How to Create a Pet-Friendly yard
What is pet-friendly backyard? At its best, it’s a wonderful, stimulating space, however we know that dogs can cause havoc by digging up plants and urinating on lawns and can also be at risk from certain plants and pests. When creating the ideal outdoor space for ourselves, we should also consider our pets!
Let’s explore what it takes to create a pet-friendly yard.
A well-designed yard doesn’t begin with selecting plants or laying out beds, but rather is about considering how we want to use the space to suit our needs.
Set aside areas as appropriate:
- family dining
- play areas
- growing vegetables
- quiet shady area for relaxing, reading.
- pet-friendly areas
Garden Design with Pets in Mind:
- Safe and secure fencing
- Try to repel ticks
- Protect from toxic plants
- Avoid harmful chemicals
- Keep away from sharp objects
- Prepare for yellow spots
A pet-friendly yard is a safe area for pets to run, play and relax with you.
10 basics for your backyard space
- Avoid using chemicals on the lawn that will be absorbed when the pet licks a paw.
- Create a designated area for play or digging, using sand or bark.
- To prevent a dog running through your borders, create paths through them, or create clearly defined boundaries, using hardy shrubs or a low-growing box hedge. Raised beds are a great option, too.
- Some dogs will dig under fences, or escape through small spaces or holes. Make sure your fence is well-secured at the base.
- Dogs can jump surprisingly high. Small dogs can be contained by a 1 metre (3 1/2 ft) fence. Medium to large breeds with good jumping skills require 1.8 metres (6 ft) fencing.
- Self-closing gates are ideal as you’ll want to keep gates secure at all times.
- Keep your shed secure to avoid access to chemicals or sharp objects. Even wire plant stakes can become a dangerous toy for your dog.
- Lock your compost bin or avoid composting items that can be harmful if ingested – eg avocados, grapes, onions.
- Avoid using non-organic slug pellets, as these are toxic to all wildlife. Try to keep your dog from eating slugs, snails or frogs! Lungworm is a serious infection that can be contracted by eating them. Signs include difficulty breathing, coughing, lethargy and bleeding for longer than normal.
- Plan to live with yellow grass (urine spots), or train your dog to go to one area that you can hose down regularly. Try these master gardener tips to rejuvenate yellow patches.
Design and plant to repel ticks:
Ticks wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs, holding onto leaves and grass by their lower legs. Their upper pair of legs are outstretched, waiting to climb onto a passing host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard and finds a suitable place to bite.
- make sure your dog is on preventative medication!
- Minimize tall or mid-sized grasses; always keeping grass short
- Remove overhanging bushes. Ticks don’t jump but can be encountered by brushing against branches or by having them drop down onto a pet walking beside or under the plant.
- Control white tail deer, chipmunks and other rodents to help limit ticks.
“Our previous dog died from kidney failure due to Lyme disease. We were not aware of the shots and oral medication necessary in areas where ticks are abundant. When we got our current dog 2 1/2 years ago he had been surrendered with Lyme. He needed 2 rounds of doxycycline and a lot of testing. He’s now on a year round preventative medication.”
Plant choices for a pet-friendly yard:
- Open lawns are seldom a factor in tick transmission. Keeping grass mowed in an area used by dogs is an effective preventive measure.
- Any environment that favors deer, mice, and chipmunks should be avoided as these creatures are most involved in the transmission of ticks and tick-associated diseases.
- Sadly, mixed vegetation with uncut grass, wildflower and shrubby vegetation, especially adjacent to woodlands is prime habitat for deer, mice and ticks!
- Use native plants and avoid invasives, especially the most noxious ones rated here!
- Fencing against deer is a possible solution if you can afford to install one high enough.
- In shady areas consider wild ginger, blue cohosh, or ferns (which produce their own defenses). Native ferns such as maidenhair, can actually help repel deer.
- For sunnier areas, choose from non-toxic, deer-resistant plants you can find here – review the Benefits section for each plant to see any warnings. Ideas include native rudbeckia, and yarrow
- Note re milkweed, it’s deer-resistant but causes vomiting in dogs. If using this plant to attract monarchs, place it at back of border, ideally fenced and hard to reach to avoid ingestion.
- Most herbs are also highly resistant to deer browsing.
- Avoid all invasive plants.
Read More about Deer-resistant planting.
- CDC 2004 – Tick management handbook– an integrated guide for the prevention of tick-associated disease.
- Ontario.ca – Lyme Disease – identification, how to avoid, how to remove
Protect from Toxic Plants
Many dogs like to eat plants and bark. One of the challenges when selecting plants is determining if there are any impacts to dogs. Avoidance is better than dealing with the side effects of gastro issues!
- Choose plant materials carefully and just don’t use the most toxic ones listed below
- Use raised beds, or fenced-off areas, but avoid cheap plastic decorative fence your dog will chew.
- Some desirable plants aren’t dangerously toxic but can cause stomach upset, eg Milkweeds for monarch butterflies. The best place for these is in your front garden.
- In fact more plants in the front garden is a great design principle for dog owners in general!
Here are reliable resources listing common plants which may be toxic to dogs and cats and should be avoided:
- This guide offered by the Ontario SPCA highlights 17 Most Common Poisonous plants – primarily indoor plants
- The ASPCA offers this very comprehensive information including printable lists specific to Dogs, Cats or Horses
And here’s a list offered by the Unionville South Pet Hospital in Ontario:
Australian Flame Tree
Bird Of Paradise
Elephant Ear (Taro)
|Lily Of The Valley|
By making a few plans to protect your pet (and your special plants), you can now happily relax and enjoy your outdoor space with your pet!