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You might not think twice about letting your dog hang out unsupervised in a securely fenced yard, but even the best fences can't keep some dangers from encroaching into your pup's territory. For your dog's safety and your peace of mind, follow this guide to learn how to keep dogs healthy and safe when you can't be there to keep an eye on them.
Backyard Dog Safety Hazards
Here are some of the most common threats to your dog's health and safety that might show up in your backyard.
Toxic Plants and Mulch
Toxic plants are one of the most prevalent backyard dangers to dogs. In addition to common garden plants, such as daffodils, hydrangeas, elephant ears and anything in the lily family, wild mushrooms and some weeds like milkweed also pose a threat. While typically not harmful unless ingested, if your dog gets curious and eats a toxic plant, they could experience clinical signs as mild as upset stomach and vomiting or as serious as heart or liver failure.
Depending on where you live, poison ivy, oak or sumac might also be hazardous to your dog. While long fur may protect your dog from developing a rash, they can transfer the oils from these plants to humans. And if your dog is allergic, ingesting these plants could cause a severe reaction that could include difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock.
A closely related threat is certain kinds of mulch. Cocoa mulch is becoming increasingly popular among gardeners for its insect-repellent properties and nutrient value. But, as a byproduct of chocolate production, this mulch is just as toxic to your dog as a chocolate bar.
This is one dog safety hazard that's often overlooked. While you might think to place barriers around cactus plants, rose bushes or other thorny plants to protect your pup, it might not occur to you that those sticks your dog loves to chase and chew can also pose a threat. Splinters can break off and cause damage to your dog's mouth or intestinal tract, even potentially damaging the lungs if inhaled, says Preventive Vet. Certain grasses and weeds can also produce burrs that could become painfully embedded in your pooch's paws and skin. And splinters don't just come from chewing sticks — weathered boards on wooden decks or porches can hurt your pup's paws as well. And don't forget about other objects that you might leave lying around outside such as rakes, shovels or small children's toys. While these might seem fairly harmless for your dog to sniff around, the potential of them not seeing a sharp object while chasing a squirrel or other small critters can be enough to turn it into a real hazard.
Ticks and Mosquitoes
Ticks and mosquitoes are more than just pests that make your dog itch — they both carry diseases that pose a serious health hazard to humans and pets alike. Mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae that can be transferred to your dog through a single bite. While heartworm prevention can keep your dog safe from that culprit, don't forget to also protect your dog against tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever that can make your dog seriously ill.
Wild Animals and Strays
While fences are great for keeping your dog in, they're not always so good at keeping other animals out. Fences are usually little to no barrier to determined stray cats or dogs and wild animals like raccoons. In addition to the potential wounds your pup might get if they find themselves in a confrontation, these animals also carry rabies and other transmissible diseases.
Fur-covered wildlife isn't the only potential doggie danger. Venomous snakes and poisonous toads are hard to keep out of any garden. Even non-poisonous reptiles could transmit salmonella and other bacteria and parasites if your pooch gobbles them up. Depending on where you live, large predators like alligators or pythons might be something you need to watch out for. Small dogs in particular make a tantalizing target for hawks and other large birds of prey.
How to Keep Dogs Healthy and Safe
By now, you might be concerned about letting your dog run around without supervision. But, with some diligent dog-proofing, you can turn your yard into a relatively safe haven for your pet. Follow these tips on how to keep dogs healthy and safe:
Check your fence regularly and repair any spots where your dog might get out or other animals might get in. Use landscaping materials to reinforce weak areas where digging under the fence might be possible.
Scan your yard for any plants that might be toxic to your dog. Remove any potentially toxic plants you've planted, and dispose of any wild plants or weeds that could be harmful to your dog.
If using herbicides to kill poison ivy or other toxic weeds, be sure to follow the instructions closely and keep your dog inside until the area has completely dried. Remove any bowls, toys or bedding from the backyard as well.
Use landscaping materials to block access to thorny plants, and keep smaller cacti plants out of your pup's reach.
Keep wooden decks and porches painted or treated to prevent splinters from ending up in paws.
Keep your yard clear of large sticks, piles of leaves and other debris, and mow regularly. This will help cut down on the flea and tick population as well as prevent snakes and other potential hazards from having a place to hide. Emptying bird baths, kiddie pools, buckets and other containers where standing water might accumulate will also help reduce the threat of mosquitoes. But make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water any time they are kept outside for extended periods!
Discourage your dog from thinking of sticks as toys. If you catch your dog playing with or chewing on a stick, redirect their attention to a toy while you remove and dispose of the stick.
- Pick up any tools or toys that could potentially cause harm to your dog when you're done using them.
Keep your dog's rabies vaccination up to date. If they're not already on flea, tick and heartworm prevention, talk to your veterinarian right away.
If you keep firewood, stack it somewhere other than your backyard. Wood piles are notorious hiding places for small animals and snakes. The same goes for trash and recycling bins, which might attract raccoons, stray cats or in some cases, even bears.
Don't tie your dog up in the yard, warns Doggie Desires. This will make your pup an easy target for predators and will prevent them from being able to run away.
Consider borrowing this hack from chicken farmers: Run lengths of twine or fishing wire overhead in a crisscross pattern to confound any large birds that might dive for your tiny pooch.
- Especially for small dogs, consider purchasing protective clothing that helps deter predators.
If possible, consider using pet gates to keep your dog corralled on your deck, porch or patio. This can allow them to enjoy being outside while staying close enough for you to keep an eye on them.
Keep a dog first-aid kit on hand for emergencies. If your dog shows any signs of being poisoned, including vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, lethargy, dizziness or breathing problems, contact your vet as soon as possible. If your vet's not available, the Pet Poison Helpline offers help and advice for treating poisoned pets 24 hours a day. Just keep in mind that you'll be charged a fee when you call.
Dogs love to spend time outdoors, and you can't always be there to keep an eye on them. Knowing how to keep dogs healthy and safe while outside on their own is a necessity for every dog parent. In even the most diligently dog-proofed yard, though, accidents can still happen. If your dog shows any signs of injury or having been scratched or bitten, be sure to contact your vet for advice.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance writer and blogger who has been writing in the pet health and lifestyle space since 2014. Her clients have included Hill's Pet, American Kennel Club, Chewy, and more.