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PawPost Issue 6

Garden Dangers

adapted from RSPCA NSW

With the weather warming up our gardens can become a wonderful place for us to bask in the sun and relax. Unfortunately for our pets the garden can be a hazardous or even fatal place.

Some of the most common garden dangers that pets need to be protected from include:


Generally, fertilisers cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal irritation which may cause vomiting, diarrhoea, hypersalivation, lethargy and abdominal pain. In most cases the effects resolve within 24-48 hours with veterinary care.

Symptoms can be more severe if large amounts of fertiliser are ingested or if additives such as insecticides and iron are part of the fertiliser mix. Some fertilisers contain a significant amount of iron which can result in iron toxicity. Though heavy metals such as iron are generally not readily absorbed into the animal’s system, they can pose a hazard when dogs ingest large amounts. A few fertilisers also contain insecticides such as disulfoton, a highly toxic organophosphate which when ingested can cause a sudden onset of seizures and pancreatitis.

Fertilisers can also be caustic, which irritates the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases ingestion may lead to gastrointestinal ulceration. Gastrointestinal blockage with fertiliser material may also occur in some cases.

Some other types of fertiliser, such as bone meal and blood meal, are attractive to dogs. If they are eaten in large quantities they can cause significant gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, constipation) and possibly pancreatitis. Certain fertilisers may also contain bacterial or fungal toxins which can have serious side effects if ingested.

Fertiliser products generally contain varying amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) compounds. Fertilisers may be in a liquid, granular or solid form. They may have additives such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, iron, copper and zinc. Because fertilisers are usually a combination of ingredients, the effects following ingestion may differ.

If you suspect your pet has ingested fertiliser you should contact your local vet immediately for further advice.

Rodent poisons (rat or mouse bait)

These are one of the most common causes of pet poisonings. Most rat and mouse bait products use warfarin-like compounds (anti-coagulants) that kill animals by causing uncontrolled bleeding. All rodent poison products should be used with extreme caution. They are designed to be attractive to animals, so attempts to prevent your pets from accessing baits by placing them in hard to reach places are often unsuccessful.

Try substituting poison baits with other more humane methods of pest control If you must use rodenticides or insecticides, keep the packets safely locked up and only use them in areas of your property that are inaccessible to your dog, cat and other pets.

If you suspect your pet has ingested a rodent poison or eaten a poisoned rodent, immediate veterinary attention is required.

Snail and slug bait

Metaldehyde is one of the active ingredients in slug and snail baits (molluscicides). Snail and slug baits come in a variety of forms and may be mixed with other toxins. Ingestion can be fatal and there is no antidote. The effects of metaldehyde ingestion include anxiety, elevated heart and respiratory rates, inco-ordination, severe muscle tremors and death. With increased muscular activity, there is an increase in body temperature. Other poisons may be present in snail and slug bait products causing damage to other body systems such as the liver.

Immediate veterinary attention is required.


Insecticides such as organophosphates and carbamates are readily available for home and commercial use and are highly toxic to pets. Signs of insecticide poisoning may include: vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, muscle tremors, and seizures and may be fatal.

Immediate veterinary attention is required.

Poisonous plants

Many indoor and outdoor plants are toxic to pets. Some examples include:Lily plants including the Easter lily, Day lily, Tiger lily, Japanese show lily and the Rubrum lily can all cause acute kidney failure in catsAll parts of the Castor Bean or Castor Oil plant are toxic Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow Brunfelsia bonodora (syn. B. australis, B. latifolia) is toxic, especially the berries. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, muscle tremors, staggering and seizures.

The Pet Poison Helpline has a great directory of toxins for your pet.

If you suspect your pet has ingested poisonous plant material or if you are unsure of a plant's toxicity please contact your local vet.

Tree or plant fruit stones (these may become an intestinal obstruction)

Many garden trees and plants drop fruit stones, berries or seeds. Dogs (and sometimes cats) will eat these parts of the plant. Unfortunately ingestion of fruit stones, berries and seeds can lead to serious intestinal blockages/obstructions which can be fatal.

In addition, some fruit stones, berries or seeds may contain toxic compounds which can be poisonous to your pets. Please remove any tree or plant stones/seeds/berries from your garden to prevent pets from ingesting them.

Garden mulch - cocoa mulch

Cocoa Mulch is also known as 'Cocoa Bean Mulch' or 'Cocoa Shell Mulch' and is used as a mulch in home gardens in some countries. It is a by-product of the manufacture of cocoa powder and other chocolate products. There have been several reports of pets being poisoned by cocoa mulch in other countries such as the United States and United Kingdom. Cocoa mulch is generally not available in Australia however, it is possible that some small domestic chocolate manufacturers could sell cocoa shell mulch as a waste product from their chocolate manufacturing process. Therefore, while it is unlikely, it is still possible that a dog could have access to cocoa shell mulch in the Australian context.

All parts of the cocoa bean contain "theobromine", a methylxanthine compound that has similar properties to caffeine and is toxic to dogs and other pets at certain doses. Cocoa bean shells may contain relatively high levels of theobromine, and some reports suggest that, for a medium-sized dog, consuming about 250 grams of mulch could be fatal.The symptoms of theobromine ingestion vary with the dose consumed. At lower doses, the pet may develop gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhea but should recover with supportive veterinary care. If the pet eats a toxic dose the symptoms are more serious involving muscle tremors, restlessness or hyperactivity, elevated heart rates, seizures and possibly death. Symptoms may not develop immediately, but will begin to appear as the toxin is absorbed into the body.

Immediate veterinary attention is required.

Unfortunately the chocolate aroma of the mulch makes it a popular choice for gardeners and also highly attractive to pets as something to eat. It is also common for this mulch to develop a coating of mould as it decomposes; depending on the type of mould that develops and this may represent a further risk of mould toxicity to pets

.Any persons using cocoa mulch should ensure that any animals in the area cannot gain access to the cocoa mulch. Please note that cocoa mulch is highly attractive to dogs due to the cocoa scent and flavour so pets may try to access the mulch for e.g. by jumping over fences around garden beds or by breaking open bags kept in sheds. Adequate precautions should be taken.It is also important to note that there are generally no label warnings about the potential toxicity to pets on the packaging of cocoa mulch so owners may not be aware of the serious risk these products pose to their pets.

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