Spring has sprung, and it’s the perfect time to get started on yard work and gardening. Your pet will likely tag along as you weed, plant, and mulch, but potential dangers may be lurking in your backyard. Many plants and chemicals you use around your yard can be toxic to your pet, so you need to know which plants and garden products are dangerous.
Garden plants grow healthy, vitamin-rich vegetables for your family, but many common varieties are unsafe for pets. In many cases, the plant itself is toxic, but the fruit may be equally dangerous, especially if eaten before ripening. Most effects are limited to gastrointestinal upset, but some plants can cause more severe toxicity, including:
- Hot peppers
- Rhubarb leaves
Build a fence that will keep your pet out of the garden, and don’t leave baskets of freshly picked produce within her reach.
Flowers and ornamental plants may brighten up the yard, but many varieties can cause severe toxicity if ingested by pets. Either watch pets closely—especially cats—or leave the following plants out of your flower garden:
- Autumn crocus
- Dieffenbachia (dumb cane)
- Lily of the Valley
- Sago palm
When you choose mulch for your flower beds, stay away from products made from recycled cocoa bean casings and hulls. When the sun warms the newly laid cocoa bean mulch, the chocolate aroma can lure pets into ingesting some of the toxic shells. Most toxic chocolate compounds are removed during processing, but some may remain. Once a heavy rain washes away the cocoa residue, the mulch will no longer be a hazard.
Mushrooms seem to pop up overnight. Most of the hundreds of species are non-toxic, but some varieties are poisonous and can cause severe toxicity. Differentiating the many mushroom types is difficult, so treat all cases of mushroom ingestion as a potential toxicity. If you think your pet may have eaten a mushroom, gather a sample, and call our office or head to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately.
Compounds used to add nutrients to your garden, flower beds, and lawn can also be dangerous. Some are made from animal products, and can tempt your pet if left sitting around. Others may be ingested when your pet grooms her fur or feet after a trip outdoors. The most common types can include:
- Bone meal or blood meal — These ingredients may sound harmless, because they are natural animal products, but the finely powdered bone can clump together in your pet’s intestines and cause a blockage. Blood meal, made from dried animal blood, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis.
- Iron — A common fertilizer additive, iron can be toxic if enough is ingested. Most affected pets experience vomiting and diarrhea, but heart and liver problems are possible.
- Organophosphates — The most dangerous types of fertilizers contain organophosphates, a group of extremely toxic chemicals. Even a teaspoon can be fatal to a 50-pound dog.
Composting is a great way to recycle food waste and to make natural garden fertilizer, but the molds that decomposing food produces are hazardous to animals. Tremorgenic mycotoxins cause drooling, vomiting, muscle tremors, seizures, and hyperthermia. Build a fence around your compost pile or invest in a compost bin so your pet will not be tempted by the exposed food.
Chemicals designed to kill insects come in many forms, such as baits, traps, sprays, and sticky traps. Most products only cause gastrointestinal upset, but some contain deadly organophosphates. Pellets, granules, powders, and liquids made to kill slugs and snails are particularly toxic because they contain metaldehyde, which causes neurotoxicity in all animals. Symptoms include vomiting, incoordination, muscle tremors, and seizures. Pets can recover from metaldehyde toxicity if treatment is started quickly.
Rodent baits are formulated to appeal to all animals, and rodenticide toxicity in pets is common. Many rodenticides include the following ingredients:
- Long-acting anticoagulants — The most common type of rodenticide contains ingredients that prevent blood from clotting. Internal bleeding can cause symptoms such as bruising, nose bleeds, and blood in the urine or feces.
- Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) — Baits containing cholecalciferol increase blood calcium levels high enough to cause acute kidney failure. Lack of an antidote or successful treatment options make these baits particularly dangerous to pets.
- Bromethalin — Baits including bromethalin can cause incoordination, muscle tremors, and seizures due to brain swelling.
- Phosphides — Mole and gopher baits often contain phosphides, which produce toxic gas in the stomach after ingestion. As the gas builds, bloating, abdominal pain, and vomiting occur, and lung and heart problems can also develop. The gas is also toxic to people, who can be exposed when a poisoned pet vomits.
If you think your pet may have been exposed to any toxic substance, call our hospital immediately.