How to make your garden pet friendly

For any unsure pet owners, Dr Jessica May, UK lead vet at the video vet service FirstVet, has shared her advice on how to keep your garden well maintained and pet friendly

While gardens can be a great place for pets to explore and play, some seemingly harmless plants and gardening products can be toxic for animals, and unwanted critters can transfer parasites to pets. Here's are the garden products to avoid:


Cocoa mulch: Some gardeners like to use cocoa shell mulch in their gardens but, just like chocolate, cocoa shell mulch contains theobromine, which is toxic to dogs. This means that cocoa shell mulch can be potentially deadly if consumed in large quantities. If you own a dog I'd strongly advise that you steer clear of using cocoa mulch in your garden. 

Weed killer: The chemicals contained in weed killers can be irritants to animals and, in some cases, even toxic. Some weed killers contain harmful substances, such as borax and arsenic, which can potentially be fatal to pets. If you are unsure whether a weed killer is safe to use in a garden that your pet uses, you should always seek the manufacturer's advice first, or ask a vet.  

Compost: Despite being an eco-friendly garden feature, compost can be highly dangerous for animals. As organic matter decomposes it releases mycotoxins, which are poisonous to wildlife. Consumption of mycotoxins can cause panting, vomiting, seizures and even death in dogs. If you do use compost in your garden, make sure it is securely fenced off so that your pet cannot access it. 

Fertiliser: Different fertilisers can contain a wide range of ingredients, including insecticides, fungicides and bacterial or fungal toxins. The caustic nature of some fertilisers also means that, if consumed, they can cause stomach upsets for pets. Some fertilisers can also cause more serious symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle tremors or even death, so keeping your garden fertiliser free is the simplest way to ensure that it is pet friendly. 


Toxic plants 

New flowers and plants can add a beautiful splash of colour to your garden, but pet owners should look out for popular plants that can be toxic to animals. When sprucing up your beds, I’d advise avoiding the following:  

Lilies: Lilies are extremely dangerous for cats, as they contain toxins that attack the kidneys. This includes all parts of the plant, including the pollen. In some cases, this can lead to kidney failure within 36-72 hours, so the best way to prevent an accident is to keep lilies out of your garden. Although lilies are less dangerous for dogs and rabbits, they can still cause severe stomach upset, so those of us with furry friends would be wise to avoid them.  

Daffodils: Another common flower that can be a serious hazard to pets are daffodils. Daffodils are poisonous to both cats and dogs, causing symptoms such as excessive salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea. Daffodil bulbs are particularly dangerous, because they contain high levels of toxic alkaloids and glycosides. To be on the safe side, pet owners should avoid the plant in general when choosing flowers for their garden.  

Tomatoes: Tomatoes can be dangerous for dogs, cats and rabbits, should they eat any green parts of the plant, or the unripe fruit. Poisoning from tomato plants can cause symptoms such as stomach upsets, muscle weakness and seizures. It is best to keep them out of your garden if you have a pet, or to keep them well out of the reach, if you do choose to grow them. 

Rhubarb: Rhubarb crumble is a national favourite, but any pet owners tempted to grow their own rhubarb should be warned that the leaves of the plant are toxic to pets, including cats, dogs and rabbits. Although a small nibble may not be dangerous, if rhubarb leaves are consumed in large quantities they can cause lethargy, diarrhoea and loss of appetite - so it’s best to keep your garden rhubarb free to protect your animal’s health, or keep pets well away from the rhubarb patch. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of plants that present dangers to your pets, so make sure to double check what plants are safe for your dog, cat or rabbit before setting them loose in the garden or choosing new things to plant. 


Hazardous critters 

Lastly, unwanted creepy crawlies in the garden are a nuisance at the best of times, but it is particularly important to look out for those that can cause your pet serious health issues. 

The worst offenders are slugs and snails. These common garden pests can carry a parasite called lungworm, which may be transferred to curious dogs, if they eat a slug or a snail, or consumed by accident from a food or water bowl. Lungworm can cause your dog serious health issues, such as breathing difficulties, seizures and, in severe cases, even heart failure.  

Keeping your grass well-trimmed can help you to spot any garden guests and remove them quickly, and clean outdoor food and water bowls daily. It’s also best to always keep an eye on dogs whilst they’re playing in the garden, to make sure they don’t eat anything dangerous!  

If you think your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t, or if you have any other concerns about your pet’s health, you can call the video vet service FirstVet at any time of day and speak with a qualified UK vet, who can offer advice and guidance, or recommend a visit to a physical veterinary practice. 

Read more: How to choose the right dog breed

Read more: What your dog isn't telling you

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter