10 Hidden Pet Dangers in Your Yard and Garden

Gardens are more fun when you share them with furry friends. Just make sure your dog or cat stays safe.
Puppy with ball

Puppy with Ball

Organic products are becoming more and more popular with gardeners who want to keep their pets safe and healthy.

Photo by: Courtesy of The Espoma Company

Courtesy of The Espoma Company

Organic products are becoming more and more popular with gardeners who want to keep their pets safe and healthy.

As gardeners, we’re careful when small children are around. We know they love to explore, so we put away our chemicals and fertilizers, and we avoid growing potentially harmful plants. Pets are curious, too, so it’s important to keep our yards and gardens safe for them. 

Landscape designers often hear from clients with puppies, says John Kane, president of Kane Landscapes, a design company based in the Washington, D.C. area. “Young or small dogs tend to eat everything they see,” Kane says. “Their appetites go crazy as they’re growing.” If you have a pup, he recommends that you avoid growing grapes, either as ornamentals or edibles, since even small amounts of grapes (and raisins) can be fatally toxic. 

Cat in Garden

Cat in Garden

Cats love gardens, but they can accidentally ingest harmful substances when they walk over plants or grass and later lick their paws to clean them. Be sure the products you use are labeled safe for pets.

Photo by: Courtesy The Espoma Company

Courtesy The Espoma Company

Cats love gardens, but they can accidentally ingest harmful substances when they walk over plants or grass and later lick their paws to clean them. Be sure the products you use are labeled safe for pets.

Pet owners may want to replace or remove other potentially harmful plants, including azaleas, rhododendrons, black walnut trees and chrysanthemums. Use our questionnaire, below, to check for more hidden dangers in your garden and yard. 

  1. If your pet fell into your pond or pool, could it escape? Kane, a member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, says today’s pre-made ponds are usually designed with inner shelves, so animals and people can walk out. “If the center (of the water feature) is three feet deep,” he says, “the shelf might only be a foot or two deep.” But even that could be too much for little animals. If you just want the sound of moving water, Kane suggests installing a fountain instead.
  2. Is the water in your garden safe to drink? Kane recommends against using chlorine tablets in small water features, which can make the chlorine content too high. “If possible, use natural products to kill algae. Some gardeners install UV lights that kill algae spores, but don’t affect the water, so pets won’t be hurt if they drink it.”
  3. Is there shade in your yard? Dogs and cats can get heatstroke, become sunburned or get dehydrated. Protect them by offering some shade, and provide lots of fresh, clean drinking water. Watch older pets, or those with health problems, and bring them into the air conditioning if you see heavy panting, drooling or other signs of distress.
  4. Are your garden tools put away? Dropped rakes, garden forks and other tools can cut little paws if the tines are facing up. Prevent trips to the pet E.R. by storing these items when you’re finished with them.
  5. Are all your plants pet-safe? Some plants cause digestive upsets for cats and dogs, while others can be lethal. Kane says that most bulbs, including common daffodils, contain alkaloids that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and death. “Amaryllis are very toxic.” Visit the ASPCA site for a list of plants that may poison pets.
  6. Are you using chemicals and/or pesticides on your lawn? There’s a reason for those signs warning people and pets to stay off grass that’s just been treated. The National Canine Cancer Foundation says that one of every three dogs is affected by cancer, so why risk exposing your four-legged friends? Espoma makes a line of natural, organic lawn foods the company says are safe for pets, kids and the environment. Learn more about Espoma’s Safe Paws program for lawns and gardens.
  7. Are you using cocoa mulch? Cocoa bean shells contain a potentially lethal ingredient, theobromine. It has a chocolaty-smell that many pets like, tempting them to eat it. The ASPCA recommends that you substitute a less toxic mulch, like shredded pine bark, and keep an eye on your animals if they're around mulched plants or garden beds.
  8. Are your plants or trees dropping fruit stones, seeds or berries? Some animals will eat fallen fruit pits or other plant parts that can cause intestinal blockages, choking or poisoning. Rake or pick fallen materials, so your pets don’t find them.
  9. Are you using snail or slug bait? Baits can be fatal if ingested. Try controlling slugs and snails by changing your watering schedule, so your garden doesn’t stay constantly damp, or lure these pests to hide under boards or upside flower pots at night, and remove them the next day. Some gardeners pick snails and slugs off their plants with chopsticks or with their gloved hands and drop them into salty water. (Just don’t pour the salty water around your plants or grass.)
  10. Can your pet get into your compost pile? Harmful molds may form on decomposing materials. Keep your compost heap in a spot that pets can’t reach.

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