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Fertilizer and Mulch Dangers for Dogs.

Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT

Posted June 17, 2014 in Dog Toxins & Poisons

Guy gardening with his dog

Getting ready to work in the garden this summer? Before you do so, make sure you know about potential garden dangers that can poison your dog. When in doubt, keep your pets inside while working with some of these common garden or yard additives. 

Fertilizers
During the spring and fall, homeowners often use fertilizers to spruce up their lawn. Fertilizers come in two types: granules or water-based products (that are directly sprayed onto the lawn).

Fertilizers look scary – they often are applied by lawn services with warning signs stating that children and pets should be kept off the grass for at least 72 hours. In actuality, fertilizers are generally pretty benign; in fact, they typically have a wide margin of safety depending on what type of product is used.

What’s in fertilizer?
Most lawn fertilizers contain natural elements (such as nitrogen, potash and phosphorous) — often represented by numbers such as 10:0:40. Thankfully, these elements are generally non-toxic. Fertilizers may also contain insecticides for killing grubs, snails, etc. that generally result in mild gastrointestinal signs (e.g., drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) when ingested directly from the bag.

If your dog eats some grass that had fertilizer applied to it, it rarely leads to serious poisoning; that said, more serious signs can be seen when the product is directly ingested (i.e., right out of the bag).  If ingested directly from the bag, the results can include tremors and seizures.

To avoid any poisoning risk to your pet, follow the labeled instructions carefully and keep your pets inside while you apply these products to the lawn. To be safe, keep your pets off the lawn until the product is absorbed by the soil (e.g., when the product dries if it’s a spray-on product, or after it rains if it is a pelleted product). When appropriately applied or diluted, these chemicals typically wash into the soil after rainfall, resulting in low-risk to dogs.

The most important thing is to make sure it’s not a fertilizer that has more dangerous products in it – some may contain iron, which can result in iron poisoning, and less common types may contain very dangerous insecticides such as carbamates or organophosphates. Thankfully, the EPA has limited the availability of these latter, more dangerous types of products. Carbamates and organophosphates can result in more serious, life-threatening clinical signs such as:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Severe lethargy/collapse
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive tearing

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.