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Pet Dangers



The Sonoran Desert has more varieties of animal life than any other desert on earth. You should seek to understand and respect all of these creatures, and sometimes this includes giving them a wide berth or practicing a little common sense so they do not injure you or your pets. Although fatalities among humans due to snake bites and other exposures are very low, pets may not be so fortunate. Here are some tips on how to keep your cat and dog safe:

 LEAVE WILD ANIMALS ALONE. This may be obvious advice to most people, but pets, especially dogs, may not see it this way. Be conscious of the hours when snakes and other dangerous animals may be active; and never allow your dog to run free in the desert!

 KEEP YOU PETS INDOORS AT NIGHT. Many dangerous creatures, especially coyotes, are nocturnal and will actively seek out dogs and cats as food sources.

 MAKE YOUR HOME AND YARD UNINVITING TO DANGEROUS ANIMALS by destroying webs, providing adequate fencing, having regular inspections by pest control companies, securing trash can lids, limiting the availability of nooks and crannies that are common in woodpiles, etc.

 SONORAN DESERT TOADS (a.k.a. Colorado River Toads): These amphibians can present a real threat to dogs because of their poisonous skin. If swallowed, the result may be fatal. The toad evades drought by remaining underground and resurfacing briefly during monsoon season (July to September). Dogs should not wander in toad-inhabited areas such as riverbeds.

 BLACK WIDOW/BROWN RECLUSE SPIDERS: Of these two spiders, the Brown Recluse poses a greater threat to dogs and cats. The tissue around the bitten area will die and rot, causing a serious infection. The Black Widow is more common but less dangerous. It will usually build its messy web in dark, cool areas. Both spiders are easily avoided by checking regularly for and destroying any webs.

 COYOTES, COUGARS AND LARGE PREDATORS: Many of the desert's large predators are intelligent and wily. Some, like coyotes, will often wander far into the city along washes and alleys in search of food. These predators are usually more than a fair match for the average dog or cat and account for many pet "disappearances." Because most desert predators are nocturnal, dogs and cats should always be brought inside during the twilight and nighttime hours. Indoor-only pets are always safer than those animals allowed to roam!

 VENOMOUS SNAKES: Dogs are particularly prone to finding and antagonizing rattlesnakes. Usually the result is a bite to the nose or muzzle area. Rattlesnake fangs are hollow and capable of pumping out large amounts of venom in the manner of a hypodermic needle. A tetanus infection may also result. Rattlesnakes do not attack dogs, but they will defend themselves. Rattlesnakes are most likely encountered during the morning and late afternoon hours. Coal Snakes are easily identified by the colorful bands of black, yellow and red which encircle their bodies. Because their mouths are small and their fangs immobile, it is unlikely they will be able to successfully bite a pet. Regardless, immediate veterinary help should be sought. Remember, some rattlesnakes are protected species!

 PREDATORY BIRDS: Meat-eating birds like hawks and owls can pose a real threat to house cats and small dogs who are allowed to roam outside. Many of these powerful birds are capable of swooping down and carrying away small housepets.

 GILA MONSTERS: This reptile and its relative, the Mexican beaded lizard, are the only known venomous lizards in the world. Gila Monsters are exceptionally rare, spending the majority of the year underground. When they do emerge to hunt or mate, they can be an irresistible temptation for dogs. The Gila Monster has a locking jaw which can allow them to hold onto a victim while pumping in venom. Gila Monsters are a protected species under state law.

 SCORPIONS/CENTIPEDES: These venomous creatures will emerge at night from beneath rocks, woodpiles or other sheltered areas to hunt insects. As with almost all the animals listed here, scorpions and centipedes would prefer to flee rather than fight.

 AFRICANIZED "KILLER" BEES: There have been several incidents of dogs being killed by theses insects since they arrived in Arizona in the early 1990's. Although they are no more venomous than native bee varieties, they are easily angered and will attack en masse. If your home is infested, call a professional exterminator immediately.

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Sometimes curiosity can kill the cat… or dog. Both of these common companion animals love to explore dark secluded spots like kitchen cabinets, supply closets, garages, etc. Unfortunately, their innocent exploration may turn tragic if they consume a toxic substance. Often, the animal will not intentionally consume the poison, but may get it on its paws or fur and ingest it when grooming. Here are some tips to help your pet avoid these common and daily household hazards:

 ELECTRIC CORDS AND DEVICES: A favorite plaything of kittens and puppies, an electric cord could deliver a serious, even fatal, shock if the animal gnaws through its protective covering. Other electric items with spinning or moving parts, such as fans or shredders, can also present an opportunity for injury! Discipline your pet and offer a safe alternative for chewing and playing.

 TANGLY THINGS: Believe it or not, a ball of yarn or string may be a cat's worst enemy. Although cats love to play with them, they can become entangles or worse, swallow the string! Your local pet supply store will have plenty of safe alternatives for your cat.

 CHOKE CHAINS: Although a common and effective means by which to leash-train your dog, these collars are not meant for everyday use. Remove the collar when not training the dog in order to prevent accidental injury. Use a flat buckle collar at all other times.

 OPEN CONTAINERS OF WATER: Everything from swimming pools to unattended bathwater can pose a drowning hazard for your cat or dog. If they fall in, their claws may be ineffectual in pulling them out against wet, slippery porcelain or concrete.

 HEAT: Asphalt and cement can reach astronomical temperatures in the desert, and a cat or dog can suffer severe burns to the pads of their feet if forced to walk on these surfaces. To avoid this, exercise your pets on grassy areas, preferably during the twilight hours. Keep your animals indoors during the summer days, or at least provide ample shade, water, and ventilation. Dogs and cats are extremely susceptible to heat exhaustion!

 CIGARETTES AND SECONDHAND SMOKE: Smokers beware-your secondhand smoke or cigarette butts may present considerable danger to your animals. Just like humans, the passive inhalation of tobacco smoke can cause lung cancer in animals. The nicotine contained in cigarette butts is also dangerous. Two butts contain enough of this poisonous substance to kill a puppy!

 ANTIFREEZE: This common automotive product is extremely poisonous, but has a taste both dogs and cats crave! To keep your pet safe, make sure any antifreeze is stored in closed containers out of the reach of your pets. Pet and child-safe antifreezes are now regularly available through automotive supply shops and mechanics.

 COCOLATE AND OTHER "PEOPLE" FOODS: This common candy is highly toxic to cats, dogs, and birds. Even small amounts can make them sick, or even kill them. A more common problem comes from feeding your animals "table scrapes". Although most are not toxic, these "scraps" are often loaded with fats, calories and sugars which are no better for your pets than they are for you!

 THE KITCHEN: Most dogs and cats will quickly identify the kitchen as the room where the food is stored and probably spend a great deal of time here. Unfortunately, the kitchen presents numerous hazards: sharp utensils, boiling liquids, hot surfaces, electric appliances, etc. Be careful that your pet is not getting underfoot while you are cooking!

 OPEN CLOSETS, CUPBOARDS, WASHING MACHINES, ETC: Enclosed spaces make dogs and cats feel secure, but not every space is "pet friendly." Be careful that your pet is not inadvertently trapping himself in a dangerous place. Check your local pet supply store for safe crates, condos and pet "houses" to give your cat or dog a secure place to rest.

 KEEP POISONS, CLEANING PRODUCTS, PAINTS, LACQUERS, TURPENTINE, THINNER AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTS, ETC. STORED IN A PLACE INACCESSIBLE TO PETS. Remember, a high shelf may not be a proper deterrent for a cat, so think carefully before storing these products.

 BE CONSCIENTIOUS WHEN USING BUG SPRAYS AND OTHER PESTICIDES: Remember, dogs and cats may walk through these poisons during the course of their day. Safe alternatives can be suggested by your local nursery or pet supply store.

 DISPOSE OF EMPTY POISON CONTAINERS IMMEDIATELY AND SAFELY: Some dogs like to root through the trash, so make sure your garbage containers are secured.

 PROPERLY DISPOSE OF OLD MEDICINES AND ROTTEN FOOD: Pets will not make the distinction between what is proper and improper to eat. Animals will often put non-food objects in their mouths!

 KEEP PET "TRAFFIC LANES" CLEAR OF HARMFUL OBJECTS: Such as glass, nails, and other sharp objects; or anything the pet might swallow.


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Our homes and yards are filled with beautiful and aromatic vegetation, but to a curious, bored or hungry pet, these plants could be fatal. The best way to protect your animal is to use a little common sense when planning your outdoor landscaping or decorating your home with plants.

The Sonoran Desert contains a wide variety of plant life which could present a danger to your pets. Some of these plants may be dangerous if eaten or swallowed, but even more present a physical danger due to the presence of spines or barbs. Cactus, foxtails and other spiny vegetation all present a danger to pets.

Remember that a dog or cat's fur can hide a multitude of problems, and a pet owner may not notice that the animal is injured until serious side-effects begin to manifest.

To help eliminate these type of concerns, be certain to groom and examine your pet's body on a regular basis, especially if the animal lives outside.

 KNOW AND LABEL THE DIFFERENT PLANT VARIETIES IN AND AROUND YOUR HOUSE. This will aid your veterinarian should exposure occur.

 NEVER ASSUME THAT A PLANT IS SAFE because your pet or wild animals have ingested it before with no perceivable side-effects. The quantity ingested will often determine its toxicity.

 BEWARE OF RECURRING HAZARDS such as mushrooms. Since it is very difficult to tell a poisonous mushroom from an edible one, dispose of any which may appear.

 PROVIDE YOUR PETS WITH SAFE VEGETABLE ALTERNATIVES. Cats will often eat grass to help with their digestion and relieve the symptoms caused by hairballs. The best alternative is to buy a commercial "cat grass", a safe, healthy combination of herbs which can be grown in you home.


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