Today is the official first day of spring and I’m itching to get into my garden.  Of course, your dog or cat usually follows you into the garden and there is always that one favorite spot where they like to dig or curl up for a nap, usually right on top of your favorite flower.  So how can we garden, with our pets in mind, to make it enjoyable for them and us?

I found lots of websites with ideas for designing your garden or landscaping with your pets in mind. The Gardening Know How website has a great post on Creating a Dog Friendly Garden and Sunset Magazine included an article titled How to Landscape a Dog-Friendly Garden.  Both are great articles and include some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.  Maybe your dog will even help with the digging. (just kidding)

In an emergency practice, of course, we see cases where animals have gotten themselves in trouble in the great outdoors, including the backyard garden.  So whether you are planning your spring planting, or your next major landscaping project, here are some additional things to keep in mind to keep your pets safe.

First, consider the roses.  I love roses, but as I was pruning some this weekend I was reminded of my love/hate relationship with all those thorns.  If you plan to have roses, or other bushes with thorns, consider putting them behind a fence or up against the house where there is less likelihood of “Lucky” getting some nasty scrapes on the snout or in the eye.  The thorns can scratch the cornea causing permanent injury, infection and potentially loss of sight; thorns can also get embedded in the skin and form an abscess.

In dry Colorado many plants do better with mulch to retain some moisture. Be aware that “Cocoa Mulch”, which consists mainly of cocoa bean shells, is potentially dangerous to your pets.  The cocoa bean shells contain theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine that is not easily metabolized by animals.  Theobromine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures,  ataxia (unsteady on their feet), and in serious cases, even death.

Lawn Edging
The metal demarcation between lawn and garden is supposed to keep the grass where it belongs.  Unfortunately,  it is a dangerous knife in the grass waiting for a soft paw to step just right and cause a serious injury.  Choose a plastic edging material, treated wood, or other natural material for your yard to eliminate this danger.  In a study done by Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital of the 60 dogs injured by lawn edging in the study, 85 percent of them needed surgery, and 18 percent required extensive surgical repair of skin, subcutaneous tissue, and muscle, tendon, or fascia.  We see multiple lawn edging injuries every year.

Wood Chips or Rock
Creating a rock walkway or zero scape area is pretty common and usually a great option in landscaping design.  But, if you have a dog that likes to eat wood chips or rocks it could become a daily hassle.  Some dogs, more so the large breed dogs like labs or golden retrievers, have a fetish for eating rocks or wood chips.  If it’s just one or two rocks or a couple wood chips, no problem, it all comes out the other end.  But, if for some reason the dog gets stressed out or is overly bored and decides to eat lots of rocks or wood chips, you could be looking at a foreign body obstruction that requires surgery.  So consider your pet’s habits when you choose a landscaping material or you may be saying “no, don’t eat the rocks” many more times than you’d like.

Poisonous Plants
It’s always good to review the lists of poisonous plants.  Unless they smell especially tasty it is unusual for the common plants found in most landscapes to be consumed by pets, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  The fact that we had Peony’s for years and our cats and dogs never touched them would be little consolation if yours decided to take a sample.

In the end, there is more likelihood of lots of enjoyable hours with your pet in the garden and your troubles could be as small as an occasional hole, stolen vegetables, or a squashed flower.  Just keep these few tips in mind and we wish you lots of happy gardening.