I absolutely love spring gardening. There is nothing like a splash of color to go along with the new green. When we think of spring gardening, pet parents often worry about poisonous plants for dogs and cats. I think a simpler approach might be to focus on the safest and most edible spring flowers and plants. But even with a focus on safe plants, be sure to double check any plant selections with a knowledgeable horticulturist or reputable resource.
Love Gardening? Beware of Poisonous Plants for Dogs & Cats!
Almost any vegetable we can grow and eat is safe for our pets except for onions, chives, leeks and garlic. The same statement can’t be made for fruits. Grapes, for example, are toxic to pets and the seeds or big pits in many fruits can also make them sick.
Vegetables in pots can look great, taste great and obviously be very safe if our pets do some nibbling. Herbs in pots can be a great addition to our patio and are also very safe. An added bonus is that most herbs are perennials, so with some proper care, we can have them grow back year after year.
A mixed pot of vegetables, herbs and flowers can look fantastic. This colorful medley, of course, can also look fantastic to your pet. If your dog or cat chooses to indulge, using a squirt gun, water hose or sharp word can do a lot to train your dog or cat away from eating up or destroying your work of art.
So, plant a little lettuce, radish, snap peas and add some of these safe beauties:
- Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)
- Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
- Begonia (Begonia sp.), pictured right
- Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)
- Butterfly flower (Schianthus sp.)
- Calendula (Callendula sp.)
- Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)
- Coleus (Coleus sp.)
- Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)
- Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)
- Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)
- Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
- Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
- Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)
- New Guinea Impatiens
- Petunia (Petunia sp.)
- Phlox (Phlox sp.)
- Primrose (Primula sp.)
- Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)
- Roses (Rose sp.)
- Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)
- Spider flower (Cleome sp.)
- Turf Lilly (Liriope sp.)
- Violet (Viola sp.)
- Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)
- Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)
For your herb or perennial garden, try planting catnip, mint, strawberries, parsley, basil or thyme. These are very safe for your cat or dog, yummy and produce a nice aroma.
Many of our mature dogs (and almost all of our cats) are discriminating when encountering plants. While they may be inclined to sniff plants, mature dogs typically do not eat them. Grass can be the exception and in small amounts, most all common grasses are safe and very tempting to our pets. Ornamental grasses can be very irritating to the mouth, throat, and nose so if you have a big grass eater. It is safest to avoid these plants or have them in areas of our garden where the pets do not have easy access.
Other Things to Consider When Planting a Spring Garden
When planting and tending to your spring garden, beware that common garden products and activities can also cause problems for our pets. The main “non-plant” concerns in your garden include fertilizers, pesticides, slug bait, compost, natural fertilizers and compost.
Consider natural products like vinegar for weeds, coffee grounds, beer and salt for slugs, and soap and water as a natural pesticide. Some natural fertilizers like chicken, cow or horse manure can (believe it or not) be very tasty to a canine palate. Bone meal, often used with the planting bulbs, is just that, bone meal — and we know dogs love bones!
Eating a little manure, natural fertilizer or bone meal is not a big problem for a dog, but if your pet (especially a puppy) gets carried away, they can experience loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal upsets. In some cases, there can also be tremors or other neurological signs. The same is true with a “hot” compost pile. Some dogs love to nibble, and there can be symptoms that do require a trip to the veterinarian. If you catch your dog snacking away at fertilizer, compost or bone meal, it’s best to get it to the vet for preventative medicine. Veterinarians often induce emesis (or vomiting), which effectively prevents a problematic stomach ache or intestinal upset.
The three most common spring garden problems we see in the emergency room include:
- Dogs ingesting slug bait poison (metaldehyde).
- Dogs ingesting decomposing items out of the compost pile.
- Lily ingestion or sniffing by cats.
Be particularly mindful of slugs. As the weather warms and slugs emerge, a few bites of slug bait can cause horrible tremors. Quick emergency treatment is critical to prevent a larger veterinary bill and very significant tremors or convulsions. As already mentioned, a compost pile snack can also cause tremors, and (in some cases) may cause drunk-like walking (ataxia), vomiting or diarrhea. In this case, quick emergency treatment is essential for a quick recovery. Lilies are highly toxic to cats and some varieties are also very toxic to dogs. It is safest to avoid all lilies – both as cut flowers or as a garden plant. Potential sniffing of the flower and inhaling the pollen can even be a problem to our curious cats.
Enjoy your garden but do your research first. Prevention is so much easier than a sick pet, and oftentimes cheaper than a trip to the veterinarian for an expensive treatment!