Plants in your garden that could kill dogs or cats

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As I write, my partner and I are discussing getting a puppy or rescue dog, as we spend a lot of time outside; however, I love my garden and plants, especially as we have just moved house and have a blank canvas to work with, and the idea of a four-legged fiend squashing my flowers, turning my lawn yellow or finding ‘mammoth’ piles of soil and holes that appear to go on forever make me a little nervous.

I grew up with dogs, labradors, in particular, and for many years my partner and I had two long-haired Persian cats, but these were primarily indoor cats. I think I’m going to have to give in and avoid divorce and, like so many gardeners who also have cats and dogs, redesign our outdoor spaces so that they are pet friendly.

We are a nation that loves our pets, but when it comes to gardening there are some plants that should be avoided as they can be toxic to cats and dogs, in particular. Yet, if you have a pet-friendly garden and love your plants and flowers how can you stop small or large paws from crushing your prized blooms or tasty veggies?

When it comes to plants it’s not just the foliage, flowers and stems that you see above ground. Many flowering bulbs, such as autumn crocus, cyclamen, tulip, daffodil, which can all be planted now, and any member of the lily family, can cause serious symptoms like gastrointestinal irritation, loss of appetite or in extreme conditions convulsions in your pet.

If you love these plants, then I recommend you grow them in pots and containers which your dog or cat cannot get to. You can place some chicken wire over the top of a container so that your pet cannot dig them out – it will also stop determined squirrels.

Azaleas and rhododendrons contain grayantoxins which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and in severe cases coma and death from cardiovascular collapse. Yew or Taxus spp. contain taxine which cause trembling, loss of coordination and difficulty breathing.

Compositae plants, such as daises and chrysanthemums contain pyrethrins which lead to gastrointestinal problems and vomiting. Even English ivy, Hedera helix, contains triterpenoid saponins which result in vomiting and diarrhoea.

Avoid other toxic plants like foxglove, delphinium, tomato and wisteria. The Dogs Trust has a very handy PDF that lists all the common garden plants and houseplants with details of what to look out for. You can find it here. Cats Protection also gives great advice and what to do if you think your cat has been poisoned.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There are still many houseplants and outdoor plants that you can grow without the fear of thinking or experiencing the worst. We cannot, however, watch our pets 24 hours a day and if they want to take a bite of something or dig it up because they think it’s fun it’s always best to check published lists, follow the advice and select plants that are safe.

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When it comes to houseplants you can grow the following: Calathea lancifola (rattlesnack plant); Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant); Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia (African violet); Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston fern); Phalaenopsis sp. (moth orchids) and Phoenix canariensis (date palm).

Bedding plants such as nasturtium, nemesia, petunia and pansies are safe for both dogs and cats. All forms of roses are also safe for pets, as are Nepeta sp. (catmint) and Valerian sp. which cats especially love to sniff and sometimes roll on.

The scent from catmint, lavender and hardy geraniums may excite your pets, but they will not harm them. If you’ve planted up a new border then consider placing a small temporary chicken wire fence around the area, until the plants are large enough to fend for themselves. Of course, putting up such a fence will be of considerable interest to your pets and no matter how many times you shout ‘get off’ or ‘leave’ if they are determined they will find a way in.

Gardens need to be stimulating and fun places for both us and our pets. Some pets dislike the feeling of wet surfaces such as lawns and pathways and will often follow paths like us. Our long-haired Persian cats did come out with us, but they would always stick to the dry pathways.

So, ensure you have clear hard-standing areas like patios and pathways and line them with robust plants. When it comes to planting it makes sense to put in large plants from the start, such as shrubs and established perennials which won’t mind being trodden or nibbled on, will bounce back quickly or may even deter. If you plant small seedlings or young plants, then you can always place cuttings from thorny roses between the plants to help stop wandering paws.

Raised beds are great as you can lift the planting to a workable height and perhaps make the beds high enough so that your pets do not notice the plants (well, it’s worth a try).

Safety and security are key, especially when you have pets. Ensure gates and fences are firmed in, have a secure catch or lock and perhaps consider adding a line of chicken wire along the bottom, bent at ninety degrees and buried under the soil to help prevent dogs from digging under the fence and trying to escape. Perimeter fences must be 1.8 metres high, as most dogs cannot jump this high.

Gaps under gates either need to be blocked with a planter fixed to the front or back of the gate or chicken wire, as mentioned above. You can buy perimeter fence systems with a receiver in a collar which will sound a beep or issue a small shock. The idea is that your pet will find this uncomfortable and return to you. Personally, I think it’s better to create a space that is secure by using pet-friendly plants, some wire fencing and tall fencing. I want our new puppy (see I am almost giving in) to enjoy the space, to explore and perhaps dig up a plant or two!

We need to live alongside our pets, and if you are worried about the plants in your garden then check the links above or search online. It can become a little confusing, but by cross-checking you’ll find the pet-friendly plants that you and your pets can enjoy for years to come.

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