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How to grow pet-safe gardens

Choose non-toxic plants and use natural fertilisers so that your pet can play in a safe green zone

Organic fertilisers such as bone meal and coffee grounds are pet-safe. (istockphoto)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 27.07.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

My cat, Catbury, started throwing up intermittently last month. She was otherwise healthy and showed no other signs of disease, although she vomited more frequently than would be considered normal. I eventually realised that she had developed a habit of munching on the money- plant leaves in our apartment which would cause her to vomit.

Pet parents need to be careful of the plants they choose to bring into their homes and gardens. Lilies are especially toxic to cats. All elements of the plant, including the water left behind in a vase and the pollen from the blooms, have the potential to induce serious kidney illness. Azaleas, tulips, rhododendrons, philodendrons and daffodils are some other poisonous garden plants. Choose pet-friendly substitutes like ferns, marigolds, sunflowers and petunias instead. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ list of plants hazardous for pets can be used as a reference.

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If made pet-friendly and secure, green places can also benefit animals. Cats like to investigate plant textures as well as the birds blossoming plants attract. If you have a large garden, it may be a wonderful place for your dogs to run around and play. You can set aside a place where your pets can dig, roll about or relax in the sun without causing any damage to meticulously tended flower beds. Soft grass or a patch of sand can serve as an inviting space. This designated area will reinforce the idea that certain parts of the garden are for them, reducing the likelihood of them wandering into areas with potentially dangerous plants or sharp objects. You can fence off this designated area with fences, barriers or rose bushes.

By their very nature, gardens attract insects, some of which might be a nuisance. Consider using natural pest control techniques that are pet-safe rather than toxic pesticides. Growing specific plants together to ward off pests, known as companion planting, can be useful. For instance, putting marigolds close to veggies can help in repulsing bugs. The encouragement of natural predators like birds, ladybirds and praying mantises can also help control the pest population.

Keep frogs, toads and snails out of your garden. These can lead to serious problems if ingested by dogs. In India, where leptospirosis is widespread and causes liver and kidney failure, it’s crucial to keep the garden clear of rats since they spread the infection through their urine.

Gardening techniques tend to use chemicals like fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides frequently. However, if consumed or absorbed by their paws, they can endanger pets. Switch to organic and pet-friendly alternatives. Wait till weedicide sprays have had time to dry on the weeds before permitting pets to re-enter the area. Composting and organic fertilisers, such as bone meal and coffee grounds, improve soil quality and encourage plant development while being pet-safe. Because of their potent smell, coffee grinds can also prevent your pet from digging up a plant.

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Apartment residents can create pet-friendly gardens with a little imagination and preparation. Vertical gardens and container gardening are practical ways to grow plants while still providing space for your pets to play and roam. You may create lush green sanctuaries on balconies and windowsills.

Select lightweight, robust containers that blend nicely with the décor of your flat and provide space for plant roots. To protect both your plants and your pets, keep them a little out of reach. Spider plants, Boston ferns and snake plants are wonderful choices because they not only filter the air but are also non-toxic to pets. You can also choose cat-friendly plants like catnip or cat grass to give your feline pals a tasty treat. For dog owners, plants such as areca palms, bamboo palms and spider plants are excellent choices. Herbs like rosemary, thyme and basil are also non-toxic to animals.

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So, go ahead, create a wonderful garden both you and your pet can enjoy.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.