Do you know where doggy dangers lurk in your garden or what bad plants kitty might nibble on? If you don’t know whether your pesticides or petunias pose a greater risk, you’re not alone, says Darcy Matheson, author of the forthcoming book Greening Your Pet Care.
“While most pet owners are concerned about the dangers of fertilizers and herbicides sprayed onto lawns, for the most part, these only cause mild upset stomach and only happen if the animal walks through the wet product,” she insists. “The bigger concerns for toxic and harmful lawn and garden products fall under a few categories.”
What categories, you ask? I’ve got you covered. Matheson and gardening expert Tony Smith, President of Nursery Enterprises, break down everything you should know about pet-proofing your lawn and garden care this spring.
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Tip #1: Keep dogs & cats from snail & slug killers
Snail and slug killers are pretty common in the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the United States, where snails and slugs abound — but these grub and snail killers contain dangerous ingredients like metaldehyde. If dogs nosh on the granules, they can develop tremors and seizures.
“The poisoning is commonly termed ‘shake and bake’ because it causes the animal’s temperatures to shoot up rapidly,” says Matheson. “These baits are irresistible to dogs, because they taste good to them. Sometimes a larger dog will gobble up a whole box.” Use a non-toxic alternative to metaldehyde-based snail poisons instead (Smith says there are lots!).
Tip #2: Put away gopher & mole bait
Although this “bait” might keep moles from eating your garden vegetables, it also likely contains phosphides that are harmful to your pets when ingested. Matheson says that toxic phosphine gas can wind up in the stomachs of dogs and cats, causing painful bloating and vomiting, and potentially seizures.
“If you suspect your pet has accidentally ingested this toxic bait, keep them in a well-ventilated area,” she suggests. Keep the bait tightly secured on an upper shelf while storing, and fence off garden areas whenever possible.
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Tip #3: Keep pets from insecticides
Many people mistakenly think insecticides are similar to herbicides and fertilizers used by gardeners, but Matheson says that insecticides can contain organophosphates (OP) and carbamates that “are toxic to pets and can cause symptoms ranging from upset stomach to bloody vomit, pancreatitis, and comas.”
Try safe, organic alternatives that aren’t harmful, like those containing Bacillus thuringiensis (“Bt”), and make sure to store all toxic pesticides far from a pet’s reach.
Tip #4: Blood & bone meals
According to Matheson, going organic doesn’t always mean your garden is a pet-safe zone. Bone, blood, and fish meals, “commonly used as an organic fertilizer to boost the nitrogen content in garden soils,” often taste good to pets because they’re made of flash-frozen animal bones.
“A bigger issue is when these meals are mixed with insecticides that can lead to toxic poisonings in cats and dogs alike,” Matheson says. “It’s so appetizing that hungry dogs will gobble up several pounds of it, leading to a ‘cement-like’ blockage in their GI tract that may have to be surgically extracted.” Keep pets from these bone meals, or skip altogether.
Tip #5: Watch your weeds
According to Smith, foxtail weeds can get into your pet’s eyes and ears, or even get stuck in their hide. “Keep weeds mowed or eradicated,” he says. “Be extra observant of your pet’s eyes and ears. We have had to take our cats to the vet a couple of times to have foxtails removed from their eyes.”
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Tip #6: Compost piles
Beware your compost pile of “organic materials,” which can actually create hazardous mycotoxins if food or plant spurs mold growth, according to Matheson. “A steaming garden compost heap can resemble an all-you-can-eat buffet for your pet,” she says, “but eating those moldy items can cause vomiting, tremors and seizures in pets.”
Make sure any compost pile is completely inaccessible to all four-legged friends by using a tightly-secured lid.
Tip #7: Control pet urine
Matheson says that, more than bugs or weeds, having a pup pee on your garden is the fastest way to kill plants and grass. “Urine has a high nitrogen content, so it causes burns, dead spots, and yellow patches when it comes into contact with the grass,” she says.
You can water the spot immediately to dilute the nitrogen, or try “natural, eco-friendly Dog Rocks for your pet’s water dish. “This is a natural rock, mined from an Australian quarry, that drops the nitrogen level in water, so it won’t be ingested when your dog drinks up,” she explains. It won’t help the old brown spots left on grass, but should help new spots from forming.
Tip #8: Beware certain flowers & fleas
Smith says that oleanders and morning glory flowers “can be toxic if ingested” by your pets, so you’re better off leaving those out of your garden.
“Always be on the lookout for ticks and fleas, as well,” says Smith. “Keep up with the tick and flea applications for your pets, and keep grasses mowed” to reduce the risk of pets picking up these tiny creatures.
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Tip #9: Sprinkle nematodes near your soil
If your pets spend lots of time near soil — perhaps your pup sits in the shade near your garden, or the dog house is near soil — then Smith suggests sprinkling nematodes that prey on fleas and ticks near the soil.
“You can find nematode applications in garden centers or on the web,” he says. “The nematodes are tiny worm-like bugs, and some specific nematodes can kill much, if not all, of the fleas and ticks which come into contact with the soil.” Best yet? The nematodes are harmless to pets.