Yes, you can have beauty and variety in your garden and still keep your dog and cat healthy. Here's how, and why, to make sure your plants are safe for pets.
Depending on the animal's breed, size, age and other characteristics, the plant in question and the extent and type of contact, symptoms from exposure to toxic plants can range from mild irritation and nausea to death. So, the best choice is a garden design with pet-friendly annuals and perennials. Search according to your planting region for comprehensive lists and photos online.
The Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers resources to determine which plants are safe for dogs, cats and horses. Each entry in its list of plants includes the safety level and a description of toxicity symptoms. For example, the vivid large-leafed Caladium is toxic to dogs and cats, producing the following clinical symptoms: "Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing." But dozens of flowering plants, such as the lovely Madagascar jasmine, are nontoxic to dogs, cats and horses, as are dozens of other flowering plants.
The Humane Society of the United States also provides a list of toxic plants and specific plant parts on its website.
Writing for the Animal Health Foundation, veterinarian Lee Pickett notes problem gardening practices. "Cocoa mulch is toxic if ingested because it contains theobromine and caffeine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, elevated heart rate and seizures. Use a mulch of hardwood or pine instead.
"Insecticides and herbicides can pose problems too," Pickett continues. "Research on phenoxy-type herbicides shows they increase the incidence of cancer. Nonphenoxy herbicides ... do not increase cancer risk.
"Don't use slug bait that contains metaldehyde, which can be fatal to pets and wildlife. Check the Internet or your cooperative extension service for safe alternatives.
"Many plants are toxic to pets, including chrysanthemums, clematis, coleus, daffodils, geranium, hibiscus, hosta, hyacinths, most ivies and lilies, peony, sweet William, tulips and vinca.
"Finally, don't forget to plant catnip, cat thyme and cat grass for your kitties," says Pickett.
For a list of medicinal garden plants for dogs, visit PetMD.com. Helpful plants for dogs include burdock, milk thistle, peppermint, astragalus, barley grass and others. For cats, the site recommends catnip, cat thyme, valerian, chamomile, calendula, Echinacea, licorice root, cat's claw, dandelion root and more.
An alternative to landscaping solely with pet-friendly plants is to separate sections of your garden with fencing. Pets and children can move freely in the safe zones, apart from plants, products and practices that pose contact and ingestion risks.
Your tender loving care will help ensure a healthy life for your pets.