Sharing a garden with pets


By Kay Montgomery


Cape Town – Research suggests having pets can help reduce stress. Just stroking your pet can help to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.

As we share our homes with our pets, we share our outdoor spaces too. Responsible pet owners ensure pets have a safe environment to live in – both indoors and out. With a little compromise you can provide for the needs of your pets and plants and create a pet-friendly garden.

Designing a dog-friendly garden

First and foremost, your garden must be secure on the perimeter to keep pets contained. Dogs also need shade and shelter. If you’ve placed your pet’s outdoor kennel in a shady spot over the hot summer, you might need to move it under shelter as the rainy season begins.

The safety of plants must be considered. Some dogs like to nibble on plants – some may be perfectly safe, others can be toxic, and even fatal, for the pet. Pet owners must familiarise themselves with plants that pose a risk. Always discourage pets from chewing on plant material by providing them with safe chew toys.

Dogs often create running tracks along a perimeter fence or by taking short-cuts through the garden. To prevent your dogs from cutting through a flower bed, use small sections of picket fencing to block the route. When planting a mixed border along a perimeter fence, allow space for a dog track. Choose hardy plants for the area alongside the running track.

Dogged digging

While undesirable for us, digging is natural for dogs. Some breeds are more inclined to dig than others. Anything from established shrubs to newly planted seedlings may be excavated.

Animal behaviourists say while some dogs simply dig because they enjoy it, in many cases the digging is related to boredom or frustration. Build a digging pit for your dog – a simple sandbox filled with soft sand – and bury treats and toys for your dog to find. You might have to keep taking him back to the pit until he learns what is expected of him.

Digging can be triggered by various factors. If you’ve just planted out new seedlings, and included bone meal in the soil preparation, your dog may smell it and react.

Outdoor cat

Some cats have no inclination to move away from a sunny spot indoors while others enjoy the freedom of exploring the garden. If can be difficult to keep a cat contained in your yard, but do check your perimeter and gates to keep her safely inside.

If your cat has access to the garden and spends time outdoors, provide him/her with a cat bed on the porch and an outdoor litter box.

Cats need to sharpen their claws and will choose trees or wooden garden furniture to do so. An outdoor scratching post can stop her from scratching in the wrong places.

Cats are natural-born hunters, so give your cat’s prey a chance by adding a bell to her collar.

Safety aspects

l Keep chemicals and fertilisers in a locked cupboard out of reach of pets and children.

l Pack tools away after use.

l Make sure that garden statues, ornaments, birdbaths and large containers are secured so they cannot be pushed over by boisterous pets.

l Paving, stones and hard mulch materials like pine needles can be very hard on pet paws. Include areas of lawn for them to play on, or softer mulch material.

l Avoid using cocoa bean mulch or compost or mulch that contains cocoa bean shells. Cocoa bean mulch contains theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that is toxic to dogs. Some dogs find it appealing: it can be fatal.

l While bees are vital visitors to the garden, avoid planting a bee-attracting groundcover in a garden where small dogs play. Some dogs will stand in the flower bed and continuously snap at the bees, with painful consequences. Medium or tall shrubs are fine, unless you have a large breed dog. Don’t place a dog kennel too close to bee plants.

l Deep ponds and swimming pools should be kept covered with mesh or a safety net. If your dog enjoys a swim, teach him where the steps are and how to get out of the pool.

l Never allow your pet access to a compost heap. Unless you have pet-stool composter, don’t add pet faeces to your compost heap.

10 safe plants for pets

l African daisy/silver arctotis (Arctotis stoechadifolia), alyssum, bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), cat/orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata), cat thyme (Teucrium marum), cockscomb (Celosia plumosa), impatiens, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) and roses.

Common plants that are toxic to cats and/or dogs

l Lily of the valley, Easter lily, azalea, rhododendron, cyclamen, diffenbachia, arrow-head vine (Syngo-nium podophyllum), tulip, hyacinth, caster bean, autumn crocus, larkspur, yew and the sago palm. This list is by no means exhaustive. Please check with your local garden centre experts if you are unsure of the safety of a particular plant in your garden.

Weekend Argus


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here