By Kate Hughes
While having a big yard full of lush, green grass is a goal for many homeowners, the maintenance that comes with it can be a major headache. Aside from being time-consuming, lawn care can also be dangerous, especially if you’re using equipment like lawnmowers, weed whackers, and electric clippers. There are lots of resources out there for people looking to keep themselves and their children safe while operating a lawnmower, but what about our furry family members?
Obviously, common sense rules when it comes to ensuring your pet’s safety while mowing the lawn. Keep dogs and cats inside when big equipment is running. “Some degree of caution should always be taken around animals and lawn care,” says Dr. Michelle Matusicky, assistant professor of practice at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University. “When you’re not able to directly supervise an animal, it’s best to keep them separated from lawn mowers and trimmers.”
Additionally, even if your dog or cat is expressing zero interest and laying far away, you never know when a lawnmower may launch a stray rock and cause an injury. “Or Fido may jump up and run into your path when pursuing a bird or squirrel,” Matusicky adds.
But what about when the mower isn’t in use? It’s really not that big of a threat if it’s powered down.
First, let’s cover chemicals. Dr. Elizabeth Rozanski, associate professor of emergency and critical care at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., says that while oil and gas can be irritants, they’re very unlikely to be ingested and cause health problems. That doesn’t mean you should give your pet free-range of the garage, however. “Although gasoline and oil do not seem like appealing drinks, you never know what an animal may decide to lick,” Matusicky adds. “Some products, like antifreeze, smell sweet and are more enticing.”
What about lawnmower blades? “I guess if the mower was upside down and the dog ran into it, but otherwise no, [they’re not dangerous],” Rozanski says. That said, other lawn maintenance tools could have sharp edges, so it’s best to keep pets and tools separate, even when the tools aren’t in use. “Animals could cut themselves if they attempt to walk around or over these tools,” Matusicky says.
Once you’re done mowing the lawn and put the tools away, it’s perfectly safe to let your pet back outside. Be cautious of grass clippings, however, which can start to grow mold if left for too long, says Dr. Katie Grzyb, medical director at One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. “This can lead to respiratory infections and, in some cases, gastrointestinal or neurological issues.” If your pet inhales these clippings and has a history of respiratory disease, such as bronchitis or asthma, his symptoms may be exacerbated, she adds.
If your lawn or other plants in your yard are treated with chemicals, you should check with the manufacturer whether they are toxic to your pets, but those dangers are unrelated to lawn mowing. In the same vein, yard care chemicals should be stored where pets can’t get them. Rozanski also cautions dog owners against using cocoa mulch in their yards, which is deadly if ingested. “It acts like chocolate toxicity when eaten,” she says.
However, accidents happen around even the most diligent pet owners. Both Rozanski and Matusicky say that in the event of a lawnmower incident, you should immediately take your pet to the vet. Beyond cuts, a run-in with a lawnmower can also leave a pet with broken bones, so even if there are no apparent injuries, it’s best to err on the side of caution.