When you’re laying out a new lawn or garden, make plans to keep it safe from pets -- and pets safe from it
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
It’s that time of year when everything is fresh and new. Everywhere I walk, I see new lawns and gardens in progress: raised beds, native plants, sod being laid.
People new to pets or who have new pets and new lawns will want to make certain that both are protected from each other. Dog urine can stain otherwise gloriously green grass, for instance, and certain plants can cause certain death in pets who nibble on them. Here’s how to plot your yard so your pet doesn’t destroy it, and so that it doesn’t demolish your savings account with high veterinary bills.
Putting in grass? Consider clover. It’s soft to lie on and attracts pollinators. It’s safe for your pet to nibble (assuming you don’t treat it with herbicides or pesticides), it stays green in times of drought (important for those of us in drought-prone areas), and it doesn’t turn that ugly yellow or brown color when dogs urinate on it. Rosemary and varieties of thyme are tough and can also act as good-smelling ground cover, releasing their scent when walked on. If changing the type of grass isn’t an option, water the area thoroughly as soon as possible after your dog urinates to dilute and rinse away the salts that cause the burned look. And while artificial turf might seem like a good solution, it gets hot and can be uncomfortable for a pet’s paws.
Research plant safety before you put them in, ideally by speaking to a veterinary toxicologist. A state agency or university may also have information on toxic plants, like this one for California: calpoison.org/topics/plant#rating.
For instance, sago palms are popular, but all parts of these cycads, including seeds and leaves, are deadly to dogs and cats. Black-eyed Susans, bluebonnets, lilies, the green parts of cherry tomatoes, chinaberries, flowering crabapple, delphiniums, foxglove, and bulbs such as crocuses are among those that are highly toxic to animals. Anything with the word “deadly,” “devil” or “false” in the name is usually also best avoided.
Avoid plants or ground cover with spines, thorns or other pointy bits that could injure pets. The same goes for plants with sappy stems or other parts that can make pet fur sticky. These include peonies, oriental poppies and various bulbs.
If there’s a safe area where your cat can play and explore outdoors, plant a bed of catnip for her enjoyment. She can sniff, roll and vocalize to her heart’s content. Not every cat responds to nepetalactone, the volatile oil in catnip that sends so many felines into ecstasy. An alternative that is often attractive to them is silver vine.
You can also buy or build a “catio” or, for bunnies, a “rabbitat” (fearfreehappyhomes.com/catios-and-rabbitats-allow-safe-outdoor-fun-for-furry-friends) filled with safe vegetation that they can sniff, nibble or nap on. Creative or ambitious owners can build in tunnels, sniffing tracks or water features for dogs to explore and play in.
Dogs who are diggers can be prevented from destroying your yard if you provide them with a digging area of their own. Stud it with favorite toys, and reward them every time you see them using it. When you see them digging elsewhere, kindly redirect them to their own spot.
To protect your own flowers, fruits and vegetables, use fencing or wire covers to protect plants not only from your own animals -- what dog doesn’t love biting into a sweet, ripe strawberry? -- but also from wild plant predators such as rabbits and deer. Barriers are a better and safer option than poison, and they are especially important if you keep pet chickens. Chickens may look harmless, but they are more destructive than you can imagine to lawns and gardens.
Get more ideas from the dog-friendly sensory garden designed for the U.K.’s Dogs Trust by dog-loving landscape artist Paul Hervey-Brooks at bit.ly/3eCvXvH. Other resources include the books “Dogscaping” by master gardener Thomas Barthel and “Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs” by Cheryl S. Smith.
Why do cats’
Q: My cat’s eyes seem to glow in the dark. Do all cats’ eyes do that?
A: Their large, luminous eyes are one of the finest features of felines. They may also be the reason superstitious people once thought that cats must be witches’ familiars, because of the supernatural appearance of their eyes glowing in the dark.
Those glowing eyes are part of a cat’s keen eyesight, making them the successful hunters that they are. Here’s how they work.
A cat’s eyes consist of the cornea, the clear, curved part of the eyeball in front of the pupil; the iris, the colored part of the eye; the lens, located behind the iris; the retina, a network of light-sensitive cells; and -- the part we’re interested in here -- the tapetum lucidum, Latin for “bright tapestry.”
Think of the cornea, lens and retina as working in much the same way as a camera. Like a viewfinder, the cornea takes in light and transmits it to the lens. The lens bends the light rays, focusing them to form an image on the retina.
The tapetum lucidum, which lines most of the back of the retina, comes into play in low-light situations, allowing the cat’s eye to take in extra light. It does this by acting as a mirror, reflecting light that wasn’t absorbed the first time it passed through the retina. The resulting glow, known as eye shine, occurs when light strikes a cat’s eyes in the dark. In other words, if there’s total darkness, your cat can’t see any better than you can, but with the aid of moonlight or other illumination, cats are able to see better in the dark.
Fun fact: Cats with green or yellow eyes have a green glow, while cats with blue eyes typically have a reddish glow. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
get new career
-- Dogs who have flunked out of guide dog training may have a second career sniffing out coronavirus. Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida, has trained service animals for years, but training dogs for scent detection is a new program for them. They took dogs who were easily distracted or had high prey drive or activity levels, making them unsuited as guide dogs, and began training them to detect the novel coronavirus. The dogs’ persistence paid off. One of their trainees, yellow Labrador retriever Buffy, now works at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, sniffing feet to check for the presence of the virus. She recently had her first “live infection” find, alerting on a visitor who was being screened. A rapid test confirmed Buffy’s detection skills. Thought to be the first COVID-19-detection dog working in a hospital, she may pave the way for future dogs in this field.
-- What does aging look like in pets? Changes in appearance, movement or behavior signal the onset of the golden years. Visible signs of aging include a frosted face, stiffening joints and cloudy eyes. Pets may sleep more, slow down on walks or not want to walk as far. Senses of smell and sight may diminish. The age at which a dog or cat is considered senior or geriatric varies by species, breed and size. Unlike in human medicine, where geriatricians can make functional measurements of health and frailty, no quantitative measurements exist for pets, although researchers are seeking ways to set such standards.
-- Color facts about Tonkinese cats: All Tonkinese kittens are born with blue eyes, but eye color can change with maturity depending on coat color. Usually, but not always, Tonks with pointed coats have blue eyes, mink-colored Tonks have aqua eyes, and solid-colored Tonks have green or yellow-green eyes. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.