How to Keep Your New Dog Safe

As we wrap up our week devoted to raising awareness about pet adoptionHeart of Chelsea Animal Hospital Veterinarian, Dr. Allan Nguyen (pronounced “when”) answers questions about precautions you can take to keep your new pet safe.

I have learned from experience that dogs swallow surprising things. Buddy, my smaller dog breed, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, scared the heck out of me twice doing just that. I knew something was wrong when he stopped eating for two days. When he stopped pooping, I vowed to call the vet in the morning. That night Buddy threw up brown liquid. Panicked, I rushed him to the emergency room. Fifteen hundred dollars later, he was fine. He’d swallowed a piece of his innocent-looking toy ostrich, it became lodged in his intestines and he needed surgery.

Then darn it if he didn’t do it again! This time, he scared his mama when he’d eaten a piece of wood. Oy! These “kids” can give us gray hair. Don’t let what happened to Buddy happen to your new pet. Now let’s consult an expert.

Dog SafetyWhat are precautions to take before bringing a pet home?

Dog and cat proof your home as best you can. Owner knowledge is the best tool for successful adoption. Do not leave your new pet unsupervised. If you’re going to be out for hours, crate training is the safest option. Animals like to explore their new environment and what they like, they lick, chew, and swallow. We had one client whose Labrador ingested tennis balls.


Yes, it happened three times. He swallowed them whole. They were too big to pass through his intestines so they lodged in his stomach. Each time we warned the owner not to give the dog tennis balls. They said, “But it’s his favorite toy.” Finally, after coming here three times they stopped giving the dog tennis balls.

Any other examples?

Yes, plenty! Just a few weeks ago a dog ate an entire German fruitcake. The owners had packed it in their luggage. When they weren’t looking, the dog ate the whole thing. We induced vomiting.

Chocolate can kill an animal, right? 

Yes, the main ingredient in chocolate is theobromine. It’s almost like eating straight caffeine. It increases heart rate and the animal can go into cardiac arrest. Recently a King Charles ate an eight-inch round cake. He ate the whole thing plus the wrapper. We induced vomiting and 90 percent came up. If pets vomit the chocolate up quickly then chances are they’ll be fine.

Buddy roots through my laundry bag and I now keep this out of his reach. Any other steps people can take?

Most pets will root through trash. Make sure you have a secure lid on the garbage or keep it in a sealed off area. Pets often swallow used condoms, used tampons, underwear—you name it. It’s crucial to keep medications in a secure place. Medication is something new and different that can taste like gourmet food. If a pet swallows medication rush him or her to the emergency room immediately.

Dogs even swallow knives. One had a knife stuck in his esophagus. We got it out carefully and without any lacerations. The esophagus is very stretchable and can accommodate the food size. Dogs can even get a hairball from licking hair off the floor.

What types of things do cats swallow?

A sewing needle with thread is very common. It gets lodged in their esophagus. This happened to one of my patients. The cat hadn’t been eating for a week and kept hiding. The owner noticed a big swollen lump on the neck and brought the cat in. Knowing what to look for, we first opened the mouth and saw the thread. Then we took x-rays and clearly saw the cause of the abscess, it was a long sewing needle. This is common with cats because they are attracted to the thread. They like licking it but then they swallow it along with the metal needle.

There is an adjustment period for an owner and their new pet. No one can watch dogs and cats every minute but anything that’s harmful if swallowed needs to be out of their reach and if an animal stops eating that is a serious warning sign you cannot ignore. Your new pet is your baby so baby-proof your home.