Outdoor Hazards for Pets

The arrival of warmer weather means more time outside for you and your pets. But even in your own back yard, there are some potential hazards that could get in the way of the fun. Even certain plants and flowers can be poisonous to pets. Don't let that happen with these tips to keep your pets safe from outdoor hazards:

Fertilizers and Herbicides

  • Before applying a chemical to your lawn or in your yard, consider whether natural, organic or chemical-free remedies such as those described by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality might be just as effective for your intended use.
  • Store all fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides in their original packaging and away from pets.
  • Be sure to read labels before application; overapplication can lead to excess residue.
  • Cover or remove outdoor food bowls, water dishes, pet toys and bird baths before any applications of chemicals.
  • Do not let your pets in the yard while applying chemicals. Wait until chemicals have dried and even up to four days after application before allowing a pet into the area. Pets who lick their paws after walking on treated areas can be poisoned.

Insecticides and Pesticides

  • These products tend to be more toxic to pets than fertilizers and herbicides, so be even more cautious with them.
  • Store all insecticides and pesticides in their original packaging and away from pets. The National Pesticide Information Center (800-858-7378) can help you make informed decisions about pesticide use.
  • The most dangerous forms of pesticides include: slug and snail bait (containing metaldehyde, with iron phosphate products also a concern), fly bait (containing methomyl), systemic insecticides (containing disyston or disulfoton), mole or gopher bait (containing zinc phosphide), and most forms of rat poisons.
  • Dogs can be attracted to slug bait that contains metaldehyde. Signs of poisoning include tremors, seizures, shaking, vomiting, hyper-salivation, rapid heart rate, and abdominal pain. If your pet ingests slug bait, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Use caution with "pet-safe" slug baits containing iron phosphate. These products can toxic to pets (iron overdose) and can cause gastrointestinal signs. From the National Pesticide Information Center: "Iron phosphate is considered very low in toxicity when eaten. However, eating too much iron can cause stomach upset in humans and in animals. Diarrhea, vomiting, and depression have been reported. In severe cases of iron poisoning, symptoms might resolve temporarily and return 12 - 96 hours after the first signs appeared. At this stage, problems with blood pressure and heart rate can lead to shock and sometimes death. Weakness, muscle tremors and liver failure have also been reported."
  • Natural alternatives to insecticides and pesticides include:
    • Diatomaceous Earth: This is made from fossilized remains of one-celled algae. It feels like talcum powder, but scratches and absorbs the wax layer on a bug’s surface, leaving it to die from dehydration.
    • Fermenting Liquid: Set out shallow containers of yeast, water and spoiled yogurt or beer, and bury the container flush with the soil surface. Slugs love the scent of yeast.

Cocoa Mulch and Dogs

According to the ASPCA Poison Control Center, "Dogs who consume enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea. In cases where very large amounts of mulch have been consumed, muscle tremors or other more serious neurological signs could occur."

The key is to watch what your pet ingests, especially if they have a tendency to ingest organic matter. If you suspect that your pet has ingested any toxic or potentially toxic substance, call your veterinarian.

Flea and Tick Control Products

A common cause of pet poisoning in the summer months is improper use or application of flea and tick control products. Use such products responsibly and according to package instructions. Overuse and misuse can be deadly.

  • Never apply 45-65% permethrin "spot-on" products to cats, even in small amounts. Highly concentrated permethrin can be extremely toxic to cats.
  • If you have both dogs and cats in your household, you should be aware that using a permethrin "spot-on" product on a dog may cause illness or death in a household cat.
  • Never use flea medications intended for a dog on a cat instead. It is important to use only flea and tick products specifically designed for cats, and to administer the proper dosage.
  • All flea and tick "spot-on" products—even ones with nearly identical brand names—are not alike. Check the label to identify the active ingredient before you apply it.

Plants and Compost

  • Compost can contain bacteria that, if ingested by pets, can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as possibly tremors and seizures. Keep your pets away from compost piles.
  • Ingestion of even small amounts of certain plants (for example, rhododendron, azalea, oleander, lily, or yew) can be harmful or fatal to a pet. You may want to review our list of poisonous plants.
  • Symptoms of plant poisoning include: irritation to skin and/or mouth, diarrhea, seizures, lethargy, unconsciousness, and/or vomiting. Seek medical attention especially if vomiting (sometimes normal in pets after ingesting plant matter) is accompanied by these other symptoms.

Poison Control and Emergency Veterinary Care

It's always a good idea to have on hand the phone numbers for your veterinarian, a local emergency animal hospital, and poison control. If you suspect poisoning, call the ASPCA's Poison Control Hotline (1-888-426-4435, fee) or the Pet Poison Helpline (1-800-213-6680, fee) or your veterinarian immediately.

Published: March 9, 2009;    Updated: May 15, 2013

Filed Under: Safety, Seasonal Issues, Companion Animals, Cats, Dogs

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association

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