Keeping a Pet-Safe Garden

collie in a flower bedIt’s that time of year again, when warmer temperatures and longer days make us want to spend more time in the fresh air and sunlight. If you happen to be a gardener, it’s probably also the time that you’re just itching to start digging in the dirt, and deciding what flowers and veggies you may want to plant. Although gardening can be a very relaxing and rewarding hobby, it can also be dangerous for our furry friends. Luckily, creating a pet-safe garden is not very difficult. We just need to take a few extra precautions to ensure that our yards and gardens are as safe as they are beautiful.

Avoid Poisonous Plants

The most obvious way to create a pet-safe garden is to choose the right plants. Not all pet owners realize that a great many garden plants are toxic to dogs and cats. Popular varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, oleander, foxglove, lily of the valley, sago palm, tulip and daffodil all fall into this category. Pets that eat these poisonous plants can experience everything from an upset stomach and diarrhea, to seizures and liver failure. Be sure to  check the ASPCA’s comprehensive list of toxic plants before deciding which plants will make it into your garden.

While not toxic, it’s also a good idea to avoid trees, shrubs and plants that are likely to cause allergies. Many of the same plants that cause allergies in humans will affect your pet as well. Look for pollen-free plant species whenever possible. If you do select a plant with a high allergy potential, avoid planting it under windows that you’ll have open during the summer.  If you already have one of these trees or hedges in your yard, keep it heavily sheared so it will flower less.

Choose Your Mulch Carefully

Many gardeners use cocoa bean mulch—a by-product of chocolate production—in landscaping. It has an attractive odor and color that make it a popular choice, but cocoa mulch can pose serious problems for your dog. To be safe, opt for shredded pine, cedar, or hemlock bark instead. Also try to avoid mulch that has been treated with weed inhibitor or insect repellent.

Rethink Toxic Chemicals

Try to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or weed killers in your yard and garden. These pose a danger to dogs and cats because anything picked up on their paws could be licked off later. There are plenty of organic, earth-friendly products available as an alternative that are safe for both pets and humans. Ask your local gardening center for recommendations and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Insecticides are often necessary to keep our gardens healthy, but their ingredients aren’t safe for our furry friends. The most dangerous forms of pesticides include snail bait with metaldehyde, fly bait with methomyl, systemic insecticides with the ingredients disyston or disulfoton and most forms of rat poisons. Again, a conversation at your gardening center may be able to provide you with some effective but natural alternatives.

Compost Piles and Worm Bins

These eco-friendly practices can be great for your garden, but be sure they’re not accessible to your pets. Dogs that view garbage and rotting food as a special treat may consider this a buffet, but it’s one that could make them sick.

Garden Tools

Just like toddler-proofing, be sure to keep all pruning shears, trimmers, tillers, rakes and other gardening tools picked up and stored safely out of reach of your pets.

Gardening is a great hobby, and with a little extra planning and effort, it’s not difficult to ensure that your hobby will be safe for your pet.

It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week: Here are some tips to help keep you safe


Girl and Dog

This week, May 20-26, is National Dog Bite Prevention week, an event hosted by the American Veterinary Medical Association to help educate the public about the nearly 5 million dog bites that occur every year.

According to the AVMA 4.7 million people in the US are bitten by dogs each year, and over 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for those bites. Of those, about half are children, with the most at-risk age group being 5-9. Most of these bites occur during every day activities while these children are interacting with familiar dogs. Senior citizens are the second most commonly affected group.

Canine Body Language

The thing about dog bites is that many, if not most, are preventable. The AVMA has created a great public health bulletin with great tips and resources for people. Here are the top three tips that can help to prevent bites:

  1. Learn to recognize a dog’s body language. The chart to the right gives a good summary of doggie language basics. If you want some more in depth descriptions of what certain behaviors mean, here’s a great article from the ASPCA.
  2. Never (ever, ever, ever!) leave a small child alone with a dog. Even if your dog is the world’s biggest softy, it’s never a good idea to leave him unattended with a child. Most dog bites happen while dogs and children are left alone together, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
  3. Teach kids how to properly interact with dogs. When approaching a dog, children (and adults) should use the acronym “WAIT” to remind themselves of proper doggy etiquette:
    • W – Wait to see if the dog looks friendly. If the dog looks afraid or angry, STOP and walk away slowly.
    • A – Ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. If the owner says no or there is no owner present, STOP and walk away slowly.
    • I – Invite the dog to come to you to sniff you. Put your hand to your side with your fingers curled in. Stand slightly sideways and dip your head down so you are not looking directly at the dog. If the dog does not come over to sniff you, STOP and do not touch him.
    • T – Touch the dog gently, petting him along his back while staying away from his head and tail.

The goal is not to be afraid of meeting new dogs, but of being respectful of the dog’s personal space. If we all follow these tips maybe we can all stay a little safer around our furry friends.

How much do you know about heartworm?

Dog Covering FaceWhat the heck are heartworms?  Well, they are just what they sound like.  They are nasty worms that live in the heart (and lungs and blood vessels) of dogs and cats.  Obviously they are not a good thing.  Fortunately, protecting your pets from heartworms is relatively easy.

Heartworms are transmitted from pet to pet via the mosquito.  When an infected mosquito bites your pet, it injects heartworm larvae into the animal’s bloodstream.  These larvae mature into adult heartworms, which cause damage to the heart and lungs over several years.

Many safe, effective preventative products now exist that are able to kill the heartworm larvae before they ever become adult heartworms.  These products are available in oral or topical forms, with a perfect product being available for almost any pet.  Many heartworm preventatives also contain convenient medications for other parasitic diseases such as intestinal worms or fleas.  Most preventatives must be given monthly and many times your veterinarian will require a negative blood test yearly to ensure that the medications may be safely given.

Heartworm disease is a devastating illness, but with a little planning you can ensure your pet is protected.  Contact us and we can talk about preventing heartworms in your best friend.