Top Dangers for Your Pet in the Garden
Written by
Kelly Priest
August 2015
Written by
Kelly Priest
August 2015

            One very big bonus of having a private garden is that you have a safe place for your pets... or so you'd think. The truth is there can be hidden dangers lurking among the shrubbery. Last year a survey of 2000 pet owners revealed that eight percent of them had experienced an incident where their dogs or cats ingested poisonous plants. Of these nearly half were seriously ill enough to need urgent help from a vet and in 15% of plant poisoning cases, the pet concerned tragically died.

Many Common Garden Plants Are Toxic to Pets

You might expect these cases to relate to rare or unusual plants, but that's far from being the case. As a way of highlighting the dangers of pet poisoning from garden plants a leading pet insurer sponsored the Poisonous Pawtanical Garden at the Chelsea Fringe this year. Designed by Ian Drummond, and Charlie Dimmock in collaboration with vet Robert White-Adams, at first glance the garden is a beautiful and serene looking place. Many of the plants within it are things you'd recognise. All are toxic to dogs or cats or often both.

Why Don't Garden Centres Label Poisonous Plants?

It's a good question and in fact apart from seeking to raise awareness in pet owning gardeners, one of the reasons for creating the garden was as part of a campaign to persuade plant producers and retailers to provide clearer labelling signalling if their items are safe or harmful to cats and dogs.
Until this happens it's down to individual gardeners to do their research, something that doesn't seem to be happening at the moment. The survey demonstrated some alarming statistics. One in three pet owners stated that they didn't know if they had poisonous plants or flowers in their gardens. Even more alarmingly the same number said that they didn't know that plants could be poisonous to pets. Some gardeners said that they did know that they had toxic plant in their gardens but considered that the risk was worth it for the sake of having those specific plants.

Plants Featured in the Poisonous Garden

These are certainly not the only toxic garden plants, they were chosen because they're some of the ones most commonly found. How many of these do you have in your garden?

Asparagus fern Elderberry Lobelia
Begonia Eucalyptus Lupin
Buxus pyramiden Fern Marigold
Calla lily Foxglove Nerium
Cherry laurel Geranium Oleander
Clematis Grape plant Poppy
Cordyline Ivy Peony
Chrysanthemum Hosta Yew
Daisy Hydrangea Tomato
Dahlia Asiatic lilies Verbena



Yes, tomatoes and daisies! It's hard to imagine your pets eating enough daises to get ill, but should your dog munch his way through your tomato plants the effects are potentially quite serious so you really should take him to the vet.

Assessing the Risks

Knowing that a plant is potentially toxic is one thing. Assessing how great a danger it is can be a little more complex. Some plants are really quite dangerous but their strong odour or unpleasant taste is enough to put most animals off, garlic and onions both fall into this category.

Other plants are potentially toxic but only in parts, or they'd have to be ingested in very large quantities. Apple seeds, which contain tiny amounts of cyanide would be a good example of a plant product which is poisonous, but in practical terms is unlikely to cause your pet a problem.

A complete list of species which are currently identified as toxic or potentially toxic to household pets can be found here.

So many classic British favourites are listed that anyone who is both a garden lover and an animal lover could be forgiven for feeling a little depressed. It's probably not necessary to remove every plant on the list from your garden. If the labelling that's being suggested ever comes into being, a practical solution would involve indicating the degree of risk rather than just the fact that there is one. Most gardening services would be reluctant to plant oleander in a garden that will be used by pets or children, whereas refusing to plant an apple tree would be rather an extreme reaction.

Safe Plants

To eliminate all possible risk from your garden you can safely use any of the following:

  • African Daisy
  • African Violet
  • Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)
  • Aster
  • Astilbe
  • Camellia
  • Cosmos
  • Bamboo
  • Fuchsia
  • Gerbera Daisy
  • Heather
  • Honeysuckle
  • Impatiens (busy lizzie)
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Magnolia
  • Mahonia
  • Michaelmas Daisies
  • Nasturtium
  • Pansies
  • Petunia
  • Rose
  • Sunflower
  • Violet

Knowing the Signs and Symptoms of Poisoning

Another rather worrying finding from the survey was that 71% of those asked were unable to identify symptoms that might indicate their pet had been poisoned. Some of the more common symptoms of plant poisoning you might notice include:

  • Upset stomach, including vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fever
  • Drooling
  • Increased thirst
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation, loss of balance or seizure
  • Skin or mouth irritation

If you think your pet is showing symptoms of poisoning you should get him or her to the vet as quickly as possible. Make it easier for your vet to start the right treatment quickly by taking samples of anything you think your pet may have eaten along too.

Beyond Plants

Professional gardeners, such as my friends from an Oxford gardening company, will tell you that it's not just garden plants which can pose a risk to pet health.

Fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides all have the potential to cause harm - Always follow the instructions for use to the letter, including any guidance about keeping animals out of the garden after the application of chemicals. Keep these products safely stored away when not in sure.

Cocoa Mulch - Is made from cocoa bean shells a waste product from the chocolate industry. Like chocolate this mulch is harmful to dogs if they eat it.

Acorns and conkers - Are both toxic to dogs and something to be aware of in the park even if you don't happen to have oak trees or horse chestnuts in your garden.

Insects - Like you, your pet has the potential to have an allergic reaction to bee or wasp stings. Unlike you, your dog or cat just might be foolish enough to try to eat bees or wasps and a sting in the mouth, or worse yet the throat really does need veterinary attention.

Expert gardening always means being aware of the environment within your garden. Working safely is as important as producing an outdoor space that meets your needs and brings you pleasure. Keeping yourself, your family and your pets safe shouldn't be difficult. When the safe garden campaign bears fruit, and garden centres add information about toxicity along with the other guidance they give on their labels things will get much easier. In the meantime we gardeners just have to remember that some species can be dangerous and take this into account when selecting plants.

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