19 Toxins Lurking in Your Backyard
Your backyard is supposed to be a safe place, but you could have toxins hiding in plain sight that are harmful to your pets—or your kids
No one likes batting away flies or having your zinnias destroyed by beetles. But even organic-labeled pesticides can be toxic, according to Lowes‘ master gardener Lester Pole. If you use pesticides of any kind and your pet shows signs of lethargy, nausea, or breathing issues, call your vet immediately, advises Carole A. Langrall, a master gardener and landscaper in Maryland. For a nontoxic alternative, Pole suggests any of these pest-deterring botanical extracts. Or consider one of these 13 simple, less toxic ways to keep pests away.
Be careful when treating for slugs, advises Alecia Weisman, lead grower and resident scientist at the Legion of Bloom. “Many slug pesticides and snail baits contain metaldehyde, which is toxic for dogs and cats.” Weisman suggests using diatomaceous earth, which is effective against many insects and a much safer alternative.
Chemical fertilizers can make your plants thrive, but depending on their active ingredients, they can be highly poisonous, Langrall tells Reader’s Digest. For example, “as little as one teaspoon of 1 percent disulfoton can kill a 55-pound dog,” she warns. Anything containing organophosphates can result in SLUD syndrome—salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, and defecation. Together, the symptoms mean serious health issues for your pet. Before you use any chemical fertilizer, be sure to check the label for these ingredients, and don’t miss these tips for growing a nontoxic lawn.
Bone meal fertilizer
Bone meal is a “natural” fertilizer, made up of ground animal bones. It’s good for your lawn, but it’s both toxic and appealing to your pets, according to Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. When ingested, bone meal can form a ball in your pet’s stomach, obstructing natural passage and leading to a host of health problems. Bone meal can also be poisonous, Backe advises. Therefore, it’s best not to use bone meal at all if you have pets that dig in the yard.
Because compost consists of decaying organic matter, it may give off chemical by-products known as tremorgenic mycotoxins, which are bad for your pets, according to both Langrall and veterinarian Gary Richter, DVM, MS, CVC, CVA. “Even small amounts can lead to hyperthermia, panting, drooling, and vomiting, and serious neurological symptoms such as tremors and seizures,” Dr. Richter explains. To keep your compost safe, never add dairy or meat products, and consider fencing off the pile. Be sure to check out these other composting dos and don’ts.
Cocoa bean mulch
Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/shutterstock
Mulching is great for your garden. It can halt the onslaught of weeds and help keep your plants cool and hydrated in the heat of summer. But if you have a dog, don’t use mulch made from cocoa beans. “The mulch is a by-product of chocolate production and made of the discarded hulls of cocoa beans. This mulch is attractive to homeowners because it’s fragrant and attractive-looking. But it could be lethal for your dog,” Langrall warns. Instead, consider mulches that contain no chocolate by-products, such as those made from pine and cedar.
“If you’re hosting a backyard barbecue with friends and family, try to keep the scraps on the table,” according to the experts at Pets Best. “Many humans love sharing under the table—but some common human foods are dangerous and downright deadly to dogs.” While the best-known problem food is chocolate, other potentially toxic foods include avocados, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic, and coffee. Read more about foods that are toxic to dogs.
Mouse and rat poison
Most rodenticides are poisonous not only to rodents but also to pets and children, Langrall advises. Look for nontoxic means of deterring rodents, like traps. If you do resort to using baits containing toxins, be sure to place them in areas where your pet and kids can’t reach, such as high up on shelves or hidden behind common-use areas. Beware of these 11 household items that are also hazardous to your pet’s health.
Poisoned mice and rats
Dogs and cats will go after rodents, and poisoned ones are easier to catch. That could deliver a lethal dose to your pet, which is even more reason to seek out nontoxic rodent solutions. All rodenticides pose the potential for what is known as “relay toxicity,” Langrall says—a toxic reaction to eating an animal that’s been poisoned. Instead of using poison to get rid of rodents, consider one of these toxin-free anti-rodent remedies.
Although most mushrooms are nontoxic, some are incredibly dangerous, Langrall tells us. Toxic fungi can trigger liver failure and death. Keep an eye out for mushrooms growing in your backyard and, unless you’re an expert forager, pull them and dispose of them before your pets or kids get anywhere near them.