By Kate Hughes
Reviewed by Stephanie Liff, DVM
One of the foremost pleasures of being a pet parent is watching your dog frolic freely outdoors. But while fresh air, sunlight, and exercise are all good for your canine companion, your yard can also be home to some scary dog dangers.
Knowing about these backyard dangers for dogs, guarding against them, and—perhaps most important—having a solid plan in place for when your dog gets into something he shouldn’t, is key to keeping him safe and sound.
Dr. Suzanne Dempsey, medical director at the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES) in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, says that backyard dangers for dogs vary greatly depending on where you live.
“For example, if you live in a place where there are venomous snakes, this is likely the most dangerous environmental risk,” she explains.
Invisible fences also leave dogs vulnerable, as they don’t prevent wildlife from entering your backyard or garden. Everything from coyotes and foxes to stray dogs can wander into a yard with an invisible fence.
While not all may apply to the region in which you live, here are nine of the top backyard dangers for dogs.
9 Backyard Dangers for Dogs
Toxic plants are one of the biggest dog dangers in your backyard. Many pet parents don’t realize that the plants surrounding their home could be poisonous. As such, Dempsey says that the first line of defense is education, and that people should learn how to identify common yard plants toxic to dogs.
Lily of the valley, foxglove, oleander, kalanchoe, and sago palm are among the backyard plants poisonous to dogs, she says, but there are many others to watch out for. The ASPCA has a list of more than 400 toxic plants and toxic weeds for dogs, some of the more common ones being aloe, daffodils, chrysanthemum, gladiolas, and peonies.
“If you think your dog has ingested a toxic plant and there is live plant remaining, take a whole leaf or a photo of the plant/leaf to show your veterinarian. Once you have a sample or a photo, call ASPCA Animal Poison Control for recommendations,” Dempsey says. “If your pet is already demonstrating clinical signs of toxicity, such as altered mental state, weakness, or vomiting, do not delay and proceed to your closest veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital and call Poison Control after you get your pet to the hospital.”
Fruit and Vegetable Gardens
Unfortunately, flowers and weeds aren’t the only type of greenery that pet parents need to look out for. Dr. Nancy Vail-Archer, an emergency clinician and medical director of NorthStar VETS Veterinary Emergency Trauma & Specialty Center in Maple Shade, New Jersey, says that common garden fruit and vegetable plants can also be toxic to pets.
Ones to watch out for include tomato plants (leaves, stems, and unripe fruit) and rhubarb (leaves). Onions, garlic, and other members of the allium family are also toxic to dogs.
“The ripe fruits are generally not a concern; however, their greenery can be toxic. Dogs, as well as cats and even horses, can suffer gastrointestinal upset, depression, and weakness [if they ingest the wrong plant].”
Again, if you suspect your furry friend ate something dangerous, you should contact your veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (at 888-426-4435) immediately.
Not technically a plant, mushrooms can also be extremely dangerous for dogs. “Pet parents should police their yard once weekly and most especially after heavy rains to pull mushrooms,” says Dr. Deborah Mara, an emergency and critical care veterinarian at NorthStar VETS Veterinary facility in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
Dempsey adds that ensuring your yard has proper drainage will help limit the growth of mushrooms and other potentially dangerous fungi.
Wild animals such as bears, coyotes, rats, squirrels, and even feral cats can be extremely dangerous to dogs if they meet face-to-face in your yard.
“If you live in an area with dangerous indigenous wildlife, do not leave your pet unsupervised when he is outdoors,” Dempsey says. “Most dangerous wildlife will stay away from humans, so if you are with your dog, the wildlife will likely not pursue him.”
If your dog does have an altercation with a wild animal, Dempsey says that, first and foremost, you shouldn’t put yourself at risk. “Make sure you are safe and try to distract the animals by throwing something into the fray like a bottle of water or book. Then attempt to remove your dog from the situation if you can do so safely.”
If your dog sustains any injuries, Dempsey recommends wrapping the wound with plastic wrap (not too tight), applying pressure to any areas that may be bleeding, and seeking emergency veterinary assistance.
Some animals, including raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks, can also be a source of rabies—an important reminder to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date. In addition, rodents and rabbits can spread tapeworms to dogs (more on this next) and can easily enter yards and gardens.
Keeping dogs parasite-free can be a challenge, and any dog that spends time outdoors is at risk. Per healthcare guidelines developed by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs should be screened for parasites and treated for infestations during their annual checkups (1).
Among the parasites that dogs may encounter outdoors are several types of worms, including heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm, and whipworm.
Dogs can be exposed to microscopic roundworm, hookworm or whipworm eggs in contaminated soil, tapeworm from infected rodents and rabbits in your yard or garden, and heartworm from infected mosquitoes. In the U.K. and Canada, lungworms are a growing concern. Dogs can get lungworms from ingesting infected snails and slugs or from the slime trails they leave behind.
Fortunately, there are preventive measures pet parents can take against worms, especially hard-to-eliminate ones like whipworms. Broad-spectrum parasite protection—such as Interceptor®Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel), which prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult hookworm, roundworm, whipworm and tapeworm infections in dogs—is an effective line of defense.
See important safety information for Interceptor® Plus below.
It’s a little gross, but here’s what pet parents need to know about each type of parasite:
Though they are one of the most common intestinal parasites in dogs, whipworms can be especially difficult to control (2). This is because their microscopic eggs, laid by the thousands, are especially hardy and can lay dormant in the soil for up to five years, which makes reinfection a likely outcome.
Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito in your yard? Your dog is also at risk. Transmitted by infected mosquitoes, heartworms take up residence in a dog’s heart and pulmonary arteries and can grow up to a foot in length in over just a few months. A heartworm infestation can be fatal, so if your vet finds that your dog is carrying this parasite, he or she will initiate the appropriate treatment (2).
Hookworms are parasites that consume a large amount of blood and can cause bloody diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia. An infection can also lead to skin lesions on a dog’s paw pads (2). Severe infections can be fatal due to excessive blood loss. Larval hookworms in the environment can also penetrate human skin and cause infections in people, such as those who walk barefoot or play in contaminated soil.
Most pet parents are familiar with roundworms, as they are common and highly likely to be seen in puppies in their first few weeks with you. Roundworms can reach lengths of up to 15 cm in a dog’s small intestine (2).
Dogs can contract several different species of tapeworms, either from ingesting infected fleas, small rodents, rabbits, livestock, or other wildlife. When a dog eats an intermediate host that is carrying tapeworm larvae, the larvae can grow into adult tapeworms inside his intestine.
Ticks and Fleas
If your dog goes outside, chances are he will be exposed to ticks and fleas, which can carry disease. Dempsey says you can limit your dog’s risk of infestation with routine monthly prescription tick and flea medication.
“Over-the-counter tick and flea products can cause problems if the dosage is incorrect or if it’s for the wrong species,” Mara adds. “Always use veterinarian-recommended products.”
Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription medication like Credelio® (lotilaner), which kills adult fleas, treats and prevents flea infestations, and treats and controls tick infestations in dogs.
See important safety information for Credelio® below.
If you find a tick attached to your dog after he goes outside, you should safely remove it. “Put the tick in a baggie and schedule an appointment to bring it to your veterinarian,” Mara suggests.
Spiders, Scorpions, Stinging Insects & Snakes
Beyond ticks and fleas, spiders, scorpions, stinging insects like bees and wasps, and snakes can also pose a risk to dogs in your yard.
Spiders and scorpions often find shelter in wood piles, so Dempsey recommends limiting your dog’s access to them. Snakes may also hide under rocks, stacked firewood, sheds, bushes, and yard debris.
If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, it requires immediate veterinary attention. “Snake bites are an emergency, but typically the owner sees the snake bite occur or the pet comes in with an obvious bleeding wound with two to four punctures, indicating a bite in a region where snakes are prevalent,” says Dr. Stephanie Liff of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York City.
Signs your dog may have been bitten or stung by animals or insects include limping, swelling, or licking at a specific area. If you suspect your pet may have been bitten or stung, monitor the site for swelling, bruising, or discharge over the course of 12 to 24 hours, Liff says. If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to the veterinarian.
Poisons and Pesticides
While many pests pose a risk to dogs, chemical means of controlling those pests are also a concern. Dr. Dempsey recommends keeping anything toxic in a locked cabinet and resorting to non-poison pest control methods—such as mouse traps—when possible. Pesticides and dogs are a dangerous combination. If your dog is exposed to pesticides, you should call Poison Control and bring him to a veterinary clinic immediately.
According to Dr. Joanna Lloyd, who, like Mara, is an emergency and critical care veterinarian at NorthStar VETS in Robbinsville, N.J., pools can pose a severe danger to pets, especially during the off-season. “Make sure your pool is covered in cold weather and that older and otherwise infirm pets are never out by the pool unsupervised,” she recommends.
Credelio (lotilaner) Indications
Credelio kills adult fleas and is indicated for the treatment and prevention of flea infestations, treatment and control of tick infestations (lone star tick, American dog tick, black-legged tick, and brown dog tick) for one month in dogs 8 weeks and older and 4.4 pounds or greater.
Credelio Important Safety Information
Lotilaner is a member of the isoxazoline class of drugs. This class has been associated with neurologic adverse reactions including tremors, incoordination, and seizures. Seizures have been reported in dogs receiving this class of drugs, even in dogs without a history of seizures. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures or neurologic disorders. The safe use of Credelio in breeding, pregnant or lactating dogs has not been evaluated. The most frequently reported adverse reactions are weight loss, elevated blood urea nitrogen, increased urination, and diarrhea. For complete safety information, please see Credelio product label or ask your veterinarian.
Interceptor Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel) Indications
Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.
Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information
Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.
Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus and Credelio, for her services in writing this article.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. AAHA-AVMA Canine Preventive Healthcare Guidelines [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/caninepreventiveguidelines_ppph.pdf
- European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasites. Worm Control in Dogs and Cats: ESCCAP Guideline 01 Third Edition – July 2017 [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.esccap.org/uploads/docs/0x0o7jda_ESCCAP_Guideline_01_Third_Edition_July_2017.pdf
Credelio and Interceptor are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates.
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