As families enjoy their garden together this summer, it’s important to recognize that our families are more than just parents or guardians and children. For most of us, those families include pets. Nearly forty percent of U.S. households own at least one dog or cat. There are many other homes that have outdoor rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, or even larger animals like sheep, goats, or horses. Keeping these furry (or feathered) family members safe in or outside of the home is always a priority. While gardens and yards are lovely for relaxing, they can pose risks for our animal companions if proper precautions are not taken.
Here are a few summer reminders to keep everyone happy and healthy:
Take a look at your plant list and use care when selecting new plants for your garden or yard. Many popular and easy-to-care for outdoor plants can be harmful for animals; several of them may be common in your area. Rhododendron, azalea, lily of the valley, and foxglove are toxic for cats and dogs and affect their heart. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has a list of toxic and non-toxic plants — including pictures, which is a great place to start when considering plants for your landscape. The link also provides a 24-hour emergency poison hotline for your animals.
On a brighter note, it’s also easy to include a few plants specifically for the enjoyment of your animals. Cats will enjoy catnip and wheatgrass, while many dogs will enjoy a few of those summer vegetables. Small amounts of cooked vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots, broccoli stems, and green beans add healthy antioxidants to your dog’s diet. Families that raise chickens for meat or eggs will find that these birds are an excellent help when you don’t know what to do with leftover or overripe produce. Chickens are voracious eaters of cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini— and well, almost anything! Make sure to check with your veterinarian before making changes to your pet’s diet.
Mulch and Compost
Compost piles can be full of exciting and interesting smells for our pets. Remaining food scraps, rotting fruits and vegetables, and coffee grinds are great for decomposition, but can be poisonous for animals. Keep your compost in a secure container or fence off the pile to prevent it from being an attractive “snack” source. Cocoa mulch, a by-product of chocolate production, can be a problem for dogs. It’s widely used by landscapers for the familiar smell and color. Unfortunately, dogs also love it for the same reasons. Depending upon the amount, if ingested, cocoa mulch can cause a range of digestive problems, even seizures. If you have pets, stick to shredded pine or cedar mulch—even hemlock bark is a safer alternative. These alternatives aren’t entirely “non-toxic”, so if you’re using mulch in your yard supervise your animals to ensure their safety.
Fertilizer and Insecticide
Using fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, ant, snail, and rodent baits are always a challenge in the family garden. Baits for snails and rodents are the most dangerous for pets, although even allowing animals onto a freshly fertilized lawn can cause burns on sensitive paws and skin. Following the recommended guidelines is absolutely necessary, take the time to read the manufacturers label. Always store these items in a locked, inaccessible area. Consider ways to reduce the amount of chemicals used in your yard and garden. This will have an environmental benefit, as well as contribute to the health and safety of your family and pets.
Garden Tools and Ornaments
You may have never imagined that your garden ornaments would look like a great toy or attractive food source, but occasionally animals will ingest just about anything. From garden gloves to gnomes, give your garden and yard an inspection for items that could be eaten, or even broken causing a danger to animals and children. Paws, noses and eyes that are close to the ground can be injured by unseen garden tools like rakes, tillers, hoes, and trowels—even short, decorative fencing can be very dangerous if an animal may become impaled on the object. Animals are also susceptible to tetanus so clean up and store those garden tools and check with your veterinarian to see if a vaccination is available for your pet.
Last, but Not Least
Remember to keep your pets out of other people’s yards. Not only will this make your neighbor happy, but it will keep your pet safe from unknown dangers. Also, put your pets in the house when mowing the lawn or trimming edges or shrubs. This will keep your animals calm and safe from objects which may become a projectile when combined with power tools.
Taking care of children and pets and keeping them safe is a daily consideration. The garden should be a place of enjoyment and relaxation, not a spot for apprehension and worry. By following a few simple guidelines, you can establish a safe place in your yard. Spending time with your family, including a healthy, happy pet, is one of the best summertime activities.