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    7 Steps for a Pet Safe Garden

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    Dogs love sniffing around the yard, chasing squirrels up a tree, playing fetch in the grass and (sometimes) digging in the garden while cats nap in the sun and enjoy watching the birds. Sharing your yard with pets means making sure that the space is safe.

    Outdoor plants, rodent poisons, insecticides and gardening products are among the top toxins that lead pet parents to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

    Making pet safe choices in the yard can help you avoid an unexpected trip to the veterinarian. 

    1. Research plants toxic to pets

    Pick the right plants for your garden

    Some popular garden plants are toxic to dogs and cats. Avoid planting tulips, azaleas, lilies, begonias, clematis and hosta. These common choices are among the plants that can cause dogs and cats to experience symptoms like excessive drooling, vomiting and diarrhea.

    The ASPCA has a complete list of toxic plants on its website. Consult the list before going to the garden center and consider removing plants on the toxic list from your garden to keep your pets safe.

    2. No pets playing in the compost pile

    Control pet access to the compost pile

    Your pets shouldn’t have access to the compost pile. Some compostable foods, including grapes, garlic and onions are toxic to dogs and could lead to illness or even death if ingested.

    Even fruits and vegetables that are safe for dogs and cats to consume fresh can be dangerous in the compost pile. The reason: As produce decomposes, toxic mold and fungus form, which could turn a stolen snack into a trip to the vet.

    Place your compost pile in an area of the yard that pets can’t access, install a fence around the compost pile to restrict access or purchase compost bins with secure latches to keep pets from treating the pile of decomposing food like an oh-so-smelly buffet.

    3. Keep pets' outdoor space clean

    Banish places for pests to hang

    Flea and tick preventives kill biting insects but it’s still a good idea to minimize exposure—and that starts right outside your door.

    Remove leaf litter, tall grass and brush where fleas and ticks thrive (these are also prime spots for snakes to hide). It’s important to clean up spilled birdseed; birds will eat fleas and ticks, but spilled feed attracts mice and squirrels that are carriers of the blood-sucking insects.

    4. Eliminate standing water

    Keep water fresh and free of bacteria

    When it’s hot outside, dogs and cats might be tempted to turn the birdbath, puddles or ponds into water dishes, increasing their risk of contracting a bacterial infection called leptospirosis.

    The risks of contracting “lepto” are highest in the late summer and early fall when higher rainfall creates more standing water. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccines.

    Standing water also increases the risk that your pets will come into contact with mosquitos that carry heartworm disease. Heartworm can be fatal in cats and dogs; monthly preventives reduce the risk.

    Dump standing water and add pumps to birdbaths to keep water moving and decrease the risk of spreading disease.

    5. Cocoa mulch is a no-go for pets

    Choose mulch that is safe for your pets

    Opt for wood chips, pine needles or recycled rubber mulch as groundcover instead of cocoa mulch. The sweet-smelling mulch is made from the hulls of cocoa beans and has the same stimulants that make chocolate toxic to dogs.

    The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center received an average of one call every 15 minutes from pet owners worried that their dogs have eaten chocolate.

    6. Use caution when using chemicals around pet areas

    Choose insecticides and fertilizers carefully

    Some of the same insecticides and fertilizers you use to keep your yard pest-and weed-free can harm your pets.

    Read labels and follow application recommendations when using chemicals in the garden. Some manufacturers might suggest keeping pets off of the grass or out of the garden for 24 to 48 hours to minimize their exposure.

    Organic might seem like the safer choice, but some organic fertilizers are made with manure, which could be high in toxins like salmonella and ammonia.

    If you hire companies to control weeds and pests, ask about their “pet safe” practices.

    7. Give pets a play space

    Create a designated spot for your furry friends

    Creating a pet safe garden also means providing essentials like shade and fresh water as well as opportunities for enrichment.

    During the dog days of summer, fill a bone-shaped pool with water or turn on the sprinkler to give your dog a place to beat the heat, fill a sandbox where dogs can dig or create a mini agility course to help burn off excess energy and learn some new skills.

    Don’t forget to add amenities like tunnels and climbing structures for your feline friends.

    With a little extra effort, you can ensure that your pets are safe when they’re sniffing, digging and playing in the yard.

    More pet safety tips

    Be prepared for anything that may come your way with a pet first aid kit. Learn what to stock and the information to have on hand, just in case.
    Use this step-by-step guide to safely remove a tick from your dog or cat.