Thursday, March 10, 2011

Keep the Grass Green and Your Pets Safe

One of the best parts about living in central Texas is the beautiful springs that we enjoy. While big portions of the country continue to dig out of the snow, we Austinites are already busting out the shorts and flip-flops. After a record breaking cold winter, the sunshine is out, the breezes are blowing and blooms are bursting into color in every direction. Guess it's time to start the old yard work....

My yard looks mighty tired this spring compared to other years. My mulch has blown away, my plants are brown and kinda crunchy and some of my oldest plants may have succumbed to age and the multiple nights of freezing temps.

What can I do to make my yard healthy and beautiful while still keeping my dogs safe?

Mulch

First, pass on the cocoa mulch. Cocoa mulch is a fine, sweet smelling mulch that contains both theobromine and caffeine. Both chemicals are harmful to your pet. Because of the sweet smell (some say it smells like a chocolate Poptart), dogs may be inclined to try a bite. Even a few ounces of the mulch can be dangerous to your pet.

Dogs that ingest and become ill from eating cocoa mulch will show much the same symptoms of those that overdose on chocolate. Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are early symptoms, but higher does can produce restlessness, excitability, increased heart rates, tremors, shaking and even seizures. There are several varieties of mulch that can be used in place of cocoa mulch. For example, cedar or pine mulch provides a good substitute.

Compost

This next caution comes from personal experience. We all dream of a velvety green lawn to play in with our dogs. To get the beautiful green lawn that we all seek, some choose to toss around some compost. One popular brand of compost in central Texas is the beloved Dillo Dirt. Probably most famous for "subbing in" for mud at the ACL (Woodstock Wannabe) Rain Fest in Zilker Park a few years back, Dillo Dirt is made right here in Austin. According to the City of Austin, Dillo Dirt consists of "yard trimmings collected curbside and treated sewage sludge" which is cured at 170 degree Fahrenheit temperatures to kill all the plant and human pathogens it may contain.

It's not so much that ingesting Dillo Dirt is toxic to your pet, although the thought is not exactly pleasant. The problem with Dillo Dirt and all types of compost is that dogs that eat large quantities could develop a serious gastric obstruction. Large amounts of compost can become "wadded up" in the intestines causing a blockage. Once a blockage has occurred, surgery is the only treatment.

My 13 year old Lab ate loads of Dillo Dirt last year and developed a serious obstruction in several places in his bowel. Although his veterinarian was brilliant, at his age, the four hour surgery nearly killed him. For five days and nights, we transported him to the Emergency Clinic and his regular veterinarian. The toxicity released into his body from the blockage caused him to develop a heart arrhythmia. Even though my vet assured me that the arrhythmia would resolve itself (and it did), you certainly never want to hear that your "sweet old man" has any type of heart problem. The surgery took its toll on us as well as Cayman. Not only the emotional exhaustion that comes with a life threatening event, but the financial toll as well was considerable ( and I work for the animal hospital that performed the surgery and received a significant discount).

Natural compost made from your "leftovers" can also be harmful to pets. Moldy food, and certain fruits and vegetables, bacteria and other pathogens could cause your pet to become very sick.

So, my advice, steer clear of the Dillo Dirt and reserve your compost for a fenced in garden....

Plants

Thinking about sprucing up your flower beds? We highlighted the dangers of the Sago Palm which is used in lots of central Texas yards. Other common plants to our area that are toxic to dogs include the caladium, Elephant Ears, oleander, Lantana, and mushrooms. Symptoms vary in presentation and degree of seriousness. For a complete list of toxic plants, check out the ASPCAs Poisonous Plant list.

Pesticides and Insecticides

Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of insecticides and pesticides. The key is keeping our pets from coming into contact with them. Rat poison is by far, one of the most toxic poisons to dogs. Dogs that ingest rat poison suffer several types of neurological effects - the severity of which depends upon the amount eaten. Muscle tremors, seizures, paralysis and brain swelling can occur. Successful treatment is largely dependent on how much poison was eaten and how quickly treatment begins. Treatment includes administration of activated charcoal and induced vomiting to clear the system of the poison and hopefully block absorption, as well as IV fluids to keep the animal hydrated. A mutli-day hospital stay is probably necessary as well.

If you must use poisonous substances in your yard to control pests, be sure to read the cautionary statements on all packaging and supervise your pet when he/she is in the yard.

For more information on keeping your garden and yard safe for your pets, check out the ASPCA's article Pet-Safe Gardening.

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