Keeping Your Lawn Safe For Pets

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One of the reasons I created the My Petcare Community was to encourage pet owners to make better and safer choices with their petcare practices. This not only includes a pet’s primary needs like food, water and exercise, but it includes the environment in which they live.

A pet owner reached out to me today asking for recommendations for pet safe lawn fertilizer and weed killer. They recently saw a preview of the new community and it got them thinking about sustainable options with their lawn care.

I love this! We plant the sustainable petcare seed with pet owners and this brings out all kinds of great questions. 

As a sustainable petcare expert, I receive questions from pet owners regularly. They are thinking about how they can green their petcare practices and provide a safer environment for their pets.

In New Hampshire, where I live, people are starting to venture out safely as the state lifts its covid-19 stay at home orders. It is time to plant gardens, flowers and prepare our lawns for some social distancing BBQs and other fun events.

If you own pets however, you need to consider the health and safety of cats and dogs as you establish your landscaping goals.

Fertilizing Your Lawn

Traditional lawn fertilizers, even those listed as “pet-friendly”, can still be unsafe to pets. Even if you follow the manufacturers recommended process step by step, including restricting areas from pets where fertilizer has been applied, pets are skillful at getting into places where they don’t belong. advises that some fertilizers can cause sickness and diarrhea if swallowed, or irritate your dog’s skin if brushed against. Products with additives such as insecticides are often the most dangerous. recommends that if you use “pet-safe” commercial fertilizers for your lawns and gardens, you should be aware of the symptoms of chemical poisoning, which also include:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling

Types of Fertilizers Safe for Pets

As a certified permaculturist, I encourage home owners to choose building up their soil with rich organic matter and adding natural fertilizers vs. applying commercial fertilizers.

Here are a few types of fertilizers safe for pets from

  • Seaweed – Seaweed is rich in nitrogen. You can buy it ground up but it’s more common as a spray-on liquid.
  • Fish emulsion – While fish emulsion is a great fertilizer option, remember that this is a quick-release fertilizer and it can burn plants if you use too much. Dogs are likely to find the smell very appealing and might try to dig up your garden plants.
  • Grass Clippings – You can use 20 percent less nitrogen fertilizer by leaving grass clippings on your lawn. For this to work, you may have to mow more frequently. Long clippings can do more harm than good.
  • Manure – This is a tricky one because dogs may try to eat it. Composting for three or four months removes much of the smell and makes it safer for pets and the garden. Be aware that horse manure may contain weed seeds.
  • Compost – Compost is one of the best fertilizers for gardens, and if you make your own it’s free. You can also use it on the lawn, but it takes quite a bit to provide enough nitrogen for lawn grass.
  • Bone Meal/Blood Meal – Bone meal and blood meal are natural products that may not harm your dog, but they will find the taste and smell very appealing. Avoid both to prevent digging and rolling in the garden.

Removing Weeds from Your Lawn

No one likes pesky weeds in their lawn right? They start popping up in your landscaping and can be an eyesore. BUT WAIT!

Did you know that many “weeds” are beneficial to wildlife? 

Dandelions are a bee-friendly plant and one of the first weeds to pop its head up in the spring making it one of the first food sources for pollinators. 

In addition, Dandelions are dynamic accumulators. They draw up nutrients from the lower layers of the soil, and store them. When the plant dies, those stored nutrients are then incorporated into the upper layers of the soil where other plants will benefit.

Another great wildlife weed is the common stinging nettle. A single nettle patch can support over 40 species of insects, and the plants provide food for caterpillars on their journey to become butterflies.

To learn more about beneficial weeds and creating pollinator habitats, check out Tips on Planting a Bee-Friendly Garden and Common Beneficial Plants Found in Wildlife Habitat.

Pet-Safe Weed Removers

If there are weeds you want to remove, then these pet-friendly recommendations are your best choice.

  1. Weed by Hand – The most effective means for eradicating lawn and garden weeds is still removing them by hand. For weeds embedded in your lawn, invest in a special digging fork that will make it easy to grab and pull their long tap roots from the ground.
  2. Smothering – Weeds need sunlight to thrive, and if you limit their access to light, they’ll die. Landscape fabric can help with this as well as garden mulch. Just be sure to choose pet safe mulch, not one that has been treated.
  3. Vinegar – White vinegar has been effective in killing weeds and is less expensive than horticultural vinegar. It may take two or three days longer to kill the weeds, but it will work. Spray weeds on a sunny day because the rays of the sun amplify the effectiveness. 
  4. Burning or Boiling – Weeds can be burned with a weeding torch or scalded with boiling water. Both these options require care to prevent personal injury. In addition, they will not kill roots of established weeds and may have to be repeated several times over the summer.
  5. Salt – Sprinkle at the base of unwanted weeds making sure to keep away from grass and flowers you want to keep. Salt dehydrates plants and is best used for small scale areas where it will be diluted by rain or watering. Apply carefully since it can erode concrete surfaces and leave the ground barren for a long time. Also, keep salt out of areas where your pets may walk since it can irritate paws.
  6. Sugar/Chili Pepper Powder Mix – To avoid attracting ants mix sugar and chili powder and apply at the base of a weed like you would with salt. 
  7. Cornmeal – Liberally apply cornmeal atop the soil to prevent seeds from germinating. It is not helpful in fighting existing weeds, but it helps stop new seeds from developing. If also helps to control ant problems. Ants are attracted to cornmeal and treat it as food, but they can’t actually digest it, causing them to slowly starve.
  8. DIY Weed Killer – Using a few ingredients listed above mixed with lemon essential oil and dish soap makes an effective weed killer. Spray directly on weeds you want to remove, avoid grass and plants you want to keep.

Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants for Pets

As you begin the process of planting the flowers and shrubs you will use in your landscaping, consider pet safe, non-toxic varieties.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), published an extensive list of plants that are toxic and non-toxic to dogs, plants that are toxic and non-toxic to cats, and plants that are toxic and non-toxic to horses

For some effective Pet Safe Weed Killer DIY Recipes, download our free seasonal take action guide which contains four recipes and additional information about the pet safe ingredients recommended. 

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@peepso_user_13(April Begosh)
The white vinegar tip intrigued me. I had no idea it would work in this capacity. I love the versatility of white vinegar. As the companion of a dog who loves to dig, I really appreciate your caution of the methods that will draw the most digging desire. Personally, I am all for a "wild" yard. Weeds don't really bother me, but, admittedly, they can detract from the beauty of a flower garden. Looking forward to employing some of these techniques.