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10 Neat Things Quiz - Pets in the Garden
by Shauna Dobbie
August 15, 2010


1. True or false: Dogs eat grass to make themselves throw up.

2. True or false: Dogs won't eat poisonous plants.

3. True or false: Castor beans are the most toxic plant.

4. True or false: Sprinkling cayenne on flowerbeds is a harmless way of discouraging cats.

5. True or false: Mulch can discourage cats from digging in your garden.

6. True or false: Cocoa mulch will kill your dog.

7. True or false: Plectranthus canina is the most effective repellent for cats and dogs.

8. True or false: Cat poop in the garden is a serious health risk.

9. True or false: Not all cats will appreciate it if you plant catnip in the garden.

10. True or false: Scattering bread cubes in the garden can detract dogs from defecating there.


1.True, probably. The consensus among vets is that some dogs sometimes eat grass to induce vomiting when they have an upset stomach. Un-chewed grass tickles the lining of the stomach to trigger gagging. This is not the only reason dogs eat grass, though, and many dogs eat grass frequently without ever becoming sick. Animal behaviourists have noticed that grass-eaters who are not sick chew before they swallow whereas the gaggers don't chew. Non-therapeutic grazing may stem from a desire to supplement the diet with the nutrients in grass. Or, the dog might just like the taste.

2. False. I used to believe that dogs were sufficiently in tune with nature to not eat poisonous plants, and this may have been true in ancient times, when neither dogs nor plants were selectively bred for our own arcane purposes and before the introduction of kibble. What I've noticed about my dog, though, is this: she's pretty stupid. As a puppy, she sampled just about everything in the garden. The good news is that, while plants vary widely in toxicity, few are so poisonous as to kill a dog with just a nibble. Nonetheless, it's a good idea to monitor your dog in the garden until it learns not to eat flowers.

3. True. For pets and humans, ingesting any part of the castor bean plant (Ricinus) can prove fatal. Don't grow it around indiscriminate pets or people.

4. False. It will discourage cats, but it is not harmless. Cayenne can get into the eyes of animals and cause serious and lasting pain. If that isn't sufficient to convince you not to use it, consider this: it could blow into gardeners' eyes too. There are other, safer animal repellents to try.

5. True, but it has to be the right kind of mulch. Sharp stone works well, but you may not care for the look of it; pinecones work well, but they are too acidic for most gardens. If there's a particular area the cats frequent, try laying some chicken wire on the ground (it can be hidden with a layer of soil or any kind of mulch) or putting a few nails in the area. (Remember there are nails there the next time you go to dig with a trowel, though!)

6. False-or at least, not likely. If you have a dog with pica (a compulsion to eat all kinds of objects) it might ingest enough cocoa hulls to kill itself. Apparently, 98 percent of dogs don't eat cocoa mulch, though. I've found only one reliable report of a dog that died from eating the mulch. Nonetheless, there are many kinds of excellent mulch available, and cocoa mulch is particularly high in the toxin that affects dogs. Though the risk is small, it hardly seems worth it.

7. False. This plant, marketed as "Piss-off" or "Scaredy-cat" is supposed to detract cats, dogs and rabbits by its citrus scent. Internet research show much more excitement about the claims from folks who sell the plant than reports of efficacy from folks who've used the plants. It might help a little-so does scattering fresh citrus peel in the garden-but it's no silver bullet for gardeners plagued by unwanted pet visits.

8. False. Sure, it's possible that there are parasites in the cat feces that could make you sick, but that's if you eat it, or if you handle it then wipe your nose, mouth or eyes before washing your hands. More than anything, cat poop is unpleasant to come across by surprise. Cat urine, however, can be a problem for pregnant women, potentially leading to toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women should take precautions against contact with cat urine.

9. True. Some cats are crazy for it, but about one-third of cats couldn't care less if you offer them catnip in any form. Nonetheless, Nepeta is an attractive enough plant. If you want to provide a cat area in your garden, it's worth a try, next to a sand box or some nice, loose soil.

10. True, or at least, it might work. The theory is that dogs won't poop where they eat. Dogs aren't always great theorists, though.


8-10 correct: Purrrrfect!

5-7 correct: You're barking up the right tree.

Fewer than 5 correct: Was that you last night, baying at the moon?

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