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Pet Connection: Be mindful of pets when landscaping

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014 - 12:00 am

If you have a pet, spring gardening can bring a great deal of frustration. The owner of a Labrador retriever, who wishes to remain unnamed, planted 100 gladiola bulbs. When she was done, she went into the house to clean up – while her dog dug up all 100 bulbs.

Thankfully, the dog didn’t chew on or eat the bulbs, as they are toxic, causing extreme salivation, vomiting and diarrhea. With a little planning, though, you can have both a pet and a garden.

Design and placement

Pets can foil gardening efforts by using the garden as a place to relieve themselves, a nap spot or by digging up plants. Plus, some common garden plants can be poisonous to pets. Did you know that the foliage of both tomatoes and potatoes is toxic? To keep your garden and your pets safe, the best idea is to make your garden inaccessible to them.

A raised-bed garden

One elevated from the level of your yard – with concrete blocks or wood planks – works very well. You can build one in the size and shape of your choice, or seek out ready-made raised-bed gardens from online garden catalogs; all you have to do is find the right spot and put them together. A fence is the best way to keep your best friend in your good graces. A short decorative fence at the top of the raised-bed garden can work, although if you have a garden in the ground, you’ll need a taller, sturdier fence. Think about the placement of your garden.

Judy Macomber, a master gardener who is a dog owner, says to examine your dog’s present habits. “Where does your dog sleep outside? Where are his paths for wandering the yard? Where does he find shade when it’s hot?” It’s much better to put the garden in an area where your dog hasn’t already established himself than it is to change those habits.

Garden issues

Gardens bring some potential dangers for pets. Many gardeners use a variety of products that can harm or even kill pets. Thankfully, safer alternatives exist. Choose plants wisely. The ASPCA has a comprehensive list of poisonous plants on its website: www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/cats-plant-list. Print the list and take it with you when you shop for seeds or plants.

Pesticides can be poisonous to your pet, and long-term exposure has been linked to cancer. Thankfully, they aren’t necessary in most home gardens. Instead, handpick insects off your plants or simply wash the plants with soap and water. A few drops of citrus dish soap in a spray bottle filled with water works well. Herbicides have also been linked to cancer, especially bladder cancer, in dogs. Avoid them by simply pulling or digging up the unwanted plants. If that’s not possible, pour boiling water on the weeds.

Chemical fertilizers can burn your pet’s paws and are often toxic, but natural soil conditioners, such as those made from earthworm castings, are safe for you and your pets. Many online sites offer safe gardening tips as well as pet-safe pest-control solutions. Macomber recommends www.mastergardenerssandiego.org.

If you have questions about gardening in your locale, a master gardener in your area should be able to help. Find one at the American Horticulture Society’s website: www.ahs.org/gardening-resources/master-gardeners. Guest columnist Liz Palika is an award-winning writer and certified dog trainer. She shares her home with three dogs who are well-behaved in her flower and vegetable gardens. For more, go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

The buzz

Fear of flying got you earth-bound? Some airports are providing therapists to help – canine therapists, that is. Dogs are patrolling the halls of airports in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Miami looking for people to pet them. The dogs and their handlers are trained to provide stress relief and comfort and to answer questions. Look for dogs wearing vests that say “Pet Me.”


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.

Read more articles by Liz Palika



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