Keep Backpacks and School Supplies Out of Reach

“On my back I carry all my treasures…..crayons, ruler, scissors too. And yes, a little Elmer’s glue…pencils, paper, and sometimes Mom adds a note and a chocolate bar…. Yup, on my back a pack.., I carry in it, all my treasures.” The “back to school” season presents specific risks for pets, so it is important to keep back packs and school supplies out of reach of our curious four-footed friends. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, many of common school supplies have the potential for GI upset or even a blockage.

PetMD compiled a list of the l0 most commonly used school supplies that present a potential choking hazard to pets:

  • Erasers
  • Glue sticks/bottled glue
  • Coins
  • Action figures/small toys, especially those with batteries
  • Small bouncy balls
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Pencils (even small splinters can get lodged in the mouth and esophagus)
  • Pens and especially pen caps
  • Paper clips

The biggest danger if your pet eats a school supply item is the possibility of an intestinal blockage that can prevent your dog from digesting his food. If it’s large enough, it can actually cause the intestine to burst, resulting in a serious bacterial infection known as sepsis. If you know or suspect he has ingested a foreign object, it’s important to see your veterinarian or emergency animal center.

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) reported just this year that there are still school supplies on store shelves containing dangerous chemicals. Phthalates were banned in toys in the United States in 2008, but remain in some other items that fill children’s everyday lives, posing a threat not only to our dogs, but to our children. CHEJ sampled products including backpacks, binders, raincoats, and rain boots and found that many of them contained phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to birth defects, ADHD, asthma and other chronic health problems in children, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that there are effects of phthalates, which are used to soften vinyl plastics, but the health effects of phthalate exposure are far from proven. Phthalates were banned from children’s toys and teething rings in 2009 because of their potential to leach out from plastic that’s chewed or sucked., but some experts say that theories about phthalate exposure from school supplies and rain gear don’t hold water.

Dr. Marcel Casavant, chief of pharmacology and toxicology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio asserts that “Presuming kids are not eating, sucking, licking or chewing on these products, I imagine the risk is pretty small.” However, dogs do eat, suck, lick and chew on just about anything, so keep the vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks and other supplies out of reach of curious pets.

A few general recommendations for safe school supplies….safe for both the two-legs and four-legs … offered by include:

  • Avoid PVC, phthalates, and vinyl school supplies. Avoid backpacks with the word PVC or “vinyl” on the label. Choose natural fiber or synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester.
  • Avoid solvent based, alcohol based and fragranced markers, as dogs seem to be attracted to them. Choose water based, unscented markers with an “AP” label.
  • Avoid plastic lunch boxes and water bottles which may contain the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA. Dogs love to chew on plastic boxes and water bottles!
  • Avoid colored paper clips –they are coated with PVC plastic, and keep ALL paper clips out of paws’ reach.

We have resources today that allow us to make informed choices for our children and our pets. Consumer awareness may result in some minor changes in your buying habits, but it is worth it for the welfare of your family.


Help Your Dog Avoid the Back to School Blues

When summer is over and it’s time to go back to school, the kids often suffer from a bout of “back to school blues” as they adjust to classroom regimentation, but the effect isn’t limited to the two legs. All summer long, there was probably someone home with the dog, and now that everyone is back to fall schedules, dogs may feel neglected, or even experience anxiety or depression, and look for inappropriate ways to cope. According to veterinarian Nick Dodman, nearly 20 percent of our nation’s 80 million dogs have some degree of separation issues, and more than half of dogs with separation anxiety will bark, howl or whine, and some will destroy something, leaving behind scratched doors, damaged blinds or torn curtains. Dodman emphasizes that dogs like structure and when that structure is disrupted, it is sometimes difficult for dogs to adjust to changes, such as to long stretches of being home alone.

Even if your dog does not exhibit signs of separation anxiety, she will appreciate a routine that ensures she gets enough attention and exercise. Here are a few strategies that will make the home-alone transition less traumatic:

  • Be consistent. Keep as close to the same schedule as he is used to for feeding, playtime, and exercise, but if necessary, get up early to take the dog for a walk or have some playtime before everyone leaves for the day. This will help your dog feel less ignored in the hustle and bustle of the morning, and burn off excess energy before you leave. A good walk will help start the day off right, setting the stage for good behavior all day. If you can’t walk outside, a tread mill is a life saver. Most dogs can be taught to enjoy treadmilling with a minimum of training.
  • Keep departures and arrivals low key. Car keys, lunch boxes, and back packs clinking and clanging will have your dog waiting at the door expecting to be included in any anticipated activity. No “huggy-kissy, I’ll miss you” scenes which will unintentionally create anxiety in him. Act calm, quiet and casual…if you act like it’s no big deal, then it won’t be a big deal.
  • Make your dog’s home-alone time a source of pleasure and discovery by leaving a few safe toys around the house, being sure to hide them in areas where the dog is allowed, and consider leaving food-dispensing games. A few well stuffed Kongs will provide hours of diversion for her. (Be sure to choose the best sized kongs…large enough that she couldn’t possibly swallow them, but not so big that she can’t get her jaws around it) If you stuff Kongs in the evening and freeze them, you can just grab several from the freezer in the morning.. When filling a Kong, be sure that the dessert, the last thing your dog will be able to extract from the toy, is packed in first. Make this layer irresistible, to keep the dog motivated all the way to the end of the Kong. Fill the first third of the cavity with tasty bits of cheese, bits of bacon, or whatever special goodies suits your dog’s fancy. Then fill the next two-thirds with your dog’s regular food, mixed with something sticky and tasty like cream cheese, low fat yogurt, or peanut butter. Top the Kong off with a particularly tasty morsel sticking out of the opening to give your dog an immediate reward. Some trainers advocate feeding the dog’s entire morning’s kibble in Kongs. (Remember to wash the Kongs regularly…they can be placed on the top rack of the dishwasher or scrubbed by hand.)
  • If possible take a lunch break…..if someone in your house can go home during lunch to let the dog out for a quick walk. It will really help relieve the stress of being alone for 8 hours. If that’s not an option, consider having a friend stop by or paying a dog walker, or a doggie day care a few days a week.
  • At the end of a day alone, remember that your dog needs to be played with. Another walk, or playtime in the yard gets out all that pent up energy and lets her know you still love her even if you have to be gone.

Help your dog beat the back to school blues, and if problems arise, remember punishment for anxiety or inappropriate behavior is NEVER productive. The dog is misbehaving because he is upset or traumatized, not out of spite. Patience, persistence, and positive reinforcement will usually correct any minor difficulties.