should be social distancing and staying at home as much as possible, avoiding preventable veterinary visits and in-person interactions can help keep everyone safer and reduce stress.

Many pet owners don’t realize that, like them, their pets are almost certainly experiencing increased stress with the change in daily routines and everybody spending (seemingly endless) days together at home. This increased stress can lead to some significant problems for pets, and certain toxicities and other problems are more likely now that so many people are working, schooling, and crafting from home.

This is where veterinary medical professionals and industry partners can play an important role. We are perfectly positioned to help raise awareness and reduce risks for everyone.

VetPartners members: Use this article to help yourself and your own pets, but also use it to help raise awareness within the veterinary practices that you regularly consult and have relationships with. Raising awareness and providing this education won’t just prevent pain and suffering for pets in these difficult times, but also for the people who love them and the veterinary teams who help care for them.

Veterinary teams: Share the pet owner-facing version of this article with your clients to raise awareness and provide additional, bond-building value to your clients as they look for ways to make life at home as easy as possible through this global pandemic.

In-home risks to cats and dogs during coronavirus quarantine

Kids’ toys, crafts, and snack risks

With schools closed and kids spending their days at home, and parents trying to figure out ways to occupy them, there’s likely to be more baking, crafting, snacking, and playing happening in homes. Fun as they can be, these activities can carry some pretty serious health and safety risks for cats and dogs.

  • Xylitol: For dog owners who are watching their sugars or carbs in their baking or snacking, the dangers of xylitol are something they need to be aware of. This increasingly popular, natural sugar substitute is highly toxic to dogs, even in small amounts. People can learn more about how xylitol is dangerous to dogs, and also see the places that xylitol is commonly found.
  • Chocolate: Some people are already aware that chocolate can cause problems for cats and dogs. What many aren’t aware of is that the types of chocolate typically used in baking—cocoa powder, Baker’s chocolate, and semi-sweet—are the most dangerous types. People can see how chocolate affects cats and dogs, as well as what they should do if their pet eats chocolate (the article includes a handy chocolate toxicity calculator).
  • Yeast-containing bread and pizza dough: With the store shelves quite sparse these days, and a little “extra time” on people’s hands, some might be tempted to bake fresh bread with the kiddos or make their own pizza dough. They need to know to keep the uncooked dough well away from their dog’s curious nose and mouth. When uncooked dough containing yeast is eaten, the warm, moist environment of the dog’s stomach activates the yeast, triggering fermentation. This releases carbon dioxide gas and alcohol into a dog’s stomach and bloodstream, neither of which is good. And, that’s on top of the now-risen mass of dough that can cause a digestive obstruction, which could require surgery to remove.
  • Raisins, grapes, and currants: Some parents might be trying to get their kiddos to have these as healthier snacks. Or, maybe they or their kids are fans of oatmeal raisin cookies or cinnamon raisin bagels? Either way, they need to know to keep these snackable fruits out of their dog’s mouth, as grapes, raisins, and currants can cause serious kidney damage in some dogs.
  • Potato chip, tortilla chip, pretzel, and other snack bags: While the snacks contained in these bags could cause a painful bout of pancreatitis for some pets, I’m actually referring to the risk the bags themselves pose. Many dogs suffocate and die in empty snack, cereal, and other “mylar-type” bags each year. It can happen quickly and even when people are home. Everyone should learn more about snack bag suffocation in pets, including simple steps to prevent it.
  • Yarn, thread, and other “string-like” things: If people are going to turn to sewing, knitting, or anything of the like during “corona quarantine,” they should take extra precautions to not leave their supplies within a pet’s reach. Not only can the yarn and thread cause a dangerous and painful linear foreign body obstruction, but any swallowed needles can do some pretty serious damage, too.
  • Magnetic balls: While those nifty mini magnetic balls can be highly entertaining for kids (and adults), they can also be extremely dangerous for cats and dogs (and young children). They’re so dangerous in fact, that the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned their sale nationwide in 2012 because so many small children swallowed them and had resulting intestinal perforations, requiring surgery and life-altering, lifelong medical problems (and even some deaths). Of course, it was the danger to children that got these magnetic balls banned, but they are equally as dangerous to dogs and cats, and for the same reason. Sadly the ban has been reversed, and a whole host of these neodymium, rare Earth magnetic toys are now back on the market and in homes. Parents and pet owners need to be extremely careful to ensure that neither their pets, nor their kids, swallow any of these balls. And, if they do, they need to immediately get them to the ER, before the magnets cause a life-threatening intestinal perforation.
  • Kinetic sand: Whether it’s kinetic sand people buy online or DIY at home, this fun-to-feel-and-play-with toy can cause some serious, surgery-requiring problems for pets who eat it. When the sand globs together in a dog’s gut, it’ll cause an impaction that will almost certainly require surgery to remove.

cat with yarn

Home repair and cleaning risks

Many of us are (hopefully) cleaning and disinfecting our homes more often these days. Some are also taking this quarantine opportunity to (finally) get those pesky home repairs done, or even just the laundry and other chores that have been piling up. Some of these activities can put pets at risk, too.

  • Gorilla Glue® (and similar glues): These isocyanate polyurethane adhesives are in many homes due to their usefulness in woodworking and other projects. The fact that they expand when they get damp or wet is a key factor in their use around homes, but this very property (along with their attractive taste and smell) is also what makes them so dangerous for pets. When eaten, the glue expands tremendously within the wet, acidic environment of the stomach, forming a solid mold of the stomach and causing a digestive obstruction that requires surgery to remove. Learn more about the danger of these polyurethane glues and watch a cool time-lapsed video of what happens when Gorilla Glue® gets into a dog’s stomach.
  • Liquid potpourri and other scents: Since people are spending more time indoors, their homes might start to smell … hmmm, shall we say … a wee bit “ripe”! To help combat the odors, some people might decide to use liquid potpourri, essential oil diffusers, deodorizing plug-ins, or other odor improvers. While these can help to combat odors and make sheltering-in-place a bit more tolerable for people, they can unfortunately cause some problems for pets, too. See the potential respiratory and other risks associated with potpourri, essential oils, scented candles, and other “nice smelling things” for pets.
  • Household cleaners and disinfectants: With people doing more cleaning and disinfecting right now, they need to pay attention to the ventilation in their homes, and they need to follow all label instructions very carefully. Some cleaners and disinfectants (especially bleach and ammonia) can cause breathing and other problems for cats and dogs. To protect their pets (and themselves) people also need to be careful not to mix certain cleaning chemicals, as doing so can release some seriously dangerous chemical gasses.
  • Laundry detergent and fabric softeners (including dryer sheets): Not only can the detergents in laundry soap and fabric softeners cause serious digestive and/or breathing problems for cats and dogs, but also a pet that swallows a dryer sheet can develop a digestive obstruction that is likely to require either an endoscopic or surgical removal. Read this harrowing story of one cat’s sad run-in with laundry detergent.
  • Cats shut in dryers: Speaking of laundry, people should be encouraged to double-check (or perhaps even triple-check during these exhaustive days of COVID-19!) their clothes dryer prior to closing the door and turning it on. Many cats love warm, dark spaces, and many have had the unfortunate experience of having their cozy nap in the dryer accidentally interrupted by the dangerously high temperatures and tumbling when the dryer is started.
  • Cats falling out of windows: Being cooped up just as the weather is getting nicer may have some people thinking about opening their windows to let in some fresh air. Cat owners (especially) need to be extra careful if they live anywhere above the second floor in an apartment or condo building (or even have more than two floors in their house). Every year, thousands of cats suffer from High Rise Syndrome when they fall from open windows and off of balconies—and it’s actually those who fall from between 2 and 7 stories that tend to suffer the worst injuries. Learn more about High Rise Syndrome in cats.

Generalized stress risks

With people and pets spending more uninterrupted time together in homes these days, everyone’s daily routine is being upended. This is no doubt causing increased stress and anxiety for many people, and it is likely doing the same for their cats and dogs, too.

Not only can pets pick up on our emotions, but even just a small change in routine for some pets can “throw them off” and directly cause them stress. Stress and anxiety in pets can manifest in a variety of ways, many of which are listed below.

Pet owners should take steps to keep their pet’s routines as “normal” as possible and increase the quality time they spend snuggling and playing with them, as long as their pets enjoy snuggling. Increasing quality time can help relieve stress for both people and their pets.

See tips and tricks to help cats stay active and playful indoors.

See how interactive toys and food puzzles can keep dogs entertained and 10 boredom busters for dogs.

*Note: While the signs below can be an indication of fear, stress, and/or anxiety in pets, some can also be an indication of an underlying medical problem. When in doubt, pet owners should always contact their veterinarian.

Potential signs of stress in cats:

  • Urinating and/or defecating outside of litterboxes
  • Straining and/or vocalizing in the litterbox (note that, especially in male cats, this is often a sign of urinary (urethral) obstruction, which is a painful and rapidly fatal condition that requires immediate emergency veterinary care)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased grooming (possibly with increased hairballs)
  • Decreased food intake (this can rapidly lead to a dangerous case of hepatic lipidosis, especially in overweight cats—here are some tips to help get a cat eating again)
  • Hiding
  • Aggression

Potential signs of stress in dogs:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • More “reserved,” less playful
  • Abnormal barking
  • Aggression
  • Destructive chewing (furniture, shoes, etc.)
  • Increased chewing and/or licking of themselves

Helping pet owners keep their pets safe while at home is important, but it’s even more so now that many people are under increased stress. I hope this article helps, and I hope you’ll all join in on raising awareness to prevent pet problems during this pandemic.

Stay safe and healthy!

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Jason Nicholas, BVetMed (Hons)
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed(Hons), president and chief medical officer of Preventive Vet, is an experienced and effective client communicator and educator. He has a passion for, and track record of, helping other veterinarians and their teams communicate with, and deliver to, their clients the education, awareness, advice, and tools they need to provide the best care for their pets and form the strongest bonds with their veterinarians. His popular “101 Essential Tips” client education book series for veterinary practices is a game-changer for veterinary teams and practices looking to provide an exceptional customer experience and build strong, trust-based bonds with their clients.
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed (Hons)

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