Porky & Buddy’s Pet Health: A Dog-Friendly Garden

Dear Porky and Buddy,

Well, I just bought my first house and then I went and adopted my first dog, Skippy, and now I am getting ready to put in my first garden. Skippy and I are getting lessons in obedience training and that is going well, but are there precautions I should take when I put the new garden in to make sure it is “dog friendly?”

Dear Ted,

My goodness, you are ambitious, but it sounds like you have a good handle on responsible care for Skippy. And you are right. There are some special considerations for pet owners who also have gardens that you need to know about.

When you plan your garden, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that many popular outdoor plants including sago palm, rhododendron and azalea—are toxic to cats and dogs. Sago palm and other members of the Cycad family can cause liver failure. Rhododendron, azalea, lily of the valley, oleander, rosebay, foxglove and kalanchoe all affect the heart. The ASPCA has a great list on its website of toxic and non-toxic plants for your garden. Granted, most of these plants have been under cultivation for hundred of years in different areas, and most pets would no sooner munch on a rhododendron than you would. But if you have any of these potentially harmful plants in your garden, you should know what they are, and be observant if your dog (or cat) shows even the slightest interest in them. It’s better to take a plant out that is attracting your pet’s interest than to deal with illness and vet bills after the fact.

Another thing, the fertilizer that keeps our plants healthy and green can be harmful to the digestive tracts of our pets. Ingesting large amounts of fertilizer can give your pet a good case of stomach upset and could result in life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction. Be sure to follow instructions carefully and observe the appropriate waiting period before letting your pet run loose outside.

Many gardeners use cocoa bean shells—a by-product of chocolate production—in landscaping. Cocoa mulch also attracts dogs with its sweet smell, and like chocolate, it can pose problems for dogs. Depending on the amount involved, cocoa mulch can cause a range of clinical signs, from vomiting, diarrhea and muscle tremors to elevated heart rate, hyperactivity and even seizures. Consider using a less-toxic alternative, such as shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark.

Like fertilizer, herbicides, insecticide baits, sprays and granules are often used to keep our gardens healthy, but their ingredients aren’t meant for four-legged consumption. The most dangerous forms of pesticides include snail bait with metaldehyde, fly bait with methomyl, systemic insecticides with the ingredients disyston or disulfoton, mole or gopher bait with zinc phosphide and most forms of rat poisons. Always store pesticides in inaccessible areas—and read the manufacturer’s label carefully for proper usage and storage. And consider the benefits for your pets and the environment of switching to less poisonous methods of controlling garden pests. There are lots of alternatives available. But read the label to make sure that even these more natural products are truly pet friendly.

Unattended garden tools may seem like no big deal, but rakes, tillers, hoes and trowels can be hazardous to pets. Rusty, sharp tools caked in dirt may also pose a risk for tetanus if they puncture skin. While cats don’t appear to be as susceptible as dogs to tetanus, care should be taken by storing all unused tools in a safe area, not haphazardly strewn on the ground. And it will be safer for you too!

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter assistance, information and referral, adoption assistance to pet owners, humane education programs, foster care and adoption for pets in urgent need, assistance with lost and found pets. Our administrative offices and spay/neuter clinic are located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Check our web site at www.oswegohumane.org or call (315) 207-1070 for more information or to be placed on our mailing list for our newsletter.