An Animal’s Oasis: Making Your Backyard Safe for Pets

May 18, 2015

By Kristin McEvoy


When it comes to pets, most people don’t think of them as mere animals—they are truly members of the family, who naturally want to spend many hours in the backyard along with their two-legged companions. However, as with any family member, it is important to make their experiences as safe as possible.

Whether your pet usually spends time outside supervised or alone, a securely fenced yard is a good start to keeping them safe. Remember, however, that even within the confines of a securely fenced area, potential dangers could be lurking in all corners of the backyard. Pets tend to be curious by nature, so it’s important to be informed of the potential risks they face and take the necessary steps to avoid an unfortunate incident.

Watch the Water

A quick dip in the pool shouldn’t harm your pet. However, if your dog does go for a swim, it is always a good idea to rinse the chlorinated water off of their coat after they’ve finished their laps. Also remember to keep a bowl of fresh water nearby, so your pet won’t be tempted to drink the pool water. Keep in mind, too, that not all dogs are natural swimmers. Consult with your veterinarian and consider purchasing a doggy life jacket if you own a breed that cannot swim (e.g. a pug or bulldog).

If you use a cover or solar blanket for your pool, be sure to be vigilant when your pet is playing near it; any animal that falls into a covered pool could become tangled in the cover and drown. A secondary fence around the perimeter of the pool area could help prevent a potential tragedy. If you choose this added layer of security, be sure your pet is not able to squeeze under the fence or through the gate. Also ensure any entrances to the fenced-off area are locked; many pets are capable of pushing unsecured doors open with their nose.

Curious pets may also be attracted to backyard ponds or water features, especially if they are stocked with fish or attract other wildlife, such as local birds. Consider placing unsteady rocks around the edge of the pond to keep pets from getting too close to the water’s edge. Lower water levels may also discourage inquisitive pets from the pond area, while also presenting less of a drowning hazard.

bigstock-Cat-and-flowers-28[2]Pick Pet-Friendly Plants

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:

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.

bigstock-Taking-In-A-Drink-1486722[3]Beat the Heat

Hot summer weather is perfect for enjoying the backyard along with your pet. Given the rising temperatures, it is important to remember that heat stroke not only affects humans, but animals, too.

Heat stroke can occur surprisingly fast, even when animals are left in the heat for only short periods of time. Signs of heat stroke include:

Prevention is the best treatment, so, be sure to provide your pet with access to a shaded area and plenty of drinking water. Also, never leave your animals unattended in the yard or in cars (even with the windows rolled down).

If your pet does develop heat stroke, you must reduce its body temperature quickly. The most effective way to do this is immediate immersion in a cold water bath. Hosing a pet down with a garden hose can also work nicely. Ice packs should not be used, as they could actually overcool the animal. Massage your pet’s skin gently and flex its legs frequently to encourage blood circulation. While this is being done, transport the pet to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible.

Be Prepared

No matter how many preventative measures you take, it is important to keep in mind that pet-related accidents can still happen. Given the potential dangers present throughout your backyard, it is vital to be prepared in case incidents or injuries occur.

In these cases, a pet first-aid kit can come in very handy. Of course, the exact contents of your kit will differ, depending on what type of pets you have—for example, first-aid supplies for large dogs will differ from those for cats, as each will need different sized bandages and other necessities. That said, the basic components of all pet first-aid kits are generally the same.

Your pharmacy and/or veterinarian will have all of the supplies you’ll need. Your local veterinary hospital may even have a sample kit to show you or a specific kit list they would recommend for your pet. No matter the contents, be sure to select a storage container that allows you to neatly organize your supplies, so they will be easy to find and access in an emergency. A fisherman’s tackle box or tool organizer will do nicely. Also, be sure to keep the kit out of reach of children and check it regularly for expired or depleted supplies.

Enjoying your backyard isn’t limited to just people—odds are your four-legged family members want to get out and enjoy the nice weather just as much as you do. By taking a few simple precautions, pet owners can make their outdoor spaces just as safe for Fido and Fluffy as they are for other family and friends.

Putting Together a First-Aid Kid for Petsbigstock_Woman_And_Dog_In_T[4]

While you can consult with your veterinarian or local veterinary hospital to create a more specific list, the following items are generally common to all pet first-aid kits:

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