March 23, 2012

How safe is your backyard for your pets?

Before you let your dog or cat roll in the grass, make sure your home turf isn’t an animal danger zone.

Backyard hazard: Pesticides and herbicides

“Since pets are so much lower to the ground and smaller in size than humans, they’re much more susceptible to the toxins we douse our lawns with,” says Paul Tukey, founder of SafeLawns Foundation. Studies show that exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides for a year or more can dramatically increase your pet’s risk of bladder cancer and lymphoma. Check the label: The primary ingredient to steer clear of, says Tukey, is a compound called 2,4-D, a chemical that kills weeds such as dandelion and clover.

•  Smarter and safer: Try a natural product like those from EcoSmart (, which uses oils form herbs such as rosemary and clove, or Safer Brand (, which utilizes plant-based materials to keep pests and weeds at bay.

Backyard hazard: Fertilizer

Many fertilizers, especially organic ones, are made up of blood meal, bonemeal and fish meal, which translate into an aromatic, mouthwatering snack for dogs and cats. But don’t let them dig into the feast, says veterinarian Safdar Khan, director of toxicology at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) poison control center. Munching as little as a cup of fertilizer can lead to vomiting, bloating, dehydration and gastrointestinal blockage, says Khan. Bonemeal poses an extra threat because it can create a cementlike ball in the stomach that’s almost impossible to digest, making it life threatening, says veterinarian Justine Lee, of the Pet Poison Helpline, so avoid these varieties as much as you possibly can.

•  Smarter and safer: Opt for a veggie-based fertilizer, such as one that uses cornmeal or alfalfa, which will maintain your yard as well as the meaty version will.

Backyard hazard: Plants

To help them defend against hungry animals looking for lunch, numerous plants have been equipped by Mother Nature with a Personal Poison Protection Plan. Rhododendron, for example, can cause your pet’s heart rate to rise dangerously high levels and can be lethal, tulips can bring on convulsions, and even fruit trees can be dangerous: Leaves from apple trees, for instance, contain cyanide, which can result in labored breathing.

•  Smarter and safer: You can make simple swaps as you plan your garden, such as trading your amaryllis for African daisies. To get a full list of what to plant and what to avoid, visit the ASPCA’s website:

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