Pet Wise: Safe gardening practices for pet owners

The coronavirus pandemic may have kept us cooped up in our homes, but if your “green thumb” has started to twitch lately, you and family members may feel energized to plant gardens brimming with colorful fragrant flowers, a pest and weed-free vegetable garden, a weed-free lawn, and handsome trees and shrubs.

If you add pets to this lush scene, owners must prepare to deal with potentially deadly consequences. Gardening pet owners are advised to evaluate their choices of plants, gardening products and practices to assure the safety of their furry family members.


Selecting plants

Many popular landscaping plants have toxic leaves, stems, and roots. Puppies and bored adult dogs chew almost anything, and cats (if allowed outdoors) nibble on greenery.

Several hundred plant species are listed on the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center’s list of toxic plants. The list includes the following popular plants: azalea/rhododendron (all parts), clematis (stems and leaves), daffodil, narcissus, tulip, (bulbs), lily of the valley (leaves and flowers), black-eyed Susan, day lily, iris, foxglove, ferns,, morning glory, tomato (vines), bleeding heart, yew (all parts), and pokeweed (a common weed). For a more complete list, visit www.aspca.org/apcc.


Some landscaping plants and shrubs are armed with thorns (roses), sharp-edged or pointed leaves (hollies, yuccas) and bristled evergreens can severely injure a pet’s eyes. Protect your pets by fencing off areas that contain these types of plants.

Toxic herbicides

The use of pesticides and herbicides to maintain lawns and garden plants may cause serious physical reactions and death after animals are exposed to them. This can occur when a pet eats a portion of or walks through a treated area. The animal’s paw pads absorb the toxins or the paws and legs may be licked so the toxins directly enter the animal’s gastro-intestinal tract. A six-year study conducted by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine found that Lymphoma in animals is directly correlated with some lawn care chemicals, specifically products that included 2,4- Dichlorophenoxyactic acid meant to kill off clovers and dandelions.

In 2019 another study performed at the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University concluded certain garden and lawn chemicals are linked to canine bladder cancer containing 2,4-D acid, 4-chloro-2 MCPP and/ or dicamba. Even if owners are not spraying their lawns, keeping the chemical in the house or garage can be dangerous. According to “E”-The Environmental Magazine, (a Project of Earth Talk Inc), “If a dog chews a hole into a bag of fertilizer or inhales it after an open bag falls over the dog will be equally affected by the chemical.”

The same goes for the dog that runs through a treated lawn, goes back in the house so that the chemical is tracked inside and the dog will continue to have exposure to the chemical. Dog cancers typically share the same initial symptoms that include weight loss, changes in eating, difficulty swallowing. By knowing and reporting these symptoms early on will help vets detect and diagnose dogs that could lead to more treatment options. Bladder cancer might be harder for owners to detect than lymphoma. The major symptoms are blood in the urine, frequent and painful urination.


Toxic pesticides

If a pet eats slug, snail, rodent bait, or an already poisoned pest, the consequences could be tragic.

Mulch issues

The aroma of cocoa bean mulch may send chocoholics into a state of ecstasy, however the consumption of this type of mulch may kill dogs. Chocolate (in in the cocoa bean hulls) contains theobromine, a chemical that causes seizures and may lead to death. Puppies are notorious for chewing on other types of mulch which may cause a gastro-intestinal blockage requiring surgery to save a pup’s life.

Maintenance equipment

Keep your pets indoors when using lawnmowers, hedge trimmers and weed eaters because even from a distance they can inflict serious injuries to pets when twigs, rocks and other debris become projectile objects.

Water danger

Water gardens may provide us with a sense of serenity but can be hazardous to our pets. An adventurous pup or cat could take a fatal plunge or drink bacteria-laden water. Owners are advised to fence off water gardens or other water features.

Inspect weekly

Sometimes unwanted or unexpected plant matter may appear on your property that could sicken or kill our pets, such as decomposing black walnuts (carried and dropped by squirrels) that grow molds that can cause tremors and seizures after a dog eats them. Following a lengthy period of damp weather, a prolific growth of mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi may appear on your property and should be removed as soon as possible because some species may be toxic and could cause the death of a beloved pet.

Protect pets, gardens

· Review the ASCCA list of toxic plants before making selections.

· Fence off areas that may contain toxic plants or water features (pond).

· Walk your dog on a leash (not retractable) to avoid toxic plants.

· Rinse your pet’s feet if exposure to toxic products may have occurred.

· Go “Green”: use environmentally-friendly products from garden centers, catalogs or online but be sure to check the ingredients and instructions.

· Avoid using cocoa bean shell mulch.

· To prevent dogs from digging up bulbs or garden areas, place chicken wire (or wire mesh with openings large enough to allow plants to grow through) on the ground, anchor It with rocks and cover with mulch. Container gardening may also prevent digging for underground treasures and critters.

· Always keep pets indoors when mowing , hedge trimming, and weed-eating.

· Always supervise pets when they are loose in a fenced-in yard and must stay on your property.

· Thoroughly clean up any plant debris after weeding, dead heading spent flowers or trimming trees and shrubs.

In an emergency

If your pet may have ingested a possibly toxic gardening product, call your veterinarian or the national animal control center (888-426-4435) immediately. When doing so:

1. Provide as much information as possible regarding the plant or product.

2. time of ingestion.

3. Label information.

4. Pet’s approximate weight.

Have a credit card ready as a consultation fee may be charged. If induced vomiting is recommended, always keep hydrogen peroxide available but never use it without a veterinarian’s instructions.

On a lighter note, you may want to read Tom Barthal’s book, “Dogscaping”: Creating the Perfect Backyard and Garden for You and Your Dog”. (Published by Bowtie Press).

This informative and amusing book provides information on gardening organically, selecting safe plants and constructing dog-friendly decks, paths, gazebos, and water features. There is also a chapter on how to create a doggy playground with hedges to hurdle, a sandbox to satisfy a dog’s instinct for digging and a “fetching strip made from artificial turf!

Enjoy the company of your family and pets, stay well, and Happy Gardening!

Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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