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Making Your Backyard a Better, Safer Place for Dogs

June 29, 2017

Making Your Backyard a Better, Safer Place for Dogs | Golden Meadows

Your dog’s background is his kingdom. It’s where he adventures, plays, relaxes, and — can’t forget this one — does his business. Even if your pup is a true lap dog or couch potato, he probably can’t resist heading outside into the sunshine each day.

Unfortunately, that kingdom can sometimes harbor hidden dangers that can harm your dog’s health, especially if you aren’t aware of them in the first place.

Setting up your dog’s backyard play space properly is a bit like baby-proofing; you need to think like a dog and identify/rectify any potential dangers. From poisonous plants to barbecues and even pools, we teach you how to puppy-proof and cultivate a perfect, dog-friendly outdoor play space right at home.

Poisonous Plants

The very grass under your dog’s feet tickles his toes, but it could be hiding potentially poisonous plants, too. Deadly nightshade, a vine-like plant with dark purple and red berries, is one of the most common backyard denizens that harm dogs. The tempting berries contain a toxin called atropa belladonna that, while used in medicine, can seriously harm your dog if ingested.

Other potentially poisonous backyard plants include:

  • Stinging nettles
  • Sweet pea flowers
  • Buttercups
  • Yellow dock
  • Queen Anne’s lace
  • Most lilies
  • Yews
  • Morning glories
  • Yarrow
  • Certain rose species
  • Foxglove flowers
  • Poison ivy
  • Baneberry

This list is by no means exhaustive, nor does it include trees (we’ll address those shortly). It pays to become something of a plant identification specialist, especially if you have pets that spend a significant amount of time outdoors.

Poisonous Trees

Just as certain plants in your dog’s backyard can be poisonous, so, too, can the trees that line your property. Worse yet, it’s those very trees your dog is most likely to grab hold of or chew on when pieces fall off, so the risk of ingesting poison wood is actually higher than the risk of ingesting plants.

Fortunately, there aren’t really a ton of trees you need to worry about. These are the very worst offenders:

  • Various oak species
  • Dogwood trees
  • Chokeberry trees
  • Angelica trees
  • Umbrella trees
  • Bay laurel trees
  • Spindle tree/burning bush
  • Philodendron trees
  • Poison sumac
  • Apple trees
  • Plum trees
  • Cherry trees
  • Apricot trees
  • Bead trees
  • Winterberry trees

Many dog lovers find it surprising that fruit trees would be toxic to dogs; after all, dogs can eat fruit with little to no harm. But the limbs and bark of these trees is very different from the fruit, and may contain everything from trace amounts of cyanide to more dangerous substances.

Swimming Areas

Have a pool in the backyard? Even if Fido knows how to swim, that pool can increase his risk of drowning. Think of your dog like a 5-year-old child; if needed, they can probably tread water for some time, but they will grow tired eventually. If you’re not present, that could spell serious harm.

Keep pools, hot tubs, ponds, and manmade water features blocked off from your dog when you aren’t with him. For smaller pups and those who struggle in the water, a canine life vest is an excellent safety measure — especially for tiny puppies who need security while learning to swim!

Puddles, Brooks & Streams

Puddles, brooks, and streams are a problem for an entirely different reason: it’s not about the swimming, but the water your dog drinks instead. All three backyard features can contain pathogens that may make your pup very sick. Puddles are especially dangerous and may contain giardia and coccidia as well as water-borne parasites.

Never allow your pup to drink freely from standing water. Quickly-flowing rivers that you know are generally trustworthy may be okay, but standing water encourages the growth of nasty bacteria that could make him sick.

Water features a breeding zone for mosquitos, too, and if surrounded by lush grass, may even become a hiding place for ticks. That can raise your pup’s risk for Lyme and mosquito-borne illnesses. Clear these out in the summer or use a repellant when your pup goes outside.

Venomous Insects

Anyone who’s ever had the unfortunate experience of owning a dog who decided to eat a bee knows just how unfortunate and pitiful-looking a sting can be. The mouth and jaw swells up, sometimes so much so that the poor pup can’t eat. Suddenly, you have a trip to the vet on your hands.

Bees in the backyard are far from the only venomous insects you need to worry about. Spiders, wasps, yellowjackets, red wasps, centipedes, scorpions, and red ants are all common American backyard denizens that could harm your pup if he decides to have a taste.

Both red ants and red wasps are especially concerning because a sting from one releases pheremones that tell the rest of the hive to attack. Though it’s very rare, attacks on dogs aren’t unheard of.

So how can you keep your pup safe from being stung? Start with the occasional inspection. Check around your yard for nests or hives, and have them removed promptly. You really can’t control single insects, nor should you seek them out and kill them (many are beneficial), so ensure that your dog has proper recall training to pull him away when he gets feisty.

Brush & Debris

Have old brush or debris laying around your property? Whether you’re saving them for a roaring fire or storing them for DIY projects, those piles can be a major pitfall for your dog. Many a pup finds himself at the vet’s office with an injured paw after coming down on a pile of sharp branches, or worse yet, an old board with a nail sticking out of it.

Old brush and debris piles may hide another danger, too: snakes. If you’re from an area with rattlers or venomous snakes, be extremely cautious around the debris with your dog. Snakes may move in and co-opt the pile for their burrow, only to be discovered by a curious pup on a bathroom break.

Have a brush pile you absolutely can’t clear up right now? Cover it with a tarp and use rocks or pegs to hold it in place. It won’t prevent snakes from getting in, but it will prevent your dog from harming himself on the pile.

What your dog needs most from his backyard kingdom is space to play, lay, and laze around with you, his favorite companion. Don’t worry so much about how much space you have; instead, maximize whatever’s available by storing away unnecessary backyard items. Toss down a hefty, sturdy water dish, a waterproof/weatherproof bed, and a few toys, and fence the whole thing off if you’re unsure of her ability to stay put. A little common sense goes a long way with backyard prep!

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