Pet Safety in the Garden

— Written By Eli Snyder and last updated by
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Many of us who are fortunate to have a home garden also have a furry companion or two that share that garden space with us. As we manage our lawns and gardens and other household areas, it is important to consider where dogs or cats may come into contact with dangerous substances or situations.

Secure your compost so pets cannot get into it. Compost may contain food scraps that are not healthy for your pet, such as onions, garlic, or citrus. In addition, a mold toxic to dogs can form in compost. When ingested, this can cause a life-threatening reaction. All you need is a physical barrier that prevents your animals from snagging snacks. Purchase a compost bin or tumbler, or build a 3 or 4-bay composting station with panels surrounding all edges.

Compost Bin

Secure compost in bins with solid sides to keep animals from getting into the compost.

Snakes are also a threat, given the possibility of snake bites. Snakes are more likely to be present in areas with overgrown brush, or around wood piles. Keep your animal out of these areas when possible, and avoid allowing areas to become overgrown if they are frequently visited by your pets.

Adopt an integrated pest management approach to managing insects, weeds, and diseases in your garden. Integrated pest management emphasizes using recommended cultural practices to promote healthy plants, resulting in reduced need for pesticides in the lawn and garden. An example of this might be planting an azalea bush in a partially shaded site rather than one that gets full-sun. When azaleas are placed in full sun they are prone to infestation with lacebugs. Once infested, treatment with insecticide is usually warranted to control the problem.

If you do use pesticides, thoroughly read the pesticide label before use, paying special attention to the signal word, reentry intervals, and harvest intervals. The signal word- caution, warning, or danger-  represents the product toxicity to mammals, including humans, cats, dogs, horses, goats, sheep, and cattle. A pesticide with the signal word of danger can be lethal to a 160 lb human in a dose of a few drops to one teaspoon. Pets can be more susceptible to exposure in the garden as do not have protection with shoes or clothing, nor do they have the benefit of knowing when a pesticide has been applied. If you do treat with a pesticide, temporarily cover or remove outdoor pet water or feed bowls as they could be contaminated with pesticide drift during application. Keep animals out of the treated area according to the reentry interval indicated on the label. This may mean erecting a temporary fence to keep an animal out. If you treat your lawn with a pesticide, you may need to invite your pet to play use the restroom in an alternate location until it is safe for them to be on the lawn again. If you are using baits for rodent control, block pet access to the baits with physical barriers.

Many fertilizers are not harmful to animals unless mixed with herbicide or pesticide. However, some contain ammonium nitrate, which irritates the digestive tract if consumed. An animal can ingest fertilizer by rolling in or simply visiting a treated area, picking up fertilizer on their coat, and licking it off during cleaning. If you apply fertilizer, keep an animal away from the area until after a rainfall event or until you have watered in the fertilizer. If you use animal by-products such as bloodmeal or animal manure as fertilizer, it is best to incorporate them into the soil. This helps you maximize the fertilizer value of the product, and it will reduce the attraction to those products among pets. Using composted animal manure instead of raw will also reduce the odor, which will further reduce the interest.

Store pesticides, fertilizers, and garden tools in a way that prevents animal access to them. A shed whose door cannot be opened by a pet is ideal. Always close pesticide containers securely and designate a place that pets cannot access for mixing pesticides. Similarly, never leave open containers of paint, oil, antifreeze, or other toxic substances in an area that pets may visit.

It is important to be familiar with warning signs that an animal and observe your pet on a regular basis. Some warning signs caused by ingesting a toxin are tremors, lack of appetite, lethargy, and lack of coordination. Maintain a working relationship with a veterinary practice and become familiar with any emergency veterinary clinics in your area.

Some of our common landscape plants such as azalea, rhododendrons, and daffodils, are toxic to pets. However, many pets do not bother these plants so they are not an issue. Thorny plants can also cause scratches or scrapes when pets visit them. Consider having alternative plants for pets to nibble on or brush up against if that is something they enjoy. For cats, good plants to have around are lemongrass and catnip. For dogs, fruits and vegetables that are safe for dogs can provide a snack.

 Overgrown areas are prime habitat for snakes, which can bite pets.

Overgrown areas are prime habitat for snakes, which can bite pets.

Pets can also do their share of damage to your yard. ‘Petscaping’ is the concept of designing your yard or landscape to suit both human interests, such as pleasing appearance, as well as pet interest, such as plants that are good for them and areas where they can enjoy digging holes. For more information on integrated pest management or gardening, contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center at 828-757-1290. Our office is open 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday–Friday.