Top 6 Garden Threats to Your Pets

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A small puppy with pet insurance sniffs a rose in a garden.

Ah, summertime! If you are like millions of Americans, summertime is a time for outside activities, often in the backyard. Many strive to have a beautiful yard to accompany their homes, but some plants and gardening chemicals can be bad for pet health. Here are some common garden and outside dangers that you might be cautious of if you garden with your pet or spend time with them outside at all.

1. Insecticides
Many commercial insecticides contain organophosphates, which are poisonous to dogs. Symptoms include salivation, trembling, and sometimes urination or defecation. Occasionally low heart rate and seizures can be seen as well. Prognosis with treatment is generally good. Be sure to follow the label on the chemical very carefully and avoid exposure, especially in very small dogs that are close to the ground.

2. Rodenticides
Rodenticides are commonly used to control unwanted rodent populations, but are extremely toxic to domestic animals. Generally, the chemical is formulated to taste pleasant, so the rodent will eat it, but it can taste good to cats and dogs too! Most rodenticides work by inhibiting the rodent’s ability to clot blood, and they bleed to death. Symptoms include bleeding from anywhere on/in the body, lethargy, and pale gums. Never wait for symptoms if you suspect your pet has eaten a rat or mouse poison and be sure to take them to your veterinarian immediately. This is very treatable if caught early.

3. Fertilizers
Most fertilizers are pretty safe if you follow the label carefully and have the pet avoid contact with the fertilized soil as directed. Clinical signs are generally topical and can include feet or skin irritation, or if ingested, mild GI signs such as vomiting or diarrhea. If you are concerned about exposure, rinsing with warm water to remove the product from the skin is recommended.

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4. Weed Killer
Most weed killers are also pretty safe if used correctly. Roundup®, for example, is not particularly dangerous, unless large quantities of the undiluted product are consumed. The chemical 2,4-D herbicide is pretty safe, unless more than about 2 to 3 ounces of the technical product are consumed. If this happens generalized weakness and possibly reversible paralysis can occur.* In general, you should contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about an exposure. Because accidental ingestion or even contact with some of these chemicals can become a serious pet health issue– it’s wise to have an animal insurance policy for your cat or dog. Companies like Pets Best Insurance offer very comprehensive plans at affordable monthly rates. I urge all of my clients to look into pet insurance plans.

5. Creepy-Crawlies
Some insects, amphibians and even wild reptiles can have natural toxins than can be harmful to pets. Bees and wasps are a common garden pest that can be harmful to pets. Besides pain at the sting site, some pets can have an allergic reaction, just like people. If you pet’s face starts to swell following a bee sting, veterinary care is warranted.

Some toads can carry a toxin on their skin, specifically the species Bufo marinus (cane toad). This toad lives in tropical central America and the Caribbean areas. The toad’s bitter taste can cause prompt salivation, foaming and even vomiting. The toxins can act on the heart and nerves to produce potentially serious cardiac and neuromuscular problems. Wash your pet’s mouth out with water and contact your veterinarian if you live in an area with this type of toad.

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Snakes can pose a threat to animals as well. Pit viper, rattlesnake and coral snake bites can all cause serious injuries and can even be fatal if not treated. Antivenins used by veterinarians can work well, but the medication must be given promptly. With quick veterinary attention and supportive care, fatalities can be limited, and recovery is generally expected. There is a rattlesnake vaccination available in highly endemic areas. It is not a substitute for emergency treatment in the event of a snake bite, but will greatly increase your pet’s chance of survival. Ask you veterinarian for more information if your dog is at high risk.

6. Plants
Your garden wouldn’t be complete without flowers and plants! Unfortunately, some plants can be dangerous for pets that eat them and exposure should be minimized. Lilies are very dangerous to cats and cause kidney failure. They are less dangerous to dogs, but can still cause GI upset. All parts of the plant are thought to be dangerous if ingested and prompt veterinary attention is needed.

Grapevines are a beautiful addition to any yard, but the grapes can be toxic to dogs, causing kidney failure. Try cutting off the budding grapes before they turn into fruit as a way to salvage the aesthetic value of the leafy vines and also protect your dog.

There are many plants that contain needle sharp raphide crystals that can cause mouth and throat irritation, as well as trouble swallowing and swelling. These include: Elephant’s ear, Begonia, Caladium, Dumb cane, Philodendron, Umbrella tree, and Philodendron.*

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Other common garden plants that pet exposure should be avoided include: Nightshades, Datura (Jimsonweed), poppy plants, Oleander, and Digitalis (foxglove).

If you are concerned that your pet ate a possibly poisonous plant, contact the ASPCA poison control hotline at 1-888-426-4435 for advice. The technical support can tell you if the ingestion is an emergency.

Enjoying the outdoors is always more pleasurable when you share it with a friend! With some good common sense and a little foresight, your garden can be a safe haven for the four-legged members of your family as well this summer.

For more information about pet health and behavior, or to learn more about pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance today!

*Oehme , FW. The 10 Most Common Poisonings in Companion Animals II (V310). Western Veterinary Conference 2009

*van der Merwe, D. Important Plant Poisonings in Small Animals. Western Veterinary Conference 2009

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