Garden Dangers for Your Pet
Maintain a safe, pet-friendly yard this season.
Spring is probably the busiest season for homeowners to work in their yards. Many of these chores -- such as cleaning up from winter; preparing soil for planting, buying flowers, plants and trees; safeguarding property from insects; dealing with mulching; securing yard fencing; preparing the pool and caring for gardening and other tools -- can be dangerous for your pet.
Prior to your visiting your local nursery, hardware store or home center, research and store products appropriately so you can provide a safer environment for your dog, cat or other visiting animals that may wander into your yard.
Fertilizer and pesticides can be hazardous to pet health.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have connected chemical lawn treatments to a rise in deadly cancer among household pets. Specifically, in a 1991 study, researchers reported that dogs were two times more likely to develop lymphoma if their owners sprayed or sprinkled the 2,4-D herbicide (weed killer) on the lawn four or more times a year.
Moreover, serious problems can occur as a result of pets ingesting grass that has been treated with fertilizers or pesticides. While fertilizers may contain heavy metals such as iron, the most dangerous forms of pesticides are fly bait with methomyl, snail bait with metaldehyde and gopher bait with zinc phosphide. These and other chemicals are particularly dangerous because they are absorbed by the grass stalks of your lawn which, in turn, can be eaten by pets.
Pet owners should train their animals not to chew outdoor grass or provide them with an indoor, organic garden to chomp on. Pet-friendly grass choices can be purchased from health food and pet stores as well as online.
Also, look for fertilizers that are labeled pet-friendly and follow instructions listed on the products. Experts recommend that after pet owners apply fertilizer, they water their lawns thoroughly to dilute the solution and wait at least two days before they let their dogs or cats out on the grass.
If a homeowner is treating an area in front of the house or an area in which other pets have access, alert pet owners with a warning sign purchased at home centers or hardware stores that the designated area has been treated with chemicals.
And lastly, store all fertilizers and pesticides out of the reach of pets and kids.
Create a safe garden.
A pet-friendly garden is one that caters to your dog or cat's personality and physical needs, and is decorated with non-toxic greenery.
Many popular plants (aloe and ivy), trees (umbrella and apple), and flowers (azalea/rhododendron, begonia, daffodil and gladiola) can be harmful or even deadly for your animals. The ASPCA suggests that you do your research by visiting their website to determine if a plant, tree or flower is dangerous for your four-legged friends.
According to Cheryl Smith, dog trainer and author of Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs (DogWise, 2004), other than selecting benign plants, trees and flowers, pet owners should utilize garden accessories and enhancements that will not present a problem for their animals.
"For example, a puppy can eat more than plants, including gravel," says Smith.
According to Animal Medical Center Staff Oncologist Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, ACVIM , if a dog eats gravel or rocks, the rock may become lodged in his insides and cause an obstruction. Dogs with foreign objects lodged inside their intestines may vomit, stop eating, become lethargic, or have tender abdomens.
Hohenhaus recommends that you have an extensive discussion with your veterinarian to determine the best medical procedure to remove the foreign object from the intestinal tract.
"Surgery is not always the necessary option. There are other alternatives," advises the doctor.
Moreover, she reminds us that surgery may not necessarily be successful if the foreign object has been stuck inside the pet for a few days. Furthermore, surgery and post-operative care can be expensive.
"Other garden dangers can result from where you live," says author Smith. She explains that "visiting coyotes and hawks can carry away smaller dogs and cats."
In order to protect your smaller animals from dangerous visitors, wildlife experts recommend purchasing appropriate fencing that may also be uncomfortable for birds of prey to perch on. They also concur that it is best to remove dead branches to prevent predators from settling high above your yard.
"Ultimately, it is always best to supervise your pet while he or she is out in the yard. Moreover, the best and safest pet-friendly garden is one that you can enjoy together," says Smith.
Compost can carry poisoning risks to pets.
While composting is an environmentally friendly activity that can add nutrients to the soil, it can seriously harm or kill pets.
If you have pets, take care with compost piles or bins that contain any dairy products, grains, nuts, and legumes, because they can become moldy. Moldy foods potentially contain tremorgenic mycotoxins -- poisons from molds that can cause neurological symptoms such as tremors and seizure that can last hours or days if not treated rapidly. Other symptoms include vomiting, hyperactivity, depression, coma, behavior alterations, increase in heart rate, and buildup of fluid in the lungs.
Due to their curious nature and relatively indiscriminate eating habits, dogs tend to be most commonly exposed to tremorgenic mycotoxins, because cats have a tendency to be a bit more discriminating about what they eat, explains New York's Animal Medical Center Chief of Medicine, Richard E. Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA.
"If you believe that your dog has scavenged from the compost, call your veterinarian and be prepared to rush him to the animal hospital immediately," says Goldstein.
Dr. Goldstein doesn't recommend that you try to induce vomiting at home, because the tremors and loss of muscle control could cause the dog to aspirate.
Besides avoiding composting certain foods, Goldstein recommends pet owners use tightly sealed containers for composting and collecting garbage as a preventive measure to safeguard pets.
Protect your pet from fleas and ticks.
Due to the mild 2011-2012 winter temperatures across much of the United States, flea and tick populations are expected to reach extremely high levels. As a result, pet parents will have to be particularly observant when it comes to protecting their pets and homes from pesky insects.
Other than providing flea and tick protection (spot-on treatments, shampoos, collars, and even insect-repellant clothing), pet owners will need to make it a priority to check their pets when they come inside the house or even the car. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that homeowners modify their landscapes to try to create a parasite-free yard.
To do this, regularly mow lawns, remove leaf litter, and clear brush around homes. Keep play areas, canine quarters and agility equipment away from yard edges, shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation. Discourage deer by removing plants that attract deer and by constructing physical barriers that may deter deer from entering your yard and bringing ticks with them. Also, place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas, and around patios and play equipment. Additionally, use parasite control chemicals which can be purchased by homeowners, or can be applied by a professional pest control experts. A one-time, springtime application of acaricide can reduce the population of ticks that cause Lyme disease by 68-100%.
Eliminate risk by choosing mulch wisely.
Many gardeners prefer to use cocoa bean shells, a by-product of chocolate production, as mulch in their landscaping. While cocoa mulch is desirable to homeowners because it decomposes into an organic fertilizer and provides an attractive color and odor, it can be harmful to animals.
In particular, dogs find cocoa mulch palatable and can ingest varying amounts. As a result of increasing reports of dogs eating cocoa bean mulch, a retrospective case study was conducted by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
The study revealed that dogs consuming cocoa bean mulch may develop methylxanthine toxicosis -- a condition that can result in symptoms similar to canine chocolate poisoning. Specifically, the toxic culprit is theobromine, a caffeine-like chemical which acts as a mild diuretic and stimulant in human beings but is poisonous to animals because they are not equipped to metabolize it. Although early published reports noted that processed cocoa bean shell mulch contains approximately 0.19 percent to 2.98 percent of theobromine, manufacturers now assert that current technological processing results in lower chemical residues. Even so, low doses can be harmful.
Ingestion of cocoa mulch can cause vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, elevated heart rate, hyperactivity and seizures. Since the amount of ingestion can be difficult to determine, treatment is directed at clinical signs.
Additionally, pet owners should avoid use of cocoa bean mulch in landscaping around dogs with indiscriminate eating habits, and consider less toxic alternatives such as pine and cedar mulch.
Maintain fencing to keep your pet at home and intruders out.
While a fence can serve as a privacy barrier, it can also secure pets in a yard. After the spring rains, go over all fencing to make sure that it is in good shape and that your dog can't escape between, under or over fencing slats. Also, make sure that locks are in good working order.
If you do have a traditional form of fencing and your dog is actively involved in climbing or looking over the fence, have your dog wear a breakaway collar. Each year, thousands of dogs lose their lives from dog collars that can easily get entangled on fencing.
If you don't have traditional fencing, many pet owners think of the electric fence as an alternative. But remember, while this alternative may prevent your dog from leaving your property when he is wearing a transmitter, it does not keep persons or other pets from entering your yard.
Even if you maintain your fencing, there are additional considerations when pets are left alone in the yard. Pets who are not spayed or neutered will try to escape to mate or perhaps will receive company without your knowledge, leading to unwanted pregnancy. Pets who are also bored may try to flee to find something better or more exciting to do.
Additionally, pets can be stolen from your yard. So make sure your dogs have identification including a microchip with updated information and tags with your current address and cell phone number.
Pool safety plans involve pets, too.
According to estimates by the National Spa and Pool Institute (NSPI), there are about 7 million residential pools in the continental United States. Every year thousands of dogs drown in swimming pools. Although many dogs can swim, not all dogs are natural swimmers. Moreover, many dogs drown in their owners' or neighbors' swimming pools because they can't get out of the pool. As a result, exhaustion is the cause of their death.
It is also important to note that certain groups of dogs are classified as high risk for drowning. Specifically, puppies, old, overweight or brachycephalic dogs are commonly put into this category. Puppies eagerly follow children and adults directly into the pool. As a result of suffering from vision problems, older dogs, unaware of the pool's boundaries, may accidentally fall in. Likewise, handicapped and arthritic animals may not have the balance required to maintain a safe distance from the pool. Overweight dogs can tire easily and drown quickly. And dogs with flat noses likes English Toy Spaniels and Shih Tzus have a harder time breathing when in the water.
To prevent dogs from drowning, install and maintain protective fencing around your pool. This will make it less likely that your dog or any other will fall in or have access the pool when no one is around. Additionally, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute recommends using multiple alarms: one for the pool (to tell you when the water is disturbed) and another for the fence (to tell you when the gate is opened). Besides pool and gate alarms, immersion detectors add a layer of protection.
According to Joanna Sasso of Syosset, New York, it is also important to make sure your pet can swim and that you familiarize your pet with the pool.
"Make sure your dog can swim because not all dogs can swim; my American Eskimo couldn't. Although it's a great idea to install a pet ramp, it is just as important to teach your dog to climb on the ramp as well as teach your pet where to get in and out of the pool. This ultimately could save his life," she says.
Keep tools and other items out of pet's reach.
To protect your pet from garden dangers, simply use common sense and take the same precautions you would with a child. Owners should not use garden tools in the vicinity of pets. Moreover, consider installing child-proof safety locks to attach to cupboards and storage cabinets; safeguarding garbage cans and compost bins; and talking directly to garden, landscaping and safety experts about protecting your four-legged family members while at home in the yard.
Lastly, pet owners should keep first aid kits handy and learn how to use them effectively. Make sure to include your veterinarian's contact information and the ASPCA Poison Control Center hotline number: 888-426-4435. The ASPCA operates this hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a fee of $65 per case. If you call the hotline, be prepared to provide the name of what poison or product your animal was exposed to, the amount and how long ago; the species, breed, age, sex, and weight of your pet; and the symptoms the animal is displaying. Also, you need to provide your name, address, phone number, and credit card information.
By being aware of garden dangers, pet owners will have an easier time of protecting their pets while they are outside in the yard.
How do you keep your yard safe for your pets? Tell us below!
11 months ago
Some people use Epsom Salt on their plants. Epsom Salt is just as toxic to animals as anti freeze. There is no warning on the package as being harmful to animals. Myself & my brother had to lose our dogs to learn this valuable lesson. After the vet told us there was nothing else he could do, we had to put my chihuahua and my brother's larger mixed breed to sleep due to kidney failure. My husband put ES on our plants & the dogs walking through the yard then licked their paws is how they ingested it. Breaks my heart to know we were the cause. Please spread this message.
11 months ago
Well we just let nature take it's course with our plants and trees even our fruit and veggies and that seems to work to just plant them and leave them alone unless they need water the tomatoes, raspberries and pears always turn out great. The one thing we have problems with are black berries which are illegal to have within city limits and they are wild but in our yard they grow cause they are wild and they pop up everywhere and are very hard to get rid of if we could have them then I would not mind them growing in the yard.
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