We are into peak garden time in Ireland. Our pets enjoy gardens just as much as we do, and over the years, I have come across a number of situations where pets have encountered problems in the garden that could have been avoided.
The first issue is that some people have poisonous plants in their garden, and their pets can easily access these. Common examples that are particularly toxic to dogs include chrysanthemums, daffodil bulbs, Larkspur, foxgloves, hydrangea, acorns, tomato plants, wisteria and yew. While dogs can co-exist with these plants safely if they leave them alone, dogs are prone to chewing anything within reach. You don't necessarily need to root up every example of these plants: you just need to make sure that your dogs doesn't chew them.
If you think your dog has eaten a toxic plant, speak to your vet straight away. Signs of poisoning can include vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritations, depending on the plant and how much has been eaten.
As well as these examples, many other plants can cause your dog minor issues if they eat a lot: a tummyful of many types of vegetation is likely to cause an upset. The best answer is to simply keep an eye on your dog in the garden. Pay attention to what they are up to, so that they stay out of trouble.
You should also be aware that there are plants that are known for being "dog friendly": these include plants like lavender, rosemary, calendula, dill and fennel. These are colourful, fragrant plants, demonstrating that you can still have a beautiful garden while also ensuring that it's completely safe for your pets.
Cats are far more fastidious than dogs, and they're rarely poisoned by plants. However, they can be prone to eating other garden items that can cause problems. Poisons like slug bait are palatable to dogs and cats. If such products left out in an area accessible to pets, pets are likely to sample them, and the consequences can be very serious. Affected animals can show neurological signs, such as seizures and collapse. Without treatment, fatalities happen. The answer is simple: just make sure that when you use products like this, keep them covered so that your pets can't eat them. And if that isn't possible, keep your pets indoors when you've spread the toxin. The same applies to weedkillers and even fertilisers: they are unlikely to cause serious illness in your pets, but they can certainly cause irritation and upset. The best answer is to carefully read the instructions of any product that you are using: there's always good advice on how to keep pets safe.
Poisoning are not the only issue to be aware of: if your dog is spending longer stretches of time in the garden during periods of fine weather, you need to make sure that they have a shaded spot and access to fresh, cool, water. I've seen several cases of serious heat stroke that have happened in people's own back gardens, simply because their dogs had nowhere cool to lie down and relax. The signs of heat stroke are not always obvious to people: if your dog flops down, panting, and doesn't want to move on a sunny day, there's a high risk that they are suffering from the heat. The simple answer is to move them to the shade, and hose them down with cold water. If they still refuse to get up and behave normally, you need to rush them to the vet. Every year, as a vet, I see dogs dying of heat stroke when owners had no idea that their pet was so seriously unwell.
Many owners are not aware of the risk that slugs and snails present to dogs: these molluscs often come in tiny sizes that lurk in the grass, and when dogs eat grass (as many do) then end up swallowing slugs and snails. These don't cause harm in themselves, but they often carry lungworm larvae which infest the dog. The main issue with lungworm is that the parasite stops the blood from clotting, and affected dogs can suffer fatal internal haemorrhage. I've seen two cases of young adult dogs that have died unexpectedly overnight: on autopsy, they were found to have suffered brain haemorrhages linked to lungworm infection. A simple once-monthly tablet or spot-on treatment from your vet is the best way to ensure that your pet is protected from this risk.
My last garden tip may seem simple, but again, it can be life saving. Double-check your garden is secure and there aren't any gaps in the boundary fences or walls that your dog could wriggle through. Dogs can be escape artists, loving the adventure of escaping and heading off on their own. But it's a dangerous world out there: in particular, road accidents are common when dogs are roaming on their own, and if they are in the countryside, there's a serious risk that they may indulge in chasing livestock.
I've taken the extra step of making my garden as cat-proof as possible, to stop my three cats from heading out on their own. There's a company (protectapet.com)that makes custom-designed fence-topping screens to stop cats getting out. I've suffered the loss of cats being killed on the road in the past, but I know that they love playing in the garden, so I don't want to keep them indoors all the time. Cat-proof fencing around my garden boundary is a good compromise.
Enjoy your gardens, and make sure your pets stay safe!