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As the days grow longer and warmer, we spend more time outside, so it’s time to review what dangers the warm weather brings for your cat(s).

A few recent discussions, though, have gotten me to thinking about what we actually put in our yards and whether these things could be harmful to our pets who have access to these living spaces.

A quick visit to the ASPCAs website taught me more than I could have imagined. From the homepage, just go to Pet Care, then Animal Poison Control and then Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants, and youll see a listing of 444 plants poisonous to cats, dogs and horses.

Azaleas
Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, weakness, coma, hypotension, CNS depression, cardiovascular collapse and death. Ingestion of a few leaves can cause serious problems.

I had no idea, for example, that apple trees contain cyanide in their stems and leaves, which becomes more concentrated as these parts wilt. Those beautiful pink azaleas are toxic to all three groups of animals as well, producing symptoms that range from hypersalivation, vomiting and diarrhea all the way to coma and death. Geraniums and even those innocent-looking hostas can cause severe digestive upsets in cats and dogs.

Black walnuts, which many people collect and enjoy through the winter, dont affect cats, but can cause all sorts of digestive disturbances in horses, and moldy nuts can cause tremors and seizures in dogs.

Both cats and dogs should avoid those stunning and graceful calla lilies: they cause mouth and lip irritations and difficulty swallowing. And while my abundant patch of day lilies may be fine for my dogs to prance among, they can cause kidney failure in cats (and cows can die from eating them as well).

The list seems endless, but www.aspca.org has it organized alphabetically. And for our technologically savvy friends, the site offers a link to a convenient Pet Safe Application that you can download to your handheld devices.

Beyond specific plants, another hot topic has been the mulch issue. Although mulching is a great way to keep plants moister and happier, it seems that some products can cause serious toxicity problems and are best avoided. Cocoa mulch in particular is not only attractive to look at, but it smells good. Unfortunately, also according to the ASPCA website, it contains high doses of theobromine. The studys researchers recommend, Pet owners should avoid use of cocoa bean mulch in landscaping around dogs with indiscriminate eating habits. (In my experience, this statement is redundant: Isnt indiscriminate eating habits part of the definition of dog?) Although some studies might argue otherwise, Id say skip this type of mulch entirely.

As pet people, we also need to consider the chemicals were putting on our yards to keep weeds, grubs and garden pests at bay and to reduce fleas and ticks. Green living is becoming more popular, and the effects of the chemical processes we employ are now better understood. Remember that the things we spray on our lawns are still there when our animals go out and walk or roll in them. And our pets are inclined to lick their feet later, meaning that the chemical ends up not only in our environmental systems, but in our pets systems as well.

The same is true with the flea and tick medications we put on them to keep pests off them and out of our houses. One of the reasons some of this medication is applied between the shoulder blades is that its a place a dogs or cats tongue cant reach.

Finally, if you compost, be sure that either your pets cant get to the contents or that what you throw out to compost is safe for animals to find. One of Baileys greatest treasures of the summer a few years ago was an old potato that she found and tried to bring back into the house to hide in the sofa (which, in retrospect, was much preferable to the enormous possum Jack carried in and deposited on the kitchen floor at 2 a.m. one day last week, but thats another story). Foods that can be composted but are toxic to animals include avocado, coffee grounds, Macadamia nuts, onions and onion powder, raisins, grapes and garlic. Any moldy or spoiled foods can also make them sick.

Although these warnings might seem to make any yard an off-limits place, theyre really just a guide to remind you to take a few precautions with your best friends. Keep an eye on your pets, keep your vets phone number handy, and enjoy the summer!

Finally, if you compost, be sure that either your pets cant get to the contents or that what you throw out to compost is safe for animals to find. Foods that can be composted but are toxic to animals include avocado, coffee grounds, Macadamia nuts, onions and onion powder, raisins, grapes and garlic. Any moldy or spoiled foods can also make them sick. Dogs are more likely to eat treasures buried in the compost pile than cats are, but it’s still a good practice to ensure your cats don’t have access to your compost heap.

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