Backyard Dangers and Your Pets

Springtime is just around the corner and we all know what that means: a lot of time spent weeding, digging, planting, and making multiple trips to the nursery to get everything you need for that perfect lawn or beautiful garden. But that spectacular lawn or garden may prove dangerous to your pets.

Now is the time to familiarize yourself with the various backyard dangers, some that can make your pet very sick and others that can even cause death. Fertilizers, mulches, flowers, shrubs, seeds, leaves, stems and a host of other dangers can be present in your yard.

The most obvious dangers involve chemicals.

Insecticides: The number one cause of pet poisonings come from insecticides and rodenticides. Ingesting mouse or rat poison can kill your dog just as it kills the rodent: by causing it to bleed to death. Pesticides, including those used to treat fleas, can also cause toxicity in some pets. Pets walking on treated lawns are exposed to the poisons. The ingestion usually occurs after the pets lick their paws or fur. Some studies show a correlation between insecticide use and certain types of cancers in dogs. Insecticides containing Diazinon, Permethrin and Pyrethrin should be used with great care. (Note: Chrysanthemums are the natural source of pyrethrins).  If your lawn is sprayed professionally or if you use a store-bought spray, it’s important that you are aware of the drying time, the compounds used and the potential effects on your pets. If your pets are exposed to chemical lawn treatments, wash their paws with mild soap and water. Dispose of and store all pesticides out of reach and out of sight of your pet.

Fertilizers: Most fertilizers contain varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (potash). They may also contain iron, copper, zinc, cobalt, boron, manganese and molybdenum, some of which may be toxic in large concentrations. Additionally, fertilizers may also contain herbicides, pesticides and fungicides which increases the risk of poisoning. While small ingestions of fertilizer may only result in mild stomach upset, larger ingestions can result in severe poisoning from the iron, nitrogen and other chemicals. Even organic fertilizers can be harmful to your pet. Those that contain bone and blood meal can be enticing to animals and if ingested can cause pancreatitis, a serious condition presenting as severe and painful inflammation of the pancreas, and resulting in vomiting, diarrhea and even organ failure or death. Large ingestions of meal-based fertilizers may also form a concretion in the stomach resulting in a bowel obstruction.

Cocoa Mulch: A few years ago it came to attention that a popular landscaping product, cocoa mulch, was proving toxic (and in some cases, deadly) to pets, especially dogs. Cocoa mulch, made of cacao shells, is popular with gardeners and landscapers because it has a very nice aromatic scent, it retains moisture well, it repels garden pests and it has a rich brown color that darkens rather than fades over time. Sounds great, right? Until your dog is attracted by its sweet smell and eats a bunch of it! Veterinarians have warned pet owners that cacao shells naturally contain theobromine, the same ingredient that makes chocolate toxic to dogs.

According to the ASPCA, cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines. In dogs, low doses of methylxanthine can cause mild gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain); higher doses can cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and death.

While some manufacturers of cocoa mulches have recently claimed that they’ve made their product theobromine-free and pet safe, why gamble with your pet’s safety? The safer bet would be to use other forms of mulch such as cedar-based products.

PLANTS & FLOWERS: We all love the beauty, distinction and personality that plants and flowers bring to our yards. But before you start your yard and garden projects this Spring, familiarize yourself with those plants that are toxic to dogs, cats and other pets. More than 700 plants have been identified as producing physiologically active or toxic substances in sufficient amounts to cause harmful effects in animals. Poisonous plants produce a variety of toxic substances and cause reactions ranging from mild nausea to death. Certain animal species may have a peculiar vulnerability to a potentially poisonous plant. Cats, for instance, are poisoned by any part of a lilly. A local favorite, the sago palm, is highly toxic to dogs, especially the seeds. All parts of the avocado (seeds, stems, fruit, skin, leaves) can cause gastrointestinal and cardiovascular toxicity to dogs, birds and pocket pets. Click here for a full list of poisonous plants from the Humane Society.

From the ASPCA website: If you discover that your pet may have been poisoned stay as calm as possible so you can think clearly so you can help your pet as quickly as possible. Immediately call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (a consultation fee may be applied to your credit card). If your pet is having seizures, losing consciousness, unconscious or having trouble breathing, get to your vet office or an emergency animal clinic immediately. If your pet has ingested a pesticide or other such commercially prepared toxin, bring the container with you to the veterinarian’s office. Act quickly. Time is critical.

When you call for help or visit the veterinarian’s office have the following information in hand:

  • Your pet’s species, breed, sex, weight, and age
  • Your pet’s symptoms
  • The name of the poisoning agent (if known), the amount consumed and the amount of time lapsed since exposure
  • The actual packaging for the poisoning agent

AND DON’T FORGET THE COMMON FOOD ITEMS THAT ARE TOXIC AND DANGEROUS TO DOGS: Most people know about chocolate being toxic to dogs, but many don’t realize that grapes, raisins, onions, garlic are also poisonous to dogs. And be careful how you dispose of your fruits: peach pits, plum pits, cherry pits, apricot pits, avocado pits and apple seeds contain cyanide and can be extremely toxic to your dogs. Be sure to keep all of these regular kitchen staples out of reach!

Sources: Pet Poison Helpline, ASPCA, Animal Poison Control Center, AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), HSUS (Humane Society of the United States)

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