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Pet-Friendly Gardens

One of the many reasons that my husband and I were drawn to Westchester was ALL OF THE PUPPIES! Everywhere we looked, we saw dogs. Dogs peaking out of windows, dogs playing in backyards, dogs out for walks with their humans. So, we bought a house with a big backyard and adopted our own dog. As I began to consider the layout and composition of garden beds on our property, I found that many of the flowers that I was drawn to were toxic to dogs. Not wanting to risk our pet’s health, I turned to the internet for guidance.

Here are some tips to make your yard and garden pet-friendly:

  • Research your plants. Seed and bulb companies may not disclose plant toxicity, but the internet has a wealth of information on this topic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) maintains an online database of over 1,000 plants that are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. This list in not comprehensive, but it is a good place to start when trying to select plants that are safe for your furry friends. | Many plants that are listed as toxic are only irritants, causing localized inflammation of the skin, mouth, stomach, etc. Some cause irritation by contact, others by ingestion. Some plants can have a systemic effect and damage or alter the function of organs (like the kidneys or heart). Severity can vary according to plant type and animal size. | Something to think about--- The average cat or dog is not inclined to graze in your flowerbed. We have had many a neighborhood cat in our yard, and I’ve never seen them nibbling on the lilies. Our dog is usually monitored while in the backyard, and she has never tried to eat the irises, tulips, or juniper berries. Be cautious, by all means, and avoid plants that are known for their toxicity to animals, but don’t be afraid of flowers altogether.

  • Vaccinate and protect your pet. Suburban gardens bring the glory of flora to our yards, and with that comes fauna. Mosquitos, fleas, and ticks can be found in yards and gardens. With them come birds, bats, bees, and the things that feed on them. Be sure to practice preventive care by treating your pet with repellants and keeping vaccinations up to date.

  • Provide shade and water. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re working in the garden, so make sure that any pets accompanying you have a reprieve from the heat. Pets love to romp in the sunshine, but they can quickly become overheated. Make sure that you have a shady place in your yard where they can escape direct sunlight, as well as fresh water to stay hydrated. If your pet is so inclined, you may consider putting a few inches of water (with or without ice) in a kiddie pool so that they can take a dip.

  • Keep gardening supplies out of reach. Weed killer, pesticides, and certain fertilizers should be kept out of reach of pets. Access to the yard should also be restricted after the application of such products, at least for a day or two. Read the directions on garden chemicals to make sure that you’re using them correctly and to keep your pets safe.

  • Protect the paws. Asphalt can make for a pretty driveway, but in the summer sun it can be painful to paws. Keep this in mind when contemplating a new driveway. Also consider the type of rocks that you use in landscaping. Make sure that they’re not particularly jagged or of a size that can become lodged between the pads of the paws.

  • Scoop the poop. Clean up animal waste as soon as possible and be careful when you do it. Certain bacteria and parasites can be passed from animals to humans through their stool, so invest in good waste bags and even a shovel specifically for that task. Cleaning up waste quickly will also prevent you and your pets from stepping in it and tracking it into your house. NEVER COMPOST ANIMAL WASTE. It should be thrown out with the trash, not used for nutrients.

  • Rake your leaves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Blastomycosis is an infection caused by a fungus called Blastomyces. The fungus lives in the environment, particularly in moist soil and in decomposing matter such as wood and leaves.” Keeping your yard raked can help mitigate the chances of you or your pets coming in contact with harmful fungi like Blastomycosis.

  • Thorns hurt, obviously. If you have thorny or prickly plants, try to keep pets away from them with some type of barrier, be it a fence, landscaping material, or other plants. Thorns can become lodged in paws and can seriously injure eyes.

  • Have a plan. Know the plants that you have and know the warning sign of ingestion. Talk to your vet about the steps that you should take if your pet appears to have ingested a toxic plant and keep a list of emergency pet centers handy just in case.

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