Pets and the garden

Posted on: 26 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

How to keep your garden and your pets happy and healthy this summer.

pet safety in the gardenAs the sun comes out, so too does the garden furniture, the barbeque and the watering can as we all make the most of our gardens or outdoor spaces. Whether you have a 10 acre estate or a tiny balcony, make sure you and your pet make the most of your garden this summer. Here are the Pet Health Council's top tips.

Designated & forbidden areas

One of the best ways to maintain harmony in the garden is to set up designated areas in the garden and train your pet to understand what behaviour is acceptable and where.

Shady spot

One of your pet's key needs during the summer is shade. Although a few pets enjoy sunbathing it is important that there is a shaded area to escape to if they begin to overheat. Dogs can be trained to go to the shade, so consider training them this summer. Make sure that this basic need is met by planting durable large plants in a corner to provide a place for your pet to rest and cool down away from the dangers of the sun.

Cats and dogs can suffer from sunburn and even skin cancer. During the summer months strong sunscreen, such as factor 50 should be applied to the ears of white eared cats and rabbits, and to the muzzles of dogs with white or pink muzzles and scarce hair.

If you are unsure, ask your vet for advice. Remember that the heat inside cars, kennels, hutches, greenhouses and conservatories can become very warm, sometimes dangerously so, during hot weather.

Feeding time

It is not recommended to feed your pet outside, remember food outdoors attracts flies and wasps, so uneaten food can be fly-blown in minutes and it quickly 'goes off' in the heat. Leftovers also attract mice that may carry diseases which can be transmitted to pets. It is always better to feed indoors and it may be appropriate to feed dry food if it is unlikely it will all be cleared in one go.

Pets are best fed in the morning and evening when it is cooler. Do not worry if their appetite is lower, as it is fairly normal during warm weather.

However, it is very important that you ensure that your pet has access to fresh water at all times, particularly in the heat. A water bowl outside in the shade is a good idea so that pets have access to drinking water both indoors and out.

Digging

It is instinctive for dogs to dig, however, it is not behaviour that most gardeners want to encourage and it can cause health concerns, if stones and gravel get caught in paws. Keeping your dog fed and stimulated with other activities is one of the best ways of stop him from digging. You can distract them with toys, a ball, or a small morsel of food. Basic obedience training will keep your dog away from fragile plants and fertilised earth, which is particularly attractive to dogs.

Animals that eat plants, compost or manure must be dissuaded since they are at risk of getting a taste for it and transmitting disease.

Repellents

An easy trick to keep your dog away from fresh garden beds is to sprinkle forbidden areas with specific pet/garden repellents that come in granule or spray form. Read instructions carefully before using any garden chemical at all. Even so called "natural" products can be dangerous to some animals. To deter cats, oil of citronella should do the trick as they hate the smell of citrus. Coleus Canina, also known as the scaredy cat plant, is very effective to repel cats and dogs. It is available from most garden centres. Another option is commercial products from your local pet shop.

Litter box

To avoid brown patches on your lawn, create an outdoor litter box for both cats and dogs. To integrate it into the garden and offer your pet some privacy you can also surround the litter tray with plants. 

Concentrated urine scalds the grass and kills conifers. Dilute urine does not, so if you want to save the lawn, encourage your dog to drink plenty of water.

Plant

By choosing your garden plants carefully you can not only have a garden which looks fantastic, but one that also offers your pets entertainment and protects them from potential dangers.

Cat nip & cast iron

Cats have always been highly attracted to cat nip, and it is as easy to grow as mint. Dogs love movement and swinging plants make perfect entertainment for them. If your dog has a tendency to play with plants, plump for solid stemmed varieties such as the cast iron plant which, as its name indicates, can endure considerable neglect!

Poison & allergies

There are many plants which are poisonous to animals, as listed at RHS. Lilies, especially the pollen from the stamens of the Amaryllis, are particularly toxic to cats and can cause vomiting and kidney failure if not ingested directly. Remember that pollen can fall in your pets' coats or food bowls. Other common garden plants to watch out for are lupins, tulips, cyclamen, oleander, buttercups, daffodils, cowslips and ivy and the bean in the castor oil plant. Toxic shrubs and trees include yew, rhododendron and laburnum. Note that onions are quite toxic for dogs as well.

Pets can suffer from pollen allergies. If your dog is really suffering then talk to your vet as a vaccination is available.

Dangers

Being outside is a great mood booster for all the family, humans and pets alike find themselves energized by time spent soaking up the sun in the garden. It is important to remember though that all that extra time in the garden exposes your pets to an array of dangers specific to summer gardens.

Insects

Fleas are most prolific during hot and rainy summers. It is essential that you regularly use an anti-flea treatment throughout the entire year but if you see fleas or ticks in your pet's coat, effective products are available (shampoos and sprays) from your vet or pharmacist.

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