Pet Safety: 5 Environmental Risks That Can Make Your Pet Sick

Published May 25, 2018

Pet Safety: 5 Environmental Risks That Can Make Your Pet Sick

By Jennifer Coates, DVM


As the weather warms up, we often spend more time outdoors, take up new hobbies and do some spring cleaning. Unfortunately, some of these activities may pose pet safety issues. Let’s take a look at a few indoor and outdoor environmental risks that can make pets sick. 


Allergies in dogs and cats tend to be at their worst in the spring and summer, but they can become a year-round problem with time. The number one symptom of allergies in dogs and cats is itchiness. The scratching, chewing and rubbing may lead to hair loss, skin and ear infections, and a variety of lesions. Of course, other diseases can make pets itchy, so it’s best to see a veterinarian before starting treatment.


Once a pollen allergy has been diagnosed, keeping windows closed (if possible) and giving your pet regular baths can reduce their exposure to what makes them itchy. Medications and supplements that improve the natural skin barrier, dampen the pet’s immune response and reduce itching may also be necessary. Hyposensitization therapy with repeated injections or oral drops is also a good option.


Puddles act as a collection point for all sorts of pet safety dangers, including oil, gas, antifreeze, pesticides and herbicides. Puddles may also be a breeding ground for pathogens, like the bacteria that cause leptospirosis, which can lead to kidney and liver failure. Pets develop leptospirosis after drinking water containing the bacteria, or after it enters the body through breaks in the skin.


Prevent your pet from drinking water from puddles, and if you know that your pet has done so, watch for any signs of illness. A good bath is in order for pets who have waded through potentially contaminated puddles.


Foxtails (also called grass awns) are the bristly seeds on certain types of grasses. They can become stuck in a pet’s coat, eyes, ears or nose, and can even penetrate the skin and migrate throughout the body. Pets who spend a lot of time making their way through tall grass are at the highest risk for problems associated with foxtails.


Symptoms vary depending where the foxtail has become lodged, but common signs include excessive sneezing, red and runny eyes, and skin wounds that don’t heal as expected. A veterinarian will need to locate and remove the foxtail and deal with the tissue damage and infection that it caused.


Walk pets on a short leash to prevent exposure to foxtails. Vests and head coverings are also available for dogs who work in long grass. Check your pet’s coat, skin, paws, eyes and ears, and remove any foxtails you find before they can do damage.

Black Mold

The term “black mold” is often used to describe a group of molds that can have serious adverse health effects. Cladosporium, Penicillium, Fusarium, Aspergillus and Stachybotrys molds produce toxins that can make pets (and people) sneeze, cough and have other respiratory problems. Exposure may even lead to neurologic problems, and rarely, death.


Black mold likes to grow in places that are warm, dark and wet. If you see mold in or around your home, it needs to be removed. Small areas with mold can be removed with a dilute bleach solution and a scrub brush, but larger problems should be dealt with by a professional. Keep your pets away while those areas are being cleaned up. If your pet develops any signs of mold exposure, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Lead-Based Paint

Pets who live in homes built before 1978 are at greatest risk for being exposed to lead-based paint. Lead test kits are readily available and can be used to test walls, old furniture and even toys that may contain lead. Symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs and cats can vary from loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea to neurologic problems like seizures, tremors, blindness and abnormal behaviors.


If you suspect that your pets have been exposed to lead-based paint, remove them from the contaminated area and call your veterinarian. Treatment may involve removing paint particles from your pet’s coat and gastrointestinal tract, giving medications that bind to lead and remove it from the body, and giving medications to alleviate any symptoms that develop.