It’s a Pet’s Life

Editorial StaffMarch 1, 2023
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From travel tips to a pet photo contest, Arizona Humane Society offers animal connections.

Plant This, Not That: Keeping Pets Safe While Maintaining a Green Thumb 

In honor of March’s National Pet Poison Prevention Month, the Arizona Humane Society’s president and CEO, Dr. Steven Hansen, offers expert advice on indoor and outdoor plants that are both aesthetically pleasing and pet-friendly.

Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society

Having dedicated my life to veterinary and shelter medicine, I am extremely passionate about raising awareness toward pet safety. We often discuss common household toxins in the form of foods, medications and chemicals, but our plant life and desert landscape can also pose dangers to our pets; therefore, be sure to PLANT THIS, NOT THAT!

Outdoor Desert Plants

Plant This:
Boston Fern – Not only are Boston ferns safe for pets, but they are typically hanging plants and easy to keep out of a pet’s reach.

Hibiscus – These beautiful and hardy plants are considered safe. As with many plants, though, if enough is consumed, an upset stomach is likely. 

Bougainvillea – The Valley of the Sun is bursting with this gorgeous plant, and for good reason – not only is it safe for our pets, but hummingbirds and butterflies also love them.

Not That:
Sago Palm Tree – All parts of this popular desert plant, especially the seed pod, are highly toxic and even deadly to pets. 

Castor Bean – Ricin is found in the seeds of castor bean plants, and is very toxic to dogs, cats and horses. Even small amounts are deadly. 

Mountain Laurel – While these shrubs turn into beautiful flowering plants, consumption by a horse leads to toxicity. If consumed by a dog, it could also be problematic.

House Plants

It is important to note that, by nature, our feline friends are generally very curious, and any plants that catch their attention could become a toy. Always keep your eyes on your cats in particular. 

Plant This:
Hens and Chicks – These succulents are easy to grow and tolerate sun and shade, making them great for both beginner gardeners and pets.

Spider Plant – These are some of the easiest, most adaptable house plants. They also help to clean the air.

Ponytail Palm – They make fantastic indoor décor as they’re slow-growers, low-maintenance and can live for decades.

Not That:
Tiger Lilies & Easter Lilies – While lilies are toxic to dogs and cats, effects in cats are much more severe, resulting in kidney failure and death even after consumption of very small amounts. 

Dieffenbachia – Don’t be fooled by its aliases – dumb cane, exotica, or tropical snow. This extremely common household plant can cause burning/swelling of the mouth, difficulty swallowing and vomiting in cats and dogs.

Although symptoms of poisoning can vary, they often include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, staggering, trembling or trouble breathing and even death. If your pet exhibits these signs, call your veterinarian immediately or visit the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital.

Did You Know?
Prior to joining AHS, Dr. Steven Hansen spent 16 years with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and is one of a handful of veterinarians board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology.

Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photo courtesy Arizona Humane Society

Dog (& Cat) Days of Summer (Travel)

Summer travel is just around the corner, and it is only made better with our four-legged companions by our side. Whether you’re setting out on a cross-country road trip or taking in some of Arizona’s most scenic landscapes, be sure to prepare and pack for your pet just as you would yourself.

• Plan for plenty of potty breaks.
• Pack a ton of fresh drinking water.
• NEVER leave your pets unattended in a parked vehicle.
• Make sure ID tags and microchips are up-to-date with the proper contact information.
• Bring proof of vaccinations and medical records, especially when traveling across state lines.
• Plan for, and get your pet accustomed to, the proper kennel or carrier. Pets should be able to stand, lay down and turn around. Be sure to secure it so it does not slide, shift or tip over. For larger dogs, consider a harness that connects to the seat belt.
• Prepare a pet-friendly travel kit complete with food, treats, bowls, leash, toys, vet records and medications.
• Give yourself plenty of time prior to your trip to contact your veterinarian and refill prescriptions or special diet food for the amount of time you will be away.

Is Your Pet a Homebody?

As much as we would love to be with our pets 24/7, some pets prefer to hang at home. Leaving pets behind for a weekend getaway or an extended vacation can make any pet parent feel guilty. However, picking the right pet sitter can help ensure a worry-free vacation.

• Check online reviews.
• Utilize firsthand recommendations.
• Conduct a meet-and-greet.
• Ensure they will send you updates/photos.
• Discuss expectations (drop-ins versus overnight, etc.).
• Ask your pet sitter the following:
• Are they insured?
• Do they have references?
• What types of trainings have they had (Pet CPR,  etc.)?
• What steps will they take in case of an emergency?

Also be sure to leave them information for an in-town emergency contact person, their regular veterinarian and the closest emergency animal clinic.

Quiz: What’s your pet’s love language?

By Jenny Dagnino, Arizona Humane Society Behavior & Pet Training Manager
There is nothing quite like the feeling of your pet asking for your affection. Even at times when you may be distracted, it feels good to give into spontaneity and just reach down and give them a pat or two. Not only can our touch be reassuring or relaxing to them, but their touch certainly calms us, and spending quality time with our pets is one of life’s best ways to de-stress. Our pets are around whenever we need them, make us laugh, cheer us up and help us stick to our routines.

Observing and taking note of the games your pet likes to play, things they like to chew, and favorite napping spot are just some of the ways we can lean into our pet’s love language and pay them back for all they provide us. And every once in a while, be sure to switch things up a bit or add an extra surprise for even more joyful encounters with your pet!

Photos courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photos courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Physical touch

• Brushing
• Belly rubs
• Cheek & ear scratches
• Hanging out on your lap

Acts of service 

• Cleaning the litterbox
• Scheduling a spa day
• Moving the couch (over and over again!) to find a lost toy
• Forsaking your sleep position – even if your arm or leg is falling asleep
Quality time

• Taking naps together
• Hiking, playing & car rides
• Pillow forts (fun for kids & pets!)
• Teaching your pet to “boop” or nose target


• Toys & treats to chew on
• Comfy walking gear/harnesses
• Online shopping or shoe boxes to hide in
• Leaving hidden treats around the room

Did You Know?
The Arizona Humane Society not only has canine behavior specialists and a feline welfare specialist, but also has certified pet trainers! Visit to learn more.

Photos courtesy Arizona Humane Society
Photos courtesy Arizona Humane Society

Say Cheese!

By Dr. Mindy Bemmerl, Arizona Humane Society Director of Veterinary Medicine

Dental health is a critical component of our pet’s overall health, as dental disease not only contributes to other issues, such as heart disease and kidney disease, but it can also lead to behavioral concerns. Pets suffering from painful mouths can become withdrawn – or, in some cases, aggressive – due to the pain or discomfort that they are feeling, which can interfere with your relationship with your pet.

However, if you are diligent in getting your pet’s teeth and gums checked at least once a year by a veterinarian and also commit to brushing their teeth at least two to three times per week (start when they’re puppies, although even an old dog can learn new tricks!), you will be well on your way to a happy, healthy pet.

Other useful reminders:
• Adult cats and dogs may need dental cleanings once a year, however, some smaller breeds could benefit from cleanings every six months.

• Smaller dogs like toy poodles, Yorkies and dachshunds are more prone to dental disease than their larger cousins and often require numerous tooth extractions as they get older.

• Pets can still eat after having multiple teeth removed. In fact, they may even eat better once the damaged teeth are removed and the extraction site is healed, as they are no longer in pain.

• Good dental care requires anesthetic! Because the tooth extends up under the gum line, cleanings can cause discomfort for our pets, if not done properly.

• Dental X-rays are an important tool in providing good dental care, as only part of the tooth is visible to the naked eye. X-rays allow veterinarians to look for abscesses, underlying disease or damage to the tooth or jawbone, like fractures or other painful conditions.

• Certain chews and pet foods are helpful in maintaining good oral health in dogs and cats. Look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Counsel (VOHC).

2023 Pet photo contest winners:
Dog Category

Sweet and friendly, Lacey loves everyone, big and small, young and old. She is a therapy dog with Gabriel’s Angels in the Phoenix area and adores the kids she visits.
Cat Category

Her antics are endless! She is ready to play at any hour of the day. Her friskiness shines right though those liquid eyes.
Other category

Boudicca (Baby Bo)
Bo is my best model and, truly, the best pet I’ve ever met. She’s funny and mischievous, and knows many tricks and poses like a pro.

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