Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Bring the outdoors in by planting pet grasses in shallow pots or saucers. © Taylor Gifts

Bring the outdoors in by planting pet grasses in shallow pots or saucers.
© Taylor Gifts

April 2009

Creature Comforts

Plant a pet-friendly garden

Kathryn A. Kahler

Days are finally growing longer and seed catalogs have made their way to the top of the reading pile. Before completing this season's seed and plant order, take some time to plan for a garden that you and your pets can enjoy.

Room to roam

If it's dogs who share your home and yard, take time to observe their traffic patterns before laying out garden beds. Some dogs will wear a path along fence lines so it's best to avoid planting in those areas. Using mulch on pathways and in flower beds helps discourage digging, and rock borders can help keep pets out. Never use cocoa bean mulch because like other chocolate products it contains theobromine and can be lethal if ingested.

Employ creative techniques to protect prized blooms. Consider hanging baskets, raised bed s and trellises. If your dog is a digger, give him his own digging space by loosening the soil or mixing it with sand. Train him to use it by hiding treats or toys in the sand.

Take care when choosing lawn and garden chemicals to reduce toxic exposure to your pet. Try alternatives like compost for flower beds, special gardening soaps, or a mild solution of dish soap and water to remove insects from garden plants. If you must use chemicals, be sure to read the label and follow the instructions for mixing and application. Keep your pets inside while applying chemicals and be sure to check how long they persist – your lawn may be off-limits for several days.

Toxic plants

Some vegetables and flowers can be toxic to your pets, so either fence them off to avoid exposure or avoid planting them altogether. Vegetables that may make your pet sick or even cause death include onions, chives, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes and rhubarb.

Flowers and shrubs to avoid where pets have access include lilies, autumn crocus, rhododendron, foxglove, hyacinth, tulips, narcissus, hydrangea, lupine, morning glory, yew, elephant's ear, nightshade, chrysanthemum, English ivy and lily of the valley. Symptoms of ingestion can include rapid breathing, irregular pulse, seizures, cold extremities, vomiting and lethargy. If you suspect your pet has eaten a toxic plant, call your veterinarian. If you need to make a trip to the vet's office, try to take along a sample of the plant.

Keep handy the number of the National Animal Poison Control Center, (800-548-2423), which is staffed 24 hours a day. There may be a fee for the call, so have a credit card handy.

Plant pet-healthy treats

Lots of plants are actually good for your pets. Consider planting a patch of wheat or oat grass which adds dietary fiber, improves bad breath and helps maintain healthy teeth and gums. Rose hips–the rounded fruit left when rose blossoms fade–are full of vitamin C and help prevent urinary tract infections. Fleabane, pyrethrum and chamomile make excellent flea repellents. Scatter them in Rover's doghouse, spread where he likes to lie in the sun, or make a sachet and hang around his neck.

Bring the outdoors in for the winter by planting pet grasses in shallow pots or saucers. Because these grasses often cause regurgitation, you may want to put them on the back porch and limit access to family living quarters for a while after pets nibble them.

The cat's pajamas

Take heart, cat lovers! While reasons abound for keeping kitty inside, there are ways to allow your cat to enjoy the fresh air and even some freedom outdoors.

She may be skittish at first, but Fluffy can become accustomed to a harness and leash. Have patience and you both can enjoy a regular walk around the backyard. Just don't leave her alone where she can become entangled or choke.

Carrying your cat outside is another option, either in your arms or in a pet carrier, but an even better alternative is to build an outdoor enclosure. Do an online search of "cat enclosures" to see an endless array of possibilities, from purchased kits and plans to ideas from people who have made them from scratch. Some are simple square, wire mesh pens that can be set up on decks or yards. Others are intricate networks of tunnels, catwalks and multiple rooms that allow their occupants the ultimate in independence.

Oh, and don't forget kitty when planning your garden. His feline funhouse won't be complete without some wheat or oat grass to nibble on – to aid digestion and control hairballs – and some catnip to roll in. Your cat will be eternally grateful.

Kathryn A. Kahler writes from Madison.