Safety Around Pets & Animals

Feline acne:  This is not a safety issue, but we want to share our story in hopes that it can help other pet owners out there. For 8 months, our two cats had an ongoing problem with feline acne. Veterinarians have told us this is a growing problem, and also that it’s difficult to resolve. We tried everything… We changed their bowls from plastic to glass, we scrubbed their chins twice a day with medicated pads, we gave them shots, we had their abscesses drained and cleaned, we got rid of their collars … At one point, one of the cats was given an antibiotic for an abscess. This antibiotic was making her sick. We took her back to the vet, who gave her a different antibiotic, and she had seizures. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she foamed at the mouth. It almost killed her. It took the cat several days to recover. We thought we had lost her. In the end, we spent several hundreds of dollars on both cats on the acne problem. Everyone here – especially the cats – were stressed out. All of the vets were very nice, but they all suggested the same thing – cleaning pads, glass or ceramic bowls, antibiotics …

So I went online to try and find answers. Some people suggested that food might be the culprit, but no vet ever said this to us, and we were feeding our cats Science Diet, which was very visible in the vets’ offices. We understood what was being said, but we didn’t think it applied to us. Our cats were getting food that was recommended by vets. Finally, unable to solve the problem and in sheer desperation, I went rather sheepishly to several pharmacies to ask for any suggestions. At Wal-Mart, the pharmacist suggested a possible food connection. She said that – in people – there is sometimes a food problem that leads to or exacerbates skin acne. I went back online and read the stories more carefully. I saw suggestions for foods without corn, wheat, soy, egg, etc. This did make sense to me. When does a wild cat ever eat a soyburger? That’s the first time we actually looked at the back of the Science Diet bag. Wow! It never occurred to us that it might be filled up with corn, wheat and soy. It’s actually one of the worst. We were basically feeding our cats a slice of multigrain bread every day. Why do the vets recommend it? I’m told it’s because Science Diet pays for their schooling and offers other incentives. And perhaps initially, Science Diet was not as diluted as it is now.

We began trying new foods that did not have these grains. My cats would have rather starved than eat them, it seemed. We tried four. Finally, my daughter found Blue Buffalo, the Wilderness formula. No corn, no wheat, no soy. Lots of animal protein. It is more expensive than some others, but within two weeks, the acne was almost gone. When we also replaced the spoonful of Fancy Feast wet food we gave the cats each night, the acne was gone for good. Just like that — 8 months of struggle, and then in two weeks – it was gone. No vet ever talked with us about food, so I have called them all to tell them our story. They seem amazed that food might have made such a difference, but they also are happy we resolved our problem. Perhaps this is why feline acne is a growing problem (the pet food is increasingly being tinkered with to cut costs), and it’s also difficult to resolve (the vets don’t connect the acne with the food). I don’t know if our cats were getting something in the Science Diet that they were sensitive to, or, if by eating all of that corn, wheat and soy, they weren’t getting something they needed. It’s hard to say, but the food was definitely the issue.

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E. Coli: Beware of E. coli infections, which can be picked up from pets, strays, petting zoos and farm animals. E. coli infections can be spread through contaminated food or water, contact with animal waste or through person-to-person contact. All people who touch animals should avoid eating or drinking or touching their face while petting the animal, and should always wash their hands immediately afterward.

Salmonella Danger With Reptiles:  Most reptiles are infected with salmonella — a risk so serious that experts recommend against any reptiles in a home with children younger than 5 years old. If you do own a reptile, avoid giving it free reign over your home. Areas such as bedrooms, bathtubs, sinks, counters, tables, or food-preparation areas should be completely off limits. Anyone playing with a reptile should avoid putting fingers anywhere on the face or in the mouth, and everyone should wash their hands with soap and hot water after handling a reptile or its equipment.

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Cat litter: If you’re pregnant, be alert to bacteria that can infect your cat’s feces and harm your unborn child. Check with your veterinarian. There is a test that can be conducted on your cat to see if the cat’s already infected. Note: If your cat is infected, you might want to find another home for it for the duration of your pregnancy. Your veterinarian will have other suggestions for keeping yourself safe.

Also, be aware that bacteria can linger in the sand even after droppings have been cleaned out, so don’t allow the cat in your child’s sandbox. Keep the area covered to prevent your animal and neighborhood animals from using it. Also be wary of neighborhood sandboxes. Always make sure your child’s hands are thoroughly cleaned after playing in sand or mulch.

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Hanging name tags or other items around child’s neck, or knotting a scarf around a child’s neck:   On outings to petting zoos, farms, circuses, fairs, playgrounds, and ranches, do not hang anything around a child’s neck (make sure caregivers don’t do this, either). Goats and other animals like to eat paper, material, and string, and they might end up choking the child. Name tags leave a child vulnerable to a dangerous stranger who now has the child’s name. Additionally,scarves, heavy necklaces, or chains can get caught in machinery or hung up on a slide, leaving a child dangling.

Avoid knotting a scarf around a child’s neck in any circumstance, but especially when the child is playing with a pet or other large animal. Just crisscross the scarf around the neck, and tuck the ends inside the coat. Then, do not allow the child to play with the animal without adult supervision. Some children have been strangled when a dog wants to play tug of war with a child, and the child cannot free himself from a knotted scarf.

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Other Safer Child Suggestions:

bullet Never leave your baby or preschooler alone with any pet, even if your child appears to understand rules.
bullet Don’t buy a dog — or a breed of dog — with a history of abuse, neglect or aggression. If your dog causes your child injury once, assume it will do it again.
bullet Keep your pet healthy. An untreated injury or disease can make your pet unusually aggressive.
bullet Do not feed people food to your pet, especially chocolate. Even a small amount of chocolate can be toxic.
bullet Do not allow your pet to run loose. Train it to be obedient and well-behaved.
bullet Ask professionals to show you and your family how to handle birds, reptiles, rodents and exotic pets. If not properly handled, any pet will bite, scratch or claw. Please, think carefully before deciding to own an exotic pet. Talk to veterinarians and animal experts first to find out how domesticated these animals can ever be, and what the health risks are to your children and to your neighbor’s children. The children’s health and safety must always come first.

Teach your child these things:

bullet Ask permission from the owner before approaching or touching any animal, but don’t trust the owner’s assurance that a dog won’t bite. Any dog — even a friendly dog — can be having a bad day, plus it also can jump on a child, scratch a child, or play too roughly.
bullet Don’t stare at a dog — direct eye contact is seen as challenging to most animals
bullet Approach gently, from the side of the dog. Let the dog sniff the back of a hand, and don’t force attention on an unwilling animal. Pet the dog’s back or side, not his head or around his mouth.
bullet Don’t put your face close to dogs, even a pet.
bullet Don’t allow pets to become over-excited; they can forget themselves and bite.
bullet Don’t approach an injured animal. Don’t stick a hand into a bird’s cage or an animal’s house, crate or pen.
bullet Don’t separate fighting dogs (even if one of them is your pet).
bullet Don’t tease, ride or dress a pet, or try to play with a sick or tired pet.
bullet Don’t disturb a pet that’s eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.
bullet Don’t gesture to a dog or make sudden moves if he’s watching you intently; the dog might feel threatened.
bullet Never approach a dog you don’t know, and don’t run from a dog (he’s liable to chase you).
bullet Learn the signs that a dog is frightened, sick, agitated, or about to attack.
bullet If you’re knocked over, curl into a ball and put your hands over your ears.

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A Few Thoughts About the Animals:

This Web site is dedicated to the safety of the children, but we would be remiss if we didn’t also discuss the safety of pets. We ask all families to be very careful about which animals they decide to take in, to learn how to care for their pets, and to make sure that the pet fits well with its new environment. It tugs hard on our heart to hear of poor animals who are discarded by their owners by the side of a country road, mistreated, abandoned in the woods, shot in the head, drowned in the toilet or neglected in a cemented back yard.

Before you decide on a pet, ask yourself some questions:

bullet Is this an appropriate pet for your family? Is it a wild animal that is better off staying in the wild? Is it legal to own this animal where you live? Does this pet tend to carry germs or viruses dangerous to your child? Is your child or any other family member allergic to this pet? Is this pet liable to bite or otherwise harm your child or a friend of your child’s? Is this pet going to be a disturbance to neighbors?
bullet Are you willing to learn how to care for this pet properly? Do you have the time and enthusiasm to feed, exercise, play with and show affection to this pet every day of the year for the pet’s lifetime? If you go on vacation or have to travel, is there someone available to care for this pet? (Options can include reliable friends or neighbors, pet-sitting services, kennels, or veterinarians who are willing to board your pet.)
bullet Can you afford to feed, care for, license, train, spay or neuter, groom, and provide veterinary care for this pet’s lifetime?
bullet Do all family members have the emotional maturity to deal with the consequences of having this pet (lost sleep, messes on the rug, daily matters of hygiene, daily walks, trips to the veterinarian, medical emergencies, etc.)?
bullet Are you allowed to own a pet where you live?
bullet If you intend to own only one, is this a pet that does well by itself?
bullet If this pet is for a child, is the child old enough and mature enough to own (and care for) this pet? If your child fails to do so, are you willing to step in and prevent the pet from being neglected?
bullet If you intend that your pet stay outdoors, is it capable of withstanding harsh summer heat? Does it have sufficient body fat and hair or fur to withstand cold weather? Is it able to protect itself from other animals or birds? Does it have access to shelter from the sun and the cold? Does it has constant access to fresh food and clean (unfrozen) water?

Do not abandon your pet. Please don’t assume that if you abandon your pet, someone else will care for it. Your pet is much more likely to starve to death, get hit by a car or be attacked by another animal. Even if someone finds your pet and wants to care for it, it might be so traumatized by being abandoned that it continually runs away. We’ve heard sad tales of pets that sit silently by the side of the road, waiting patiently for their owners to come back for them. Don’t abandon or neglect your pet. If you find you can’t care for it, be compassionate and take it to a shelter — or take the time to find it a proper home. Some states have passed laws (such as California’s S.B. 237) making abandonment of pets illegal.

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Links For More Information:

bullet KidsHealth – tips for choosing a safe pet.
bullet KidsHealth – “Salmonella Infections”
bullet KidsHealth – “Bites and Scratches”
bullet KidsHealth – “Infections that Pets Carry”
bullet Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh – preventing dog bites
bullet Humane Society of the United States – dog bite prevention tips
bullet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – discusses dog bite statistics and prevention
bullet American Veterinary Medical Association – how to choose a dog and train it, in order to avoid discipline problems
bullet National SAFE KIDS Campaign – announced campaign to promote equestrian safety.
bullet In therapy-animal programs, animals are trained to bring comfort to ill, sad and lonely children in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. For information on registering your pet for such a program, try the Delta Society or Therapy Dogs Inc. (national organizations), Puppies Behind Bars, or Dog-Play (which lists several local programs).
bullet Angel’s Gate – residential hospice for animals
bullet Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation – rescues retired race horses from neglect or slaughter
bullet Lost Paws – helps track down lost pets

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