7 Ways to Make Your Garden Safe for Pets

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With warm weather on the way many of us are itching to get out in the garden to enjoy the sun, and it's natural that we'd want our pets to join us.

Cats and dogs are naturally inquisitive creatures - particularly when young - so it's important to be confident that your fur babies won't come across anything hazardous as they explore. And whilst the health and wellbeing of your pets is the priority, another concern is the damage pets can do in the garden if given free rein.

Cat walking along garden fence

There's also a risk that unless you take some simple precautions, your pets could make your garden less safe for you and your family.

Our quick guide to making your garden pet safe should help you avoid some common pitfalls and ensure the health of your pets, your family and your plants!

1. Avoid plants that are toxic to animals

There are many popular types of garden plant that are toxic to either cats or dogs, and some that are toxic to both.

Puppies and food-driven adult dogs are most at risk thanks to their enthusiasm for exploring then ingesting or rolling in potentially harmful substances.

Lilies are perhaps the most dangerous plant when ingested by cats, with even a very small amount likely to prove fatal.

Bluebells, yew berries and foliage, rhododendron and onion can be fatal to dogs.

Both cats and dogs are badly affected by foxglove seeds and leaves, azalea, cyclamen root and rhubarb leaves.

Infographic showing various plants poisonous to pets
Source: PetMD

There are many other species of plant that can be harmful to pets so we'd recommend taking a bit of time to read this exhaustive list and then either remove these plants from your garden or prevent access to them. Good luck keeping your cat out of anything - removal is probably the only option for plants harmful to felines!

If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested anything on this list then you must seek veterinary advice immediately.

It may also be worth keeping some 3% hydrogen peroxide at home in case of an emergency, as this can be used to induce vomiting in dogs. Do not give hydrogen peroxide to your cat as it can damage their oesophagus and stomach, and only give it to dogs when advised to by a qualified veterinary surgeon as it's not always safe to induce vomiting in dogs.

2. Prevent access to your compost bin

Composting is an environmentally friendly way to improve the soil in your garden, but it's important that you keep cats and dogs away from your compost bin. As food and garden waste breaks down, mould will begin to form, and some moulds will produce tremorogenic mycotoxins that can cause tremors and seizures in animals. In fact, mycotoxicosis can prove fatal even in large dogs and if you have reason to believe your cat or dog has raided the compost bin, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

Due to the nature of the waste typically found in compost bins, they tend to be a magnet for food-driven pets. Enclosed bins or tumblers are the best choice if you have pets as they're difficult to get into as long as you ensure lids are firmly secured. A secure compost bin will also help discourage pests such as foxes, rats, mice and even flies.

Mature compost is usually safer for animals but can still pose a risk, so you should take care not to allow them to ingest any compost or garden soil.

Some keen gardeners use cocoa shells or hulls as an effective weed-free, organic mulch. However, pet owners should avoid cocoa mulch as it contains theobromine, which is harmful to animals, including cats, dogs and even horses.

3. Avoid use of harmful pesticides, insecticides, fertilisers and herbicides

Many plant and lawn treatments can be harmful to animals and care should be taken to select products that are deemed pet-safe - or alternatively you should ensure pets are kept away from the affected areas until it's safe to allow them to return.

If toxic levels of such products are ingested or inhaled by domestic pets, they may suffer seizures or respiratory arrest. Long-term, low-level exposure may also cause cancers and other chronic illnesses, so the safest approach is to avoid the use of harmful treatments entirely and source products that are marketed as pet-safe.

It's also worth noting that the active ingredient in most slug pellets - metaldehyde - is extremely toxic to domestic pets even in small amounts. That said, slugs and snails can cause lungworm if ingested by animals (not to mention the damage they'll cause to your plants), so try to keep on top of your slug or snail problem with organic, pet-safe control pellets.

Rodent poison should in no circumstances be used in a garden frequented by pets, with humane traps the most effective alternative.

4. Keep a lookout for mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi

Fungi can proliferate in garden lawns and flowerbeds, particularly during the wetter autumn months, and the types that appear in gardens do tend to be inedible and toxic to animals.

We know how curious our pets can be - they're natural scavengers after all - so it's no surprise that cats and dogs have fallen ill with mushroom toxicity. Symptoms vary but may include dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and hallucinations. Some species of mushroom may lead to liver, kidney or even heart failure and therefore it's critical that you seek veterinary advice if you suspect your pet has ingested mushrooms from the garden or while out walking.

Every so often have a good look around your garden and remove any mushrooms growing either in the lawn, flowerbeds or borders. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling.

5. Cover ponds or ensure there's an escape route

Some dogs are extremely strong swimmers, but not all, and older dogs in particular are at risk if they fall into a pond. Ponds are also bad news for other domesticated and wild animals, including cats, rabbits and hedgehogs.

While hedgehogs are actually quite strong swimmers, if your pond has steep sides that would prevent an animal from easily escaping, they'll exhaust themselves and eventually drown - not a great way to go. Ponds with sides that slope gradually down are typically much safer for animals but if your pond isn't animal safe, you should think about covering it.

Some types of pond algae can also be harmful to animals and should be removed with a pet-safe algae control solution.

6. Fix any gaps in fences and ensure gates are lockable

Every dog owner's nightmare is the prospect of their beloved pooch getting out of the garden or house and running into a busy road.

To avoid this horror scenario make sure fences are tall and robust enough to keep your dog out of harm's way. Regularly check the boundary of your garden for gaps in panels and look for any evidence of digging - dogs have been known to escape gardens by squeezing through the smallest gaps or digging under fences. Gates should be bolted from the inside when your dog is using the garden.

Labrador retriever peering over garden fence

Even the most obedient dogs may run away when there's a cat to chase, so don't just assume your dog would never try to escape. We feel pretty confident that 99% of the time our greyhound would be too lazy to bother trying to escape, but if a rabbit or squirrel tempted him there's no telling how far or how fast he'd run, and the consequences don't bear thinking about.

7. Remove any animal waste immediately to prevent harm to your family

Dog and cat waste may contain Campylobacter, E. coli, Salmonella, Yersinia and various other bacteria that can cause serious illness in humans.

Animal waste may also contain parasites such as roundworm and tapeworm - in fact, one pile of dog poo may contain as many as a million roundworm eggs! Roundworm larva can migrate throughout the body and may even cause blindness.

Cat poo commonly contains Toxoplasma gondii which can infect people with weakened immune systems and cause birth defects.

So it goes without saying that animal waste should be collected and disposed of immediately. Cats and dogs should also be discouraged from pooping on lawns, in flowerbeds and particularly anywhere that vegetables are grown.

In fact, it's probably wise to keep animals of any type as far away from your vegetable patch as possible, not only to prevent damage to your crop but also to avoid your pets from becoming ill when they eat something they shouldn't.

Some people will recommend composting dog and cat poo but unless you know what you're doing, this isn't a good idea. The conditions necessary to break down this type of animal waste are quite difficult to achieve and if you get it wrong, your compost is likely to become extremely unhealthy.

It's not only your pets that we're trying to protect here, but the health and wellbeing of your entire family.

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