While many homeowners choose backyard foliage based solely on esthetics, pet owners must also consider their animals’ safety when selecting what plants to include in their gardens. Some flowers—such as azaleas, lilies, autumn crocus and tulip bulbs—can be potentially toxic to pets. If you’re unsure about the safety of a particular plant, your veterinarian can provide you with guidance.
Cocoa bean hull mulch is another garden staple that could be harmful to your four-legged friends. The cocoa bean itself is a rich source of alkyloid methylxanthines, theobromine and caffeine. Pets tend to be sensitive to these substances; if a pet ingests whole beans or cocoa powder, they may develop ‘chocolate toxicity.’
Toxicity studies have shown that compared to other animals, dogs are unusually sensitive to theobromine. This is because they have a low rate of theobromine metabolism, which causes the chemical compound to stay in the blood stream for a longer period of time. Reactions can include:
- nervous system stimulation;
- rapid heart rate;
- irregular heartbeat;
- vomiting, diarrhea and frequent urination; and
- restlessness and hyperactivity.
These symptoms usually appear about four to five hours after ingestion. More severe signs of chocolate toxicity could include tremors, seizures and death. Clinical signs may not appear for several hours and complete recovery, after veterinary care, may take several days.
In addition, the hull surface of the cocoa bean may harbour residue of pesticides such as organochlorines (OCl) and organophosphates (OP). These beans come primarily from Central and South America, so they might even carry remnants of other pesticides, some of which may not be licensed for use in North America. While cats can be assumed to have the same risk of pesticide exposure, they are far less likely to eat the mulch than dogs.
Rodent poison and pest control methods for slugs and other critters can also be potentially fatal if consumed by a pet. Free-roaming cats have a particularly increased risk of being poisoned. This can occur if the cat eats a poisonous plant, bait left out to kill rodents or even a rodent that has been exposed to poison.
Potential poisons may also be present on chemically treated lawns. If pesticides or fertilizers are being used on your lawn or in your garden, look into using pet-friendly, organic pest repellents wherever possible. You should also be aware of and able to recognize the symptoms of poisoning (e.g. vomiting, drooling and seizures) and familiarize yourself with the location of the nearest animal emergency clinic.
Common parasites, such as fleas and ticks, may also be crawling around your backyard landscape. Parasites can live inside or outside of your cat or dog’s body and can cause serious illness or even death. Thankfully, safe medications are available for parasite prevention. These treatments come in different forms, such as a beef-flavoured chews or liquid applied to your pet’s skin; some can even protect your pet from several different types of parasites in a single treatment. No matter how much time your cat or dog may spend outdoors, talk to your veterinarian about putting a suitable parasite prevention plan in place.