Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Your Garage Can Be a Dangerous Place!

Pet Column for the week of February 11, 2002

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

Using the garage as a storage area is a great way to get those messy, smelly but useful products out of the house, but it can also mean an area of concentrated danger for your pet. Dr. Petra Volmer, a veterinary toxicologist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine says, " Your garage may seem safe to you, but may be filled with products that could be harmful to your pet."

One of the most common and most deadly items that can often be found in the garage is antifreeze. While essential for your car, it is a deadly enemy for your pet. The substance seems to have an appeal to pets (perhaps because it is sweet) and most animals will eagerly lap it up. After it is ingested, it is metabolized and then carried to the kidneys where it forms insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, that can damage the kidney and cause renal (kidney) failure. Dr. Volmer says, "Even if you don't own any pets, it may be wise to switch to a different type of antifreeze that contains propylene glycol, which is much less toxic than ethylene glycol."

Salt that is used to melt ice out on the driveway can also pose a problem. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even skin irritation if it gets on the paws. Certain kinds of salt can also penetrate into the brain leading to a buildup of fluid and potentially causing a variety of neurological problems including seizures and death.

Garages are also a common storage area for insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, all of which have different levels of toxicity. Fertilizers can cause severe vomiting and gastric irritation, and most current residential-use insecticides are fairly safe, but there are some fly baits and systemic insecticides such as the kind that are used around rose bushes which can be deadly. Herbicides can also cause vomiting and diarrhea, but are usually considered safe as long as they are used as directed and pets are kept off of the grass until the lawn is completely dry. It is a good idea to read the label carefully whenever buying any kind of lawn herbicide or insecticide because, although not very common, they sometimes contain arsenic, which is extremely toxic to all animals and should be avoided.

Stakes that are made to control ants sometimes contain arsenic as well. Dr. Volmer says, "Watch out for products that contain arsenic trioxide or sodium arsenate, and don't assume that just because it's manufactured for use in your yard that it is safe."

Snail and slug baits contain methaldehyde, which can cause seizures in dogs. Dogs are also notorious for consuming mouse and rat poisons, which can produce a variety of fatal effects ranging from uncontrolled hemorrhage to paralysis or renal failure. If inhaled, paint thinners can cause severe inflammation of the lungs, and chemicals used as deck washes are alkaline corrosives, which can cause chemical burns in the mouth or esophagus. Even something as seemingly innocuous as windshield wiper fluid could be toxic. Methanol is an alcohol that can cause vomiting, intoxication, and some even contain ethylene glycol which is the very toxic ingredient found in some antifreezes.

So, what can you do to keep your pet safe from all of these hazards found in the garage? The first step is to keep pets out of the garage if possible and make sure that all products are safely sealed and covered when not in use. Dr. Volmer says, "One of the most important things that you can do to keep your pet and your family safe is to read the label on everything that you buy and avoid products that are particularly toxic." With a little vigilance you can keep your pet from encountering any of these garage dangers.

If you have any questions or suspect that your pet may have been poisoned, please contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-4ANI-HELP.