Pet Safety Guide: Pet-Proofing
& Emergency Safety at Home

By: House Method Guides, Pets
Photo by Nick Karvounis

Before you run out and adopt Fido or Freda from the animal shelter, make sure your home has been adequately pet-proofed. Providing a safe, pet-friendly environment for your new cat or dog is the first step to being a responsible pet-owner of a safe and happy animal.

Your new puppy or kitten may be shy at first, hide under the couch for the first day or two in its new home, but you can be sure it will soon be into everything. Once your pet emerges from its hiding place, he’ll will want to explore and discover absolutely every inch of his new environment.

Toxic plants, cleaning supplies, electrical cords, are just a few things that can endanger your pet. Even your garbage can is a potential hazard to a dog or cat. Certain foods thrown in the trash, sharp objects, or other dangers can do some serious harm. Pet-proofing your home comes with an added bonus. Not only will you be protecting your furry friend, you will also notice you have a much tidier home.

This guide will make sure your pet is safe and that you can relax and enjoy your new addition to the household.

Pet-proofing your kitchen

Kitchens are one of the most dangerous areas of the home for your pet. Unfortunately, this is also where many indoor pets choose to spend a lot of time. After all, there is so much to get into, how could any self-respecting cat or dog not love the kitchen?

The primary danger to pets in the kitchen is food. A large list of foods can cause illness, and even death, to a beloved pet. Take note of these foods and make sure they cannot be found anywhere your pet can get to them.

Consider making a list of food items that your pet shouldn’t have and put it on the refrigerator so everyone in your family is aware to properly put away or dispose of these foods.

Foods to keep away from pets

If you have reason to believe your pet has consumed any of these foods, make note of the amount ingested and contact your veterinarian immediately. It’s a good idea to keep handy the name, number, and address of your regular vet and an emergency 24-hour vet.

Alcohol

Your pet should never be given alcohol. Beverages or food containing alcohol can result in diarrhea, vomiting, central nervous system depression, tremors, difficulty breathing, coordination problems, or abnormal blood activity. Alcohol can even cause your pet to go into a coma or result in death.

Avocado

Avocado is mainly a problem for rabbits, donkeys, birds, horses, and ruminants. However, it’s not a good idea to risk serving a freshly sliced avocado to your dog or cat. The primary concern is cardiovascular damage in birds, which can lead to death. Avocados can cause swelling in the head and neck in horses, goats, and other ruminants. While the fruit is considered safe for dogs and cats, the large seed is a danger to them. Overall, just avoid giving it to your pets.

Caffeine and chocolate

Any caffeinated food or drinks, including coffee and chocolate, contain methylxanthine. This substance is found in cacao seeds, which is used to make coffee. It is also found in the nut extracts used to make some sodas. If pets ingest methylxanthines, they may experience vomiting, panting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, excessive urination and thirst, tremors, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, or even death.

While your pet should never be given chocolate, note that dark chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. Baking chocolate contains the highest level of methylxanthines, while white chocolate contains the lowest levels.

Citrus

All parts of a citrus fruit contain varying degrees of citric acid. In small doses, this is not likely to cause any more than a minor stomach upset in your pet. Larger doses, however, can lead to irritation and possible central nervous system depression in your pet. It’s just best to avoid giving your cat or dog any form of citrus.

Coconut and and coconut oil

The milk and flesh of coconuts contain oils that may result in an upset tummy for your pet. This could lead to diarrhea or loose stools. In small amounts, it is not likely to be of extreme hazard to your pet. However, caution should be used with these products. Coconut water should not be given to your pets, as it contains high levels of potassium.

Grapes and raisins

Not a lot is known about the toxic substances in grapes and raisins, but they can cause kidney failure in your pet. You should keep these fruits stored out of your pet’s reach

Photo by Charles Deluvio

Macadamia nuts

These nuts can cause depression, weakness, tremors, hyperthermia, and vomiting in your pet. Symptoms generally last one to two days and appear within twelve hours.

Milk and dairy

Some people may be surprised to learn that dogs and cats should not ingest milk or dairy products. Cats especially are known to love milk, and they will often lap it right up. But unfortunately, pets are unable to adequately digest dairy products since they do not have significant amounts of lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in milk. This means if your dog or cat laps up that milk you put in their bowl, they likely will experience diarrhea and other digestive problems.

Because pets do not possess significant amounts of lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk), milk and other dairy-based products cause them diarrhea or other digestive upset.

Nuts

We’ve already mentioned macadamia nuts, but really, all nuts should be avoided in your pet’s diet. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans especially contain large amounts of fats and oils. These fats can result in diarrhea and vomiting. They can even lead to pancreatitis.

Chives, onions, and garlic

These herbs and vegetables can cause gastrointestinal problems in your pet and could even result in damage to red blood cells. While cats are more prone to developing complications from these products, dogs can also experience problems if they ingest a large enough amount. 

Undercooked/raw meat, bones, and eggs

Bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella that may be present in raw eggs and meat can be harmful to pets. In addition, raw eggs contain avidin, an enzyme that decreases the absorption of biotin. This can lead to skin and coat problems in your pet. It also may be tempting to serve your pet leftover bones. While this may seem natural for pets who live in the great outdoors, it can pose a danger to domesticated house pets might choke on a bone or sustain an injury in the event a bone should splinter. 

Salty foods

Large quantities of salt can cause excessive thirst and urination. Salty foods can even result in sodium ion poisoning. Watch for signs that your pet may have consumed too much salt. These include vomiting, depression, tremors, diarrhea, seizures, and an elevated body temperature. Too much salt can even lead to death. Keep all salty snacks like pretzels, popcorn, and potato chips away from your pets.

Xylitol

This sweetener is used in a variety of products, such as candy, gum, and toothpaste. Xylitol can cause insulin release, which could lead to liver failure. Signs that your pet may have developed toxicosis include lethargy, vomiting, and loss of coordination. These early signs can lead up to seizures. Within a few days, your pet could suffer from liver failure.

Yeast dough

Dough with yeast in it expands. When consumed, this causes an accumulation of gas in your pet’s digestive system. This can be very painful for your pet, causing the stomach to become bloated. Your pet’s stomach could even become twisted, possibly leading to death. 

Foods are the biggest kitchen-related hazard for pets. Take care to store any foods that are dangerous to your pets where they cannot get into them. While food is the biggest danger in the kitchen, you should also look out for sharp utensils, cleaning supplies, and small choking hazards like twist ties.

Other tips for keeping a safe kitchen

Install a gate or door to keep your pet out of the kitchen when you’re cooking.

Invest in a special garbage can with a locking lid to keep curious noses out. Alternatively, you can store your garbage cans in a pantry or in a closed cabinet. Store cleaning supplies in a child-locked cabinet and keep knives and utensils in drawers at all times.

Photo by Paul Hanaoka

Bathrooms, laundry rooms, and closets

Bathrooms, laundry rooms, and closets can pose a number of hazards to your pet. One option is to completely close off these areas, but you may choose to use one of these rooms to keep your pet in when you’re away. Some pets may even treat these areas as safe spaces if they’re frightened by storms or noises. If you choose to allow your pet access to one or all of these rooms in your house, you should take the necessary steps to pet-proof.

Some items are an obvious hazard to your pet. Cleaning supplies, fabric softeners, detergents, vitamins, medications, and other such items should be safely stored away where your pet cannot get to them. Other simple, everyday items, however, may pose more of a threat than you realize. 

Dental floss and other small products around the bathroom or laundry room can be a choking hazard to pets.

Dogs are especially tempted to chew on old shoes, socks, towels, and other fabrics. If swallowed, these fabrics can lead to extreme gastrointestinal problems, including blockage.

It isn’t safe for your pet to drink out of the toilet, particularly if you use chemical cleansers. If your pet has access to the bathroom, make sure the lid to the toilet is kept closed. 

Bathtubs and sinks with standing water can be a drowning hazard to a pet. Make sure to drain sinks and tubs before leaving a room.

The washer or dryer can be a tempting spot for a cat to curl up for a quiet nap. It could be possible to overlook your sleeping pet when you put in a load of laundry. Avoid this hazard by keeping the doors to these appliances shut at all times.

Put child-safety locks on all cabinets your pet might figure out how to open. Many are quite clever when it comes to getting into what we might consider tough-to-reach spots.

Photo by Marina Laduda

Pet-proofing bedrooms

If you allow your dog or cat access to the bedrooms in your home, there isn’t as much to do in the way of pet-proofing, but are still some things to address.

Keep clothing, laundry, and shoes safely tucked in a dresser or behind closed doors. Buttons and drawstrings especially can pose a choking hazard to your pet.

Keep medications, cosmetics, and lotions stored away out of reach of your pet. Don’t leave these items on a bedside table or on top of a dresser. 

Move phone wires and electrical cords out of reach. Dogs and cats may chew on these cords, which can cause electrical shock.

Keep small items like jewelry, hair ties, pins, and hair clips away from curious pets.

If you use mothballs in your closet or dresser, make absolutely certain you pet does not have access to them. Mothballs are toxic and can pose a serious hazard to pets.

Living room, family rooms, and gathering areas

A few items in your living room or family room can be a danger to your pets. Since most of us spend a large amount of our free time in these areas, it’s only natural that your beloved pet will too. Make sure the area is as safe and relaxing for them as it is for you.

Keep phone cords, electrical wires, and other dangling cords out of the reach of your pet. These can be tempting to chew on or swat at, posing a serious electrical shock danger to your pet. 

Make sure all heating or air vent covers/grates are properly secured.

House plants can be a danger to your pet, all plants should be placed where your pet cannot reach them. Better yet, make sure the plants in your home are pet-safe. Here are six pet-safe houseplant options.

Knick-knacks and any other breakable items your pet might be tempted to play with should be put away. A curious cat or a playful dog could easily knock over these items.

Games and toys with small pieces should be put away where they cannot pose a choking hazard to a curious animal.

Check all the nooks and crannies where your vacuum cleaner can’t reach. Clean up any dangerous items, such as string or other small items.

Fireplaces can be a danger to your pet. Ashes and sparks from the fire can cause them harm. The best solution to this is a simple screen to place in front of the fireplace.

Fire-starter sticks are an often overlooked danger to your pet. These sticks are somewhat sweet, so dogs especially love to chew on and eat them. Absolutely keep these out of reach of animals.

Open windows and doors can be an escape route for your pets. They may love the house, but the great outdoors can be tempting to explore. If you open your doors and windows to let in fresh air, make sure the screens are securely intact.

Photo by Isaac Moore

Pet-proofing utility and outdoor areas: garages, porches, patios, basements, and backyards

The garage, basement, porch, and backyard can pose a number of threats to your pet. If your pet has access to any of these areas, you should make sure it is as safe as possible for them. While you can’t be expected to eliminate every possible danger in the great outdoors, you can take steps to help keep your pet safe.

Thoroughly clean the garage floor on a regular basis to make sure chemicals like as antifreeze and other hazards are not accessible to your pet. The kinds of chemicals that can be found on a garage floor can be deadly if ingested.

Move chemicals, tools, and any sharp objects to closets, sealed containers, or high shelves where your pet cannot access them.

Make sure the plants in your garden are safe for pets. Some plants can be poisonous to animals, even deadly. We’ve included a list of toxic plants below.

Regularly check your fence for any spaces or holes your dog or cat might be able to squeeze through. Patch up these areas immediately so your pet can’t escape.

Make sure lattice work around your porch is intact and in good shape so pets won’t get stuck or crawl into an area where they shouldn’t be.

Before starting your vehicle, always bang on the hood to make sure your kitten or the neighborhood cat has not curled up for a nice, warm nap in the engine. Also check wheel wells, which cats also love for catching some zzzs.

Even pets that can swim can drown in a hot tub or pool. While installing long, low steps in your pool can help, your best bet is to keep your pets away from these areas with covers or fencing.

Common houseplants and outdoor Plants hazardous to pets

Pets and plants often do not mix. A surprisingly large number of plants are toxic to animals. Some of these plants can even be lethal if your pet ingests them.

You can purchase bitter sprays to discourage chewing, place houseplants out of reach, or place fencing around the outdoor plants, but the best protection from toxic plants is to not have them.

If you suspect your dog or cat has gotten into something poisonous, you should contact a vet right away.

While there are more than 300 plants that could be toxic to your pet, this short list includes some of the more common ones:

  • Autumn Crocus
  • Azalea
  • Cyclamen
  • Kalanchoe
  • Lily
  • Oleander
  • Daffodils
  • Aloe Vera
  • Baby’s Breath
  • Amaryllis
  • Begonia
  • Carnation
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Gladeola
  • Milkweed
  • Poinsettia
  • Tulip
  • Morning Glory
Photo by Wade Austin Ellis

Pet safety during a natural disaster

All times of landscapes and climates are subject to natural disasters, so everyone should have plans to stay safe in inclimate weather and events. This safety plan should also include your pets. Your animals buddies will become even more reliant on you to keep them safe in an emergency. Don’t let them down.

Never leave a pet behind

Never leave your pet behind in an evacuation. Don’t assume your dog or cat will be okay without you as long as they have food and water. If the disaster should strike your home, a left-behind pet could get lost, hurt, or even die. Of course, you must first protect yourself and your family in the event of an immediate emergency, such as a house fire or sudden tornado, but having a safety plan for your pet in place can reduce the risk that they will be left behind or injured in a natural disaster. 

Rescue alert stickers

Rescue alert stickers are a great way to let rescue workers know there are pets located in your home. They can be purchased at some pet supply stores or ordered for free online from the ASPCA

You should place one on each door to your home and include the names and types of pets located in your home. You should also include the number of your veterinarian. If you are able to evacuate with your pets, write “EVACUATED” over the sticker so rescue workers will not waste valuable time looking for them. In the event you simply don’t have time to evacuate with your furry family members, the stickers will alert rescue workers to their presence so they can search for them.

When you are away

Pet owners often must leave their pets at home alone while they go to work, run errands, and simply go about everyday life. What if disaster strikes while you are away? Will your pet be safe? If you are away from home when disaster strikes, make sure someone is aware that your pet is at home and needs to get to safety. Rescue alert stickers mentioned above are a great precaution, but it can also be a comforting thought to know someone has looked after your beloved pet in your absence. Consider giving a friend or neighbor who can get there quickly you trust a key to your house. Make sure they are aware when you will need to leave your pet alone. 

Make prior arrangements

If it is necessary for you to evacuate your home in a disaster, the best way to keep your pets safe is to take them with you. If your home isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for them either. Take precautionary steps and make an evacuation plan for your family and your pets.

Find out which hotels on your evacuation route allow pets. Some places will waive a no pet policy in the event of an emergency evacuation. 

Be aware that the majority of Red Cross shelters, for safety reasons, can only allow service animals. If you intend to stay at a Red Cross shelter, have other arrangements made for your pet.

Make a list of animal shelters, boarding facilities, friends, and family who can look after to your pet in an emergency. Some veterinarians along your evacuation route may also be able to take your pet in. 

When you conduct evacuation drills for your family, include pets so they will become used to the routine.

Ensure that your pets have all been properly vaccinated and have up-to-date identification on their collars. Kennels and boarding facilities will require proof that your pet is properly vaccinated to board them.

Consider having your veterinarian microchip your pet. This will allow your pet to be placed back with you if it is found without a collar.

Evacuate safely and evacuate early

If you have been alerted that your city is on evacuation notice, don’t be among the stragglers who leave at the last minute. Particularly if you have pets, you should evacuate as soon as possible. Animals are not as easy to evacuate as people are. Not every hotel, shelter, or hospital will allow pets. This is often for safety reasons, and some places will only allow service animals that assist disabled individuals. In addition, if pets become stressed by all the commotion, they will be more difficult to get into a carrier and travel with. Evacuating early helps to make sure the process is carried through safely and calmly.

Photo by Sam Burriss

Prepare an emergency kit

Have an emergency kit packed and ready for evacuation. Fill it with pet essentials, such as medication, food, a collar, a leash, your pet’s medical records, and other important items. Here’s our pet emergency kit checklist.

  • Leashes, collars, harnesses, and carriers to safely travel with pets
  • Water, food, bowls, litter and litter pan, dog poop bags, and a can opener for canned pet food
  • A first aid kit for pets
  • Your pet’s medications and medical records in a waterproof storage container
  • Information concerning medical conditions, feeding schedules, any behavioral issues, and the name and number of your veterinarian
  • Current photos of you and your pet in case your pet should get lost
  • Pet blankets, beds, and toys if room allows

Choose a safe haven

If you cannot take your pet with you to the place you will be staying, select a proper place to leave your pet. You should have already compiled a list of potential safe havens for your pet. Choose a place from this list and make arrangements to leave your pet in their care until you can return. If you don’t evacuate, but stay home during a natural threat or disaster, take your pet with you to the safest room in the house. Close off all unsafe areas so your pet doesn’t wander into them. You should also have plenty of food and water handy for you and your pet. 

Beware of disease

Natural disasters are prime breeding ground for diseases and bacteria—especially for animals. If a hurricane, forest fire, or other disaster forces you and your pet out of your home, it is vital to be aware of your new surroundings and possible diseases that may be lurking there.

Animals are particularly susceptible to diseases carried by other animals or unsafe conditions. Keep your pet away from other animals as much as is possible while traveling. Rabid animals, wildlife, stagnant water, and mosquitoes are all a danger to your pet. Keep an eye on your pets and steer them away from these things as much you can in a natural disaster.

Keep your pets vaccinated

Reduce your pet’s risk of contracting a disease or other illness by keeping them up to date on vaccinations. Your pet may need to stay in a shelter with other animals during an evacuation, which requires that they be up to date, and if he becomes lost, he may be subject to the dangers of wildlife, dirty water, and other elements. Making sure your pet is up to date on his vaccinations will help insure his safety against disease in these situations.

Photo by Justin Veenema

Keep everyone in the loop

Unless everyone is kept in the loop, confusion can ensue. Make sure each member of your family is aware of your evacuation plan and knows where your pet should go in the event of an emergency. If things aren’t properly planned and communicated, even the best-laid plans can go wrong. To prevent your perfectly laid out evacuation plan from turning into chaos, clue in every person in your home. Make sure everyone knows the plan, where the emergency kits are, who to call, what to do, and where your pet should go.

What to do if your pet is lost

If your pet wanders off or becomes lost in the chaos of a natural disaster, don’t put yourself in danger to go looking for him. Avoid going outside in dangerous conditions. Your pet means the world to you, but it is not worth risking your own safety. You can actually be of more help by searching online sites such as PetFinder, Nextdoor, and Craigslist to check if anyone has seen your missing pet. You should also contact local shelters and veterinarians in case someone has found your pet and dropped him off. 

What to do if you find a lost pet

Many pets get scared and become separated from their families during a natural disaster. If you find a lost pet, proceed with caution—he’s likely frightened and anxious. Once you have determined the animal is safe to approach, check to see if it has an ID tag. If you cannot locate any contact information, post a photo and description to an online pet directory. You should also check to see if someone has posted a photo and information about their missing pet. When conditions allow, take the pet to a local shelter and have him scanned for a microchip. If the pet has been properly chipped, he can be reunited with his owner as soon as possible.

Help pets recover after a natural disaster

Your pet may exhibit a change in behavior after a natural disaster. This change may be subtle or dramatic. Remember that your pet has just gone through a traumatic and confusing situation, and he may become defensive or aggressive toward others. Some pets may be disoriented after a natural disaster, especially if scent markers that previously allowed your pet to find their home have been affected by the disaster.

It is important to be aware of your pet’s actions and behaviors following a traumatic event and take the proper steps to ensure their safety as well as the safety of others.

Keep a close eye on your pets and ensure they are kept under control and in a safe area. Gates and fences that previously kept them from wandering off may have been destroyed or damaged.

Natural disasters can cause a lot of chaos and damage. Take note of any hazards at your pet’s level. Debris, chemical spills, water, and other substances can be dangerous for your pet.

If your pet exhibits a change in behavior for a prolonged period, contact your veterinarian. It may take some time for your pet to readjust after a natural disaster, but it is always better to play it safe.

Photo by Dejan Zakic

Other pets and animals

While people most often think of cats and dogs when it comes to home safety and emergency safety, there are other pets and animals that should be tended to and plans prepared for an emergency situation.

Horses

Keep the stable and pasture clean and free from debris at all times. Get rid of any hazardous or flammable materials. Move machinery away from entrances, exits, and walkways. You should also inspect the grounds on a regular basis and maintain septic tanks and barn floors. Keeping the area clean and free from debris and hazardous materials will help ensure your horses’ safety during a natural disaster.

Prevent the possibility of fires breaking out in the barn or stables. Enforce a no-smoking policy around the barn and avoid using machinery or appliances in the barn. Even appliances that seem safe, such as power tools and box fans, can overheat. Exposed wiring, or even a slight nudge from an animal that knocks over a piece of machinery, can lead to electrical fires. 

Let your horse become accustomed to wearing a halter and boarding a trailer. You should routinely practice getting your horse into a trailer quickly. If you own a horse trailer, you should inspect it on a regular basis. Make sure it is clean and free of debris. You should also ensure the vehicle you will be using to tow the trailer is appropriate in regard to the size of the trailer, as well as the weight of the horse and trailer combined. Proper tire pressure should also be considered. Practice properly hitching the trailer to the vehicle so you can perform this step quickly in the event of a natural disaster.

Horses can become easily spooked in a fire or natural disaster. They can be hard enough for you to handle, but they can be even harder for someone whose scent your horses are unfamiliar with. Socialize your horses and let then become accustomed to being handled by various strangers. If possible, you might ask local firemen to visit wearing their gear since it smells smoky. This can get your horses accustomed to the smell.

Birds

Always transport birds in a carrier or secure travel cage. You should also place a blanket over the cage, particularly in colder weather. This may help calm your bird and reduce stress. Keep the carrier as quiet as possible.

Carry a spray bottle with you in warm weather. Occasionally moisten your bird’s feathers to help keep it cool.

Make sure you have recent photos of your bird in case it should somehow become separated from you. Keep its leg bands on at all times for the purpose of identification. 

Birds should eat on a daily basis. They are so small that skipping a meal could be harmful. Purchase a timed feeder. If you unexpectedly need to leave your bird, the feeder will automatically keep your pet on a feeding schedule.

Reptiles

Reptiles can be especially challenging to transport in the event of an emergency. A snake can be transported from one safe place to another in a pillowcase. However, you should ensure he is properly secured in safe containment when you reach your designated safe place or anywhere people are.

Bring along a large, sturdy bowl your snake can soak in. It is also a good idea to carry a heating pad or hot water bottle with you. Lizards can be transported in the same way birds can.

Small animals

Smaller pets, such as gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice should be transported in carriers that have been secured and include bedding, food, and food bowls.

Keep these items on hand: Extra water, salt lick, and a small hide box. You should also carry a week’s worth of bedding.


What Did You Think?

Join the Conversation

By continuing to browse or by clicking “OK” you agree to the storing of first- and third-party cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. Privacy Policy.

OK