Spring is in full bloom on the Front Range, and summer is soon to come. Your pet friendly gardens isaredeners with pets, garden planning is more nuanced as we take into consideration environments and plants that are both good for and dangerous to our pets. Fear not, dear gardeners, for we have broken down the biggest issues that the pet-loving gardener faces to help you craft the perfect pet-friendly gardens (and what to do should Fido find something dangerous).

Pet-Friendly Garden Basics

The pet-friendly garden should include a few key elements: spots for both sun and shade, a water source, frequent removal of feces, and barriers to prevent access to toxic plants. Many pets benefit from additional space to romp and play fetch or a kiddie pool to cool off. As you plan your basic outline of your garden, think about your specific pets and what they enjoy most about the great outdoors and tailor your space to meet their needs.

As temperatures increase, having shade is increasingly important, as this will protect your pet from heat stroke, a fast-occurring and deadly disease. It is therefore important to include plants that provide ample shade to make your yard cool. While trees are the most obvious sources of shade, tall shrubs such as lilacs can also serve as excellent shade-bearers. Just be careful to avoid shrubs that are potentially toxic, such as privet, mock orange, or boxwood, especially if your pet loves to chew on plants. However, if you can’t resist the smell of a mock orange or the gorgeous hue of a burning bush, just put up an effective barrier such as a fence or chicken wire tall enough so that your pet cannot jump over it. Just as important as shade is a water source during hot summer days. While it may seem convenient to use a pond or fountain as a good place for this, these sources can harbor bacteria or algae that can cause serious harm to your pet. Instead, opt for a water bowl that is filled with fresh water daily. Finally, consider providing a shelter for Fido should the weather turn foul – this may be as simple as providing easy access into the house or garage or a doghouse just for him.

Pet-Safe Plants

If your kitty loves the great outdoors, a cat-friendly garden is a great way to engage her senses. Catnip is by far the most well-known cat-friendly plant. This herb is known to have psychoactive effects on some cats, often causing a sense of euphoria. While your cat is likely to fall in love with catnip, remember that it will attract other cats as well. Additionally, if not pruned appropriately, catnip can easily become invasive. Cats also enjoy nibbling on grasses such as oat grass or wheatgrass, and plants such as pumpkins, green beans, and sunflowers help to form a fun, interactive space with many spots for shade (or protection while preparing to pounce).

Dogs, on the other hand, tend not to be as curious as cats in the garden, but it is equally important to provide an environment that is both safe and enjoyable to them. Apple trees can provide both shade and tasty treats, and carrots, green beans, and pumpkins are also healthy treats for your pooch.

Fertilizers, Herbicides, and Compost

While additional products are necessary to keep our gardens lush and weed-free, it is important to remember the risks they pose to your pet. Fertilizers contain specific levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that enrich plant growth. While the ratios of these ingredients are usually pet-safe, fertilizers with added iron as well as “weed and feed” varieties can cause serious problems in dogs and cats. Additionally, blood meal can cause inflammation of the pancreas, and ingestion of bone meal can cause a hard concretion to form in your pet’s stomach, putting him at risk for intestinal obstruction. Finally, some rose fertilizers contain organophosphates, which can cause very serious disease in your dog. Herbicides generally pose a lesser threat to our animal friends, as they are made to disrupt the growth of plants. However, GI side effects and lethargy are possible if your pet consumes a concentrated product. Finally, it is important to block your pet’s access to your compost bin, because the moldy foods and plants in it can cause serious muscle tremors. Once your organic waste has turned into “black gold,” however, it should be safe for Fido to sniff.

Plants to Avoid

Finally, one of the most important tasks is to identify which plants are toxic to your pet and to ensure that she has no access to them. Below is a list of common plants that are known to cause serious toxicity in pets.

Allium spp. (onions, garlic, chives, leeks). Toxic to dogs. Cause GI side effects (vomiting, diarrhea) and occasionally anemia.

Solanaceae spp. (tomatoes, potatoes). Toxic to dogs and cats. While the ripe fruits themselves are nontoxic, ingesting the leaves or stems of the plants can cause symptoms ranging from GI upset to weakness, dilated pupils, and a slow heartbeat.

Ericacaea spp. (rhododendron, azalea, mountain laurel): Toxic to dogs. Can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, slow heartbeat, and muscle tremors.

Lilies (Lillium spp., Hemerocallis spp.): Toxic to cats. All parts of the plant (including water and pollen) are toxic. Causes acute kidney failure, which may first show as vomiting, lethargy, increased thirst or urination.

Plants containing cardiac glycosides (foxglove, lily of the valley, oleander, milkweed, star of Bethlehem, burning bush): Toxic to dogs and cats. Cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, a slow heart rate, weakness, or collapse.

Grapes: Toxic to dogs. Can cause acute kidney failure, which can first show as vomiting, decreased appetite, increased thirst and urination.

Corn: While the plant itself is nontoxic, many dogs ingest the cobs, which can lodge in their intestines and cause an obstruction. Signs of an obstruction include vomiting, lethargy, and inappetence.

Autumn Crocus: Toxic to dogs and cats. Contains high levels of colchicine, which can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, kidney, liver, and respiratory failure.

While this list includes many major plants of concern, it is by no means exhaustive – if you are concerned that your pet has ingested something potentially toxic, please contact your veterinarian Gentle Touch Animal Hospital or an animal poison control center.

Gentle Touch Animal Hospital: 303-691-3720

ASPCA Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435

Pet Poison Helpline: 1-855-764-7661

Happy Gardening from all of us at Gentle Touch! If this article helped you create your pet-friendly garden, share a picture of your pet enjoying their outdoor paradise!


ASPCA Poison Control Center: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants

Pet Poison Helpline, Spring Pet Poisons (http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/pet-owners/seasons/spring/) and Poison List (http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poisons/)

Brutlag, A. “From the Planter to the Carpet: Toxic Plants and the Small Animal Patient.” Proceedings, 82nd Western Veterinary Conference. 2010

Colorado Master Gardener Program: http://cmg.colostate.edu

Laura Hranac, DVM