Learn ways to keep your grass and dog healthy at the same time.

As spring approaches, it’s a good time to get your yard ready, give it some fertilizer love, and keep it pet-safe at the same time.

Here are some tips on how to keep your grass green and your yard pet-friendly:

  • If you’re starting out with a puppy, the best way to potty train a pup is to teach it the “Go pee-pee” command. While your neighbors may mock you, this is an important command to help your dog learn when the right time to go is (vs. just going outside 
to lie in the sun). Reward him with an immediate “Good pee!” as soon as he urinates.
  • While you’re training your dog, teach him to “go to the back” of the yard to urinate — you’ll have to leash walk him out there the first few weeks while he learns this command. With constant training (and positive reinforcement with treats), you can teach him to urinate on command in a specific area of your yard that has mulch. This will help prevent the grass “burn” from your dog’s urine.
  • Keep your dog well-exercised with plenty of environmental enrichment — that’ll prevent inappropriate digging and unsightly holes in the yard. If you catch your dog in the act of digging, a firm “No!” or “Leave it!” command is a must.

More importantly, when it comes to your yard, make sure it’s pet-safe. There are a lot of backyard poisons that can be dangerous to your dog, resulting in vomiting, an elevated heart rate, tremors, seizures and rarely, death. Here is a list of common backyard poisons to keep out of reach:

Thankfully, most lawn fertilizers are relatively safe, as they typically contain natural elements such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. These are numbers that you see on the front of the fertilizer bag (e.g., 10:0:40). When ingested, mild gastrointestinal signs can be seen. Rarely, neurologic signs (e.g., tremors, walking drunk) can be seen when the fertilizer is ingested in large amounts or when the bag contains insecticides such as cyphenothrin.

Organic fertilizers
Often, pet owners try to go organic when it comes to garden supplies — these are surprisingly more dangerous than traditional fertilizers. That’s because organic fertilizers include “natural” ingredients that are leftover byproducts from the meatpacking or farming industry. Anything that contains the word “meal” falls into this category like bone, blood, fish, feather or poultry meal. When ingested, certain types of meals can cause gastrointestinal upset, foreign body obstructions (from all the bone meal congealing into a large bowling ball-like concretion) or even severe pancreatitis.

Rarely, less commonly used insecticides called carbamates or organophosphates are used in the yard. These are sometimes found in rose or flower care products or spray insecticides. Any product containing these ingredients should ideally never be used in a pet- friendly household or yard.

If you suspect your dog may have been exposed to something poisonous, contact your veterinarian, an emergency veterinarian or ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center immediately.

If you use a commercial service to treat your lawn be sure to notify them of your dog. Most lawn companies have pet-friendly fertilizer options.

Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT, is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist. She completed her veterinary school at Cornell University and her residency and fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of two humorous Q:A pet books, It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet and It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It. Dr. Lee is a pet blogger for Pet Health Network and has been featured on Rachael-Ray, NBC and NPR.