Make your garden safe for pets, by removing hazards and chemicals and knowing toxic plants to avoid. Many plants, trees, mulches and garden items are not safe near animal friends. Just a little knowledge and a few hours can ensure all the family (including four-legged friends) enjoy your garden. Also see a beginner’s guide to houseplants (just brushing a tail past a lily or sago palm can harm). Do not display foliage where feathered friends can see it, to stop birds flying into windows.
First of all, learn which plants and trees to avoid. It’s also important to avoid cocoa mulch (toxic), pine mulch (punctures), rubber mulch (choking) and fresh compost (mould):
- PDSA lists safe/unsafe plants to choose or avoid
- Toxic plants to dogs
- Toxic plants to cats
- Toxic plants to rabbits
- Toxic plants to birds
- Avoid these herbs near pets
- Trees & plants to horses
- Remove ragwort with a ragfork
- VPIS & Leaf Supply supply info for vets
- Also keep pets away from rose thorns
- And plants that attract bees (see natural remedies for bee stings)
- Bin chemicals and pesticides
- Grow an organic lawn
- Use safe humane slug/snail deterrents
- Paved areas are safer than stones or gravel
- Trimmed nails help prevent claws getting stuck
- Check ears/paws after walks, for grass seeds
- Have shady areas (cats also get heatstroke)
- Choose a solid wood secure fence
- Or one made with recycled plastic
- Use non-toxic wood stain (over creosote)
- If prey animals (like rabbits) run free during the day, block hedgehog highways (holes in fences). You can open them up at night when animals are safely inside (hedgehogs are nocturnal anyway).
- Clean up poop immediately (even old poop can cause blindness to animals and children, if they fall in it).
- Citronella (often used in candles to deter wasps) is toxic to pets. Use a Waspinator (looks like a wasp nest, deters other wasps)
- Wash paws after snowy walks to remove rock salt (this can burn, at indoor higher temperatures). Use a shovel to clear snow or EcoGrit (cereal waste) – they also suggest straw or sand.
- Flat Cat & Cataire make screens to keep cats safe near windows (they don’t always ‘right themselves’).
- Keep pets away from BBQs. Remove leftover food (fatty meats, onion, garlic and beer are all toxic).
Pet Garden Safety Tips
- Never leave pets unattended with collars that could snag (balconies, fences). For dogs, Keepsafe Collar is secure on lead walks (just attach the lead to both D-rings) but off the lead, breaks away in emergencies. For cats, Kitty Collars (6 months+) are embroidered with contact/medical info and also break away in emergencies (use with non-hanging Flexitags).
- Always supervise pets with toys, and avoid throwing sticks (causes mouth injuries). See where to find safe pet toys.
- Keep pets away from ponds (blue/green algae) and toads. Create sloping sides for ponds (for all creatures to exit safely) and also use safer alternatives to netting.
- Even Greener & The Original Water Butt Co are safer than open barrels. Stagnant water attracts mosquitoes.
- Cover pools, when not in use. Doggy Docks are easier to use than ladders, and can also used as boat platforms.
A Beginner’s Guide to Houseplants
Plants don’t ‘clean the air’. Environmental engineer Michael Waring says this is based on 30-year old research (they remove chemicals so slowly, you would need 5000 plants in a small flat, to have any effect). Just remove clutter, open the windows ajar, use natural cleaning products and a good vacuum cleaner.
Water houseplants regularly with a long-handled watering can to access the roots (when soil feels dry or if you see droopy yellow leaves with brown tips). Water at dawn and dusk, to reduce evaporation (signs of over-watering are wilting leaves, fungal growth and black insects). Also see zero waste plant pots.
Many Houseplants Are Toxic to Pets
If you live with pets, know that many houseplants can be lethal (just brushing a tail against sago palm, lilies or cheese plants can burn internal organs, and cats in particular could knock them over). Signs of poisoning (lethargy, sickness, drooling and breathing difficulties) are medical emergencies. If this happens, remove residual plants, wash with warm water and gentle soap and take plants and vomit samples to the vet.
- A Considered Life has a good post on pet-friendly houseplants.
- Pet-Toxic Plants to avoid
- See make your garden safe for pets, for plants to avoid (inc. for house rabbits)
- Avoid cocoa/pine/rubber mulch and fresh compost near pets
- The book Leaf Supply includes lists of pet-friendly & pet-toxic houseplants
Pet-toxic houseplants include:
- Sago palm
- All lilies (Asian, peace etc)
- Cheese plants
- All bulbs (daffodils, tulips, begonia, geraniums etc):
- Azaleas (rhododendrons), Poinsettias & Chrysanthemum
- Asparagus fern & Branching ivy
- Caladium (red heart-shaped leaves)
- Aloe vera plants
- Lemon trees
- Begonia (and all bulbs)
- Branching ivy
- Caladium (the big heart-shaped red leaves)
- Money plants (jade)
- All fruit pips & seeds are toxic (mini fruit trees)
- Tomato plants (esp. green tomatoes)
- Potato plants (green, raw & unripe potatoes)
- (too much) catnip gives upset tummies
- Lavender (esp. toxic to cats, birds, reptiles and ferrets: they can’t absorb essential oils in plants, oils, perfumes or scented candles: avoid use around them, and air rooms after use).
- If you (illegally) grow cannabis, this plant is also toxic
- Cacti are obviously spiky
Safer herbs in mild versions (still avoid near pets, even ‘safe’ ones could cause tummy upset) are basil, rosemary, thyme and coriander. Avoid oregano, lemongrass, pennyroyal mint, tarragon, chives (or plants in the onion family: chives, leeks, onions, shallots), parsley and bay laurel. See how to grow your own herbs.
Safer Houseplants Near Pets
All plants could be a risk for certain animals, so ask your vet if in doubt – these are just less lethal if ingested, in most circumstances. Don’t use pesticides, these make all plants toxic. It’s confusing as different sites list plants as unsafe and safe. This edited list is collated from animal poison control experts. At time of writing (check for updates), safer plants listed are:
- African violets
- Boston fern (be careful, pets can chew tehm)
- Air plants (potential choking risk)
- Orchids (slipper orchid is toxic to dogs)
- Bamboo plants
- Spider plants (cats could get upset tums, if playing with them)
To grow your own herbs does not require much space (use a pot or the spokes of a cartwheel. Grow mint and chives in pots, or else they can go out of control. Don’t grow near windows as it makes birds confused (see how to stop birds flying into windows).
Keep Pets Safe Near Herbs
See toxic plants to avoid near pets (also avoid cocoa/pine/rubber mulch near pets, and avoid fresh compost nearby, as it contains mould). Use humane safe slug & snail deterrents and use no-dig garden methods. Herbs that are toxic to pets include:
- Pennyroyal (mint)
- Chives (anything in the onion family)
- Bay laurel
- Garden cress
Safer herbs include milder basil, rosemary, coriander and thyme. Rosemary will attract bees, so keep furry friends away. Lavender is not the most toxic herb for pets, but in large amounts could harm. Also keep pets away from herbs that attract bees (like lavender or rosemary – see natural remedies for bee stings).
For home use, do not use strong scents/herbs nor essential oils near pets (esp. cats, birds, ferrets and reptiles). Don’t use on beds if pets sleep with you, and air rooms if using herbal perfumes, air fresheners or scented candles (avoid citronella near pets).
Grow Your Own Herbs
- Fast-growing annuals are mild basil, basil, rosemary, coriander, thyme & dill. Perennial herbs take time (thyme, sage, rosemary, chives and mint).
- Don’t scorch pots in the sun, nor have them face west or east or they won’t get enough sun. Water plants in the morning (yellow leaves are due to over-watering).
- Harvest little at a time.
- Freeze chopped herbs in ice-cube trays.
- Garden cress is an edible herb (better than supermarket cress that’s watered down with rapeseed oil). Cress is toxic to pets. Also known as ‘poor man’s pepper’, it’s good to add a tangy taste to sandwiches, soups and stews.
- Jekka’s Herb Kits (Bristol) include hand-mixed seedling compost and 5 packets of herb seeds. The Herb Patch also grows organic seeds on a smallholding in the Derwent Valley, on the border of Durham/Northumberland.
- Complete Container Herb Gardening is a book by a certified horticulturalist. Sue Goetz walks you through growing easy edible herbs with healing properties, for your patio, rooftop, balcony or porch. Discover best herbs to grow, ideal containers and how to tend your herb garden. Includes a dozen container recipes
- Your Indoor Herb Garden is a fantastic book, with high reviews. Beautifully illustrated, learn why indoor herb gardens are good for cooking and healing, and includes a glossary of herbs with growing requirements.