Garden Safety Tips for Dogs

If your free-ranging dog suddenly falls ill, the cause might be something growing in your garden.

Shady Paradise

Shady Paradise

Photo by: Image Courtesy of Northwest Botanicals, Seattle

Image Courtesy of Northwest Botanicals, Seattle

The temptation with owning a dog is to just open up the back door and let Fido run free. 

Not so fast. The garden is full of temptations and potential dangers if you aren’t careful. By meticulously planning your garden and in some cases, calling in a pro, you and your best friend can enjoy the pleasures of your garden with no worries. 

The best way to create a safe garden for your dog is to arm yourself with knowledge starting with your dog’s personality. Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping and an environmental horticulturist, always considers the habits and characteristics of each individual breed when creating an appropriate garden. “Organic materials [that are] dangerous or destroyed by one dog will be left alone by another,” says Aoyagi. “Knowing your pets' habits and discussing them with your landscape designer will help ensure you get a garden that works for your full family.” 

Some dogs will root and dig, lick every plant, eat grass while others do not. Planting things that a dog will not eat—like citrus, which dogs don't like—is one strategy. “We are not certain why they do it but one obvious possibility is that they taste good,” says Dr. Kerri Marshall, Chief Veterinary Officer for Trupanion. “Plant things that the dog can eat and enjoy. Things in the squash family are hearty, good for you puppy, and can be eaten without destroying the plant.” 

Many insecticides can also sicken a dog. Read labels carefully and when in doubt, don’t use it. “Fortunately most insecticides are fairly safe but should always be used with caution,” says Dr. Doris Cato of Royston Animal Hospital in Royston, Ga. “Snail and slug baits can be especially toxic to pets.” 

The second thing to know is your region. Landscapers use plants that do well in certain areas of the country without a thought to their toxicity to pets. For example, azaleas, holly, and English Ivy are commonly seen in Southern gardens, and all are highly toxic to dogs. The beautiful sago palm used throughout the Southwest is also deadly. Yew and tulips found in gardens throughout the United States can both be a killer if ingested. “Plants and flowers bring nature and beauty into our homes but they can also be a source of mess, danger, and even death for our pets,” says Dr. Marshall. “Use the ASPCA’s list of toxic plants to keep your pet safe.” 

Dr. Kathryn Primm of Ooltewah, Tennessee recalls having to create a journal of toxic plants while studying to be a veterinarian. There were many plants that she’d never even considered like lilies and the castor bean, which produces ricin. She worked closely with a landscape designer making sure that he omitted questionable plants from his choices. “My best advice besides omitting questionable plants is to make sure that your pets are never bored and unattended in your garden,” says Dr. Primm. 

Some bored and unattended dogs will dig. Usually this depends on their breed; it’s in their DNA. Digging can injure a dog’s paw pads or, in some cases, dredge up something highly dangerous in the dirt. “The parasite toxoplasmosis may be in soil,” cautions Dr. Jeffrey Levy, a house-call veterinarian in New York. “There's also a possibility for giardia for your dog in muddier conditions. Again avoid the garden during these times if possible, and clean the feet and body of your pet if he or she is soiled.” This is why poop-scooping is of the utmost importance. Cats are mostly responsible for transmitting toxoplasmosis; so if your dog shares a home with a cat or is fond of “kitty bon bons,” they are at risk. It can also be transmitted by uncooked meat. Clean the litter box and turn the soil in your dog’s run often. 

“Specifically in the South we have to worry about blastomycosis, a potentially deadly fungal infection that pets can pick up outside (on the street) and in the garden,” said Dr. Eva Evans. Dr. Evans grew up in Nashville and is well aware of the dangers that the humidity of the South can cause a pet. Blastomycosis is a fungus that grows in damp soil usually in piles of leaves. Keeping your yard neat and your grass trimmed can go a long way. Fleas and ticks thrive in overgrown areas.

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