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Pet-proof your garden

Published on November 22nd 2021
A close up of a flower
We love our pets as much as our gardens, but they can wreak havoc when left to their own devices. They can dig holes, trample plants, catch birds, eat plants or relieve themselves on your very delicate bulb.
How can we get around these hurdles so that we can enjoy both the exuberance of a pet and the tranquillity of our gardens?
dog digging hole
Digging holes in the garden is some of the most exhausting habits a pet can have. Image by SabbraCadabra from Pixabay.

Common problems

Searching for solutions starts with identifying the problem. Sometimes it might be a behavioural issue that can be remedied by exercising your pet or providing it with a toy (alternative stimulus). Other times, it will help to try to design your garden around your pet. Whichever approach you decide to take, identification is key.
Dogs dig holes because:
  • They need cool earth to lie in because they are hot.
Solution: see shade and water section.
  • They want to bury a toy or snack away from other opportunists.
  • They hear a rodent or sound from underneath
Solution: Distract with toys or treat rodent problem, without pesticide that would affect the pet.
  • They find the action fun.
Solution: Redirect attention with a toy or train them to dig on command when planting new plants.
Cats urinating in the garden
  • Your cat has an issue with a component of its litter box.
Solution: Add an additional letterbox or try a new type of litter.
  • Scent/urine marking happens when they are breeding i.e. unneutered, trying to claim your garden as their territory or you have more than one cat and they compete.
Solution: Add a litter box or a motion-sensing sprinkler system.
Dogs trampling plants
  • Dogs tend to take the path of least resistance.
Solution: See Section on exercise.
  • Pets chewing on plants
Solution: See section on edible requirements.
Pets scare away birds
Solution: See our recent article on nesting birds for help on juggling pets and birds.
A close up of a flower

Garden Birds | Nests


An orange cat sitting on top of a grass covered field
Cats bring less than 10% of their kills home. Image by rihaij from Pixabay.

Edible requirements

One of the first things pet owners are concerned with is plants that are toxic to pets. Many, and I do mean a lot, of plants, are toxic to pets, however, few will ever chew or ingest toxic plants. Being knowledgeable of the potential danger is a wise decision, especially when introducing a new pet to your environment.
Some helpful Candide guidelines:
There is some contention as to why domestic animals eat grass or plants. Some maintain that it is to alleviate the symptoms of intestinal parasites, to induce vomiting or purely out of curiosity. Either way, providing your pet with a safe source of grass will likely see them chewing on it rather than your spider plant.
Here are some links to toxic plants for various pets.
ASPCA lists: Plants toxic to cats and dogs
Wisconsin House Rabbit Society Poisonous plant list
A dog swimming in a body of water
Dogs will seek out water bodies, shade or dig holes in the ground to cool off. Image by Katrina_S from Pixabay.

Shade and water

Providing water sources and shady areas in your garden will help your furry friend stay healthy. Dogs and cats are homeotherms (i.e. they maintain a constant body temperature of 38 C). Their fur helps regulate their body in both cold and hot weather. You might get warm when wearing a fur coat, but it helps your cat and dog from absorbing too much heat. Trimming a dog or cat in summer exposes them to sunburn and heat exhaustion. Most vet clinics advise caution in this regard.
Fact | Dogs and cats cannot sweat like humans to reduce body temperature.
There is a common misconception that dogs and cats can sweat through their paws. This is false. They regulate heat through behaviour 1) lying in the shade, 2) searching out water puddles to lie in, 3) avoiding full sun and 4) panting.
A cow in a field of green grass


Animals roam great distances in the wild and have evolved to do so. Covid-19 taught us how important it is for us to get enough exercise and the same goes for pets. They need a place to exert some of that built up energy. They will run along the fence, have a preferred tree or lie in a particular spot.
How to adapt to repetitive behaviour:
  • Dog lanes: Observe your dogs and create paths through the garden in areas they frequent often.
  • Garden islands: When planting, ensure to layer the planting with thick impassable shrubs in the centre.
  • Shade spots: Grass will get worn in preferred napping spots. Try swapping out turf for a more durable alternative. Like a breakfast nook with a gravel base and a wicker basket for your pet.
A close up of a duck standing on a sidewalk
Ducks eat pond weed, insects, worms and snails. Image by Nennieinszweidrei from Pixabay.

Alternative pets

Cats and dogs are the most common domestic animals, but many have chickens, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and rodents. I exclude exotic pets (i.e. reptiles and tarantulas) as these require specialised enclosures and rarely make contact with a garden. It has become common practice for some to consider the inclusion of poultry to snack on garden waste or in pest management. The same principles apply to them and should be followed to ensure their safety.
Wild animals (i.e. baboons, moles, monkeys, snakes, rock hyrax, caracul and porcupine etc.) is a different category all on their own. If you have questions pertaining to wild animals, please post them in the comments below & you might see them in a new series.

If you found the advice helpful, remember to tap that dig button and leave your suggestions below.

Broom, D. M., & Fraser, A. F. (2015). Domestic animal behaviour and welfare. Cabi.
Hart, B. L., Hart, L. A., Thigpen, A. P., & Willits, N. H. (2021). Characteristics of Plant Eating in Domestic Cats. Animals, 11(7), 1853. doi:10.3390/ani11071853

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