Pets and gardening don’t always mix, but there’s no reason they can’t, says Oakland emergency veterinarian Stacey Sonnenshein. It just takes some planning and a little caution.
Here are some of Sonnenshein’s tips:
If your favorite plants are poisonous or dangerous to pets, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them. It just means you need to figure out ways to keep your pets away from them.
Map out your garden to create zones where pets are allowed and where they aren’t. Grow all dangerous plants, or ones that need protecting, in the zones that bar pets.
Fencing, she says, is the easiest and most effective way to creating zones, but the design also is important. For dogs, the fence needs to be stable and high enough to keep them from climbing or jumping over it — and the dog should not be able to see through it.
“Dogs tend to be territorial,” Sonnenshein says, “but if they can’t see what’s on the other side, they’re less likely to be.”
Cats are usually smart enough to stay away from dangerous plants, Sonnenshein says, but they can harm wildlife or use beds for litter boxes. A cat fence with a floppy top, which doesn’t permit cats to get a good footing, will help keep your cats in and other cats out.
Catios — large enclosures for cats — also are becoming popular and are well worth the money, Sonnenshein says. Cats get to enjoy the outdoor life in what are essentially extremely large cages, but they’re protected from dangers and kept from things you don’t want them to get into.
Gardening for your pets
Dogs like most fruits and vegetables, and with a few exceptions, it’s OK to give them a snack. Produce tends to be healthier than other treats.
Cats don’t care much for fruits or vegetables, but Sonnenshein suggests planting catnip or catmint for your feline friends. If you live in a cooler part of the Bay Area, sow seeds in full sun; if you’re in a hotter zone, go for partial shade.
Cut stems at ground level, bundle the mint and hang it upside down to dry. Then crumble and store.
Keep it clean
Pet waste can carry a number of nasty things that should be kept far from your garden, especially from edibles. Do not compost pet waste, she says.
These are the things you need to watch out for to keep your pet safe in the garden.
- Stone fruits and avocados: While the fruit isn’t harmful, the pits can be. Dogs tend to swallow things whole and the pits can become lodged in their throats, stomachs or intestines, which at the very least is going to result in a costly trip to the vet.
- Compost: Your compost pile can contain physical risks, such as pits, corn cobs or nuts that can become obstructions if swallowed. But some fungi that can grow in compost can be harmful, too. Sonnenshein knows of one dog that died after getting into the compost and eating a muffin that had been sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as an artificial sweetener that can rapidly lower a pets’ blood sugar and lead to death.
- Cocoa bean mulch: Although not used often in the Bay Area, it is a byproduct of chocolate production and just like chocolate, dogs are attracted to it. Eating it can cause vomiting, high heart rate, arrhythmia, seizures and death.
- Weeds: Foxtails especially are a concern for pets. The barbed seed awn sticks to their coats and can work their way into ears, eyes, noses or paws. If eaten, they end up in the stomach and intestines, and also can make their way into vital organs, including the brain. Keep the foxtails out, avoid them on walks, and invest in a special hood that protects your dog’s head and face.
- Fertilizers: Bone and fish meal in fertilizers can be attractive to pets, but eating that can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or iron toxicity.
- Pesticides: All pesticides can be dangerous. Use them as a last resort and only as directed. Be sure to hang on to product labels, so vets have accurate information on what the animal ate.
Poisonous plants: Be sure to keep your pets away from hops, grapes and raisins, mushrooms, sago palm, lilies (dangerous to cats), brunfelsia, alliums (onions, garlic, leeks and chives), unripe tomatoes and plants, desert rose, dogbane, foxglove, giant milkweed, oleander and rhododendrons and azaleas. Before adding new plants to your garden, research them for risks.