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Pet Proofing Your Backyard

James R. Speiser, DVM, DABVP, CCRT
August 14, 2015

With a little over a month left of summer, you might still find yourself trying to tackle backyard projects complete with building materials, ladders, paints, stains, or gardening supplies. But when these projects include our pets, there might be some consequences that could result in injury or intoxication if you don’t think of your pet’s safety. Here are a few recommendations to help “pet proof” your backyard:

Chemicals. Many common chemicals used in backyard projects such as petroleum distillates (i.e. deck stains and paint thinners) are toxic to pets. Swimming pool chemicals and cleaning agents can be toxic or fatal to pets if ingested, or can cause extreme skin irritation with skin contact. Always make sure that chemicals are in secure containers so they aren’t chewed up or otherwise broken into by pets. You would be surprised to know what some dogs and cats think is tasty! Beware of glues that contain polyurethane, like Gorilla Glue. When pets chew the containers, the moisture in the mouth or stomach causes the polyurethane in the glue to expand dramatically causing suffocation, or stomach rupture. We have done more than a couple of surgeries to remove a perfect cast of the stomach out of Gorilla Glue!

Swimming Pools. Deep pools, fountains, or even fish ponds should be behind pet-proof fencing. Small wading pools should be drained and turned over when not in use to prevent the water from becoming a stagnant mosquito breeding ground, leading to pet illness if the water is ingested. On a hot day, any water is good water to a pet! It’s also a good idea to have an easy exit site for fish ponds made from rocks or submerged steps in case a small cat or dog falls in.

Structures & Fences. Inspect fences to assure that there are no gaps beneath or within the fence that could lead to escape, or worse yet, getting caught. A fearful and struggling pet caught in the fence on a hot day will quickly develop heat stroke. If there are gaps beneath the fence, purchase anchor stakes to secure it to the ground to prevent pets from squirming out or digging a deeper escape route! Backyard sheds and tool buildings can trap or injure pets. Make sure buildings are secure and that doors close and latch securely. Inspect for any opportunity for a pet to get in, but not out, that could lead to a disastrous situation on hot days. Be sure to check closely before locking shed doors to assure that your cat or dog did not follow you in unnoticed, or that any “doggie doors” are open, and not stuck or covered up.

Gardens. Do some research to ensure your garden is not going to harbor toxic plants like English Ivy, lilies and oleander. Organic gardening fertilizers such as bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion or mulches made from coconut or cocoa beans, can be quite tasty to pets. This can lead to intoxication or intestinal obstruction that may require hospitalization or surgical intervention.

As another side note, if your pet spends a lot of time outside, make sure you provide them with some type of shade and make sure they have plenty of fresh water in a container, since self watering devices can sometimes fail.

The backyard is a fun place to enjoy both children and pets, and with a little planning, it can be just that!
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