Getting the kids ready to go back to school is always a hectic and exciting process. You must buy new clothes and supplies, change up your schedule, and help the kids prepare to go on a new journey. Unfortunately, among all of this, sometimes our pets don’t get as much attention as they did during the summer months. Many pets become stressed when their young companions leave for hours every day. They don’t know what to make of it, so they get into things that aren’t good for them looking for ways to relieve their stress and anxiety. With the change in schedules, parents and kids may accidentally leave things out for easy access to their pets.
Before even heading to an emergency veterinary clinic, the ASPCA Poison Control Center is every owner’s first stop when their pet has ingested something that they shouldn’t have eaten. Every year, the poison control call center prepares themselves for an influx in back-to-school related incidents. Many of these incidents involve children’s lunchboxes and backpacks, which kids tend to leave laying where their pets can access them.
Even if the sack is zipped up, it often is not enough for our furry friends. When they smell something that they desperately want to taste, they will do everything they can to get it. This includes ripping open zippers and shredding fabric.
Dangers Related to Lunchboxes
Parents pack their kid’s lunchboxes full of all kinds of yummy snacks, and because kids are kids, they won’t always eat everything that you send with them. These leftovers can be dangerous to our pets if they get a hold of them. They don’t understand what foods might be dangerous for them, they just know that their young friend has left behind a delicious snack for them to taste.
Some of the most toxic snacks that pets might find in your kid’s lunchbox includes gum, grapes or raisons, macadamia nuts, or onions.
- Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is found in gum that can cause seizures, low blood sugar, liver failure, and death.
- Macadamia nuts are generally less dangerous, but can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as weakness in the back legs. If too much is ingested, the dog may become febrile and will tremble. They may even become unable to walk.
- Grapes commonly cause vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive thirst. Acute Renal Failure can occur within the first 24 hours or several days after ingestion. Your pet may become anorexic, depressed, and lethargic. They will likely experience vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and possible tremors.
- Onions will also cause vomiting and will cause the breakdown of red blood cells, leading to anemia. You may also find blood in their urine and their heartrate and respiration may elevate to dangerous levels.
Old, moldy food can be dangerous for pets too, and let’s be honest, if we are not checking our kid’s lunchbox every day, some moldy food might slip by.
Besides the toxins found in food, bags can also be dangerous. Chip bags or sandwich bags can cause suffocation if they are ingested or if your pet’s head is small enough to get stuck inside the bag. When they stick their head and/or nose into the bag, they breathe in and may be unable to get the bag off by themselves – pets can suffocate in under five minutes.
Even leftover food pieces like banana peels and orange peels, although not toxic, can create a blockage in your pets stomach/intestines.
Some dogs don’t even care if what they are eating is food, they just love to chew for the sake of chewing, and many things within a lunchbox can be enticing. That cold, squishy ice pack tucked into the lunchbox pouch? It makes a satisfying toy for your dog to punch their teeth through, but it contains poisonous liquids like ethylene glycol and ammonium nitrate that will make them very sick.
Some kids are sent to school with medications so that they don’t have to visit the nurse every time they are feeling sick. ADHD medications and inhalers are commonly packed in lunchboxes and are dangerous for pets if they get ahold of them. Even some over-the-counter pain medication can be toxic to our furry friends.
- Inhalers - When pets puncture a hole in the inhaler, all of the contents are quickly leaked into their mouth causing excessive panting, increased heart rate, vomiting, tremors, and low/high blood pressure.
- ADHD medications - cause elevated heart rates and will increase your pet’s body temperature. They can cause tremors and hyperactivity and can even lead to seizures.
- Pain relievers (ibuprofen/acetaminophen) - will cause gastrointestinal, liver, and kidney damage.
Teenagers maybe carrying marijuana, cigarettes, or other illicit drugs. We hate to imagine these things being carried by our children to school, but it can happen.
- Nicotine - will cause vomiting, muscle weakness, loss of coordination, and heart palpitations.
- Marijuana - will cause depression, anxiety and loss of balance in your pet and is some cases seizures.
Dangers Related to Bookbags
If a pet eats school supplies, it is not immediately concerning because many children’s supplies are designed to be non-toxic. In fact, all materials used in art supplies are required by law to be reviewed for hazards. All art products in the United States should have a seal that reads ACMI (Art & Creative Materials Institute). The seals will have either an AP (approved product) label on them or a CL (cautionary label).
Most art supplies used by children will have the AP seal which means that the product is non-toxic and there is no concern for your pet ingesting a dangerous toxin. However, even if the pet swallows a non toxic product, it is still important to have them assessed to make sure that the object has not created an obstruction in their gastrointestinal tract.
The products that contain the CL seal are most often used by adults, but some older students may use the products as well. Since these products are not intended for use by children, they may contain toxins such as heavy metals. If your pet gets into one of these products, you should immediately contact poison control and get your pet to a veterinarian.
How to Prevent Pets from Consuming These Toxins
Preventing your pets from eating something they shouldn’t is often easier than it sounds. Be diligent and urge your children to do the same. Pick an area in your home that is high off the ground where your pets cannot reach them. Keep all lunchboxes and bookbags here when they are not in use. Don’t allow your children to leave them out on the floor on a chair. And remember, kids are kids, so always keep a close eye on them even when you’ve reminded them to move their bags a bunch of times.
Some pets might be particularly persistent in trying to get to a bag they really want. If this is the case, it will be best to keep all schoolbags behind a closed door in a room where the pet never has access. Also, it would be best to remove and discard any leftover food your child brings home uneaten.
When the kids go back to school and the parents are at work all day, the pets are suddenly alone. This can cause a good deal of stress and boredom that can lead to problems. Besides getting into items that can be dangerous for them, they might get into the habit of destroying the home through scratching and digging. They might also anger the neighbors with their incessant barking. This is not as commonly an issue with cats as it is with dogs, but cats with a history of abandonment or abuse may begin to hide and shake, and they may stop eating.
Before school starts and pets are left on their own, it is good to make a plan and implement it before everyone has gone. Pets do better with a schedule so to get them ready for back-to-school, begin to spend some time away from the house and slowly increase the amount of time you are gone. This will help ease them into the fact that everyone will be away without suddenly being left alone.
It helps if you can alleviate boredom - maybe there is a window that they look out of or food-filled toys that they can occupy themselves with. TV and radio are a source of comfort because they like listening to voices that sound like ours. Also, do your best to play with them or take them for a walk before you leave for work for the day. This will provide them with less energy to cause mischief while you are gone. A pet sitter or dog walker is also a great option.
Back-to-school season can be an exciting but also stressful time for families. To prevent additional stress, keep lunchboxes and bookbags out of reach and be mindful of the potential toxins in our homes. Mason Dixon Animal Emergency Hospital is always here for you with any questions about these household hazards.