Pet Friendly Petals

Choosing Garden Plants That Are Safe for Your Pets

Cherry blossoms are on the way, tulips are sprouting, and neighbors are out with their pets in droves. The long DC winter is finally behind us and spring is here! We will be spending more time outside, and our pets will be hanging out more often in our backyards. Because of this one of our clients recommended we write an article about what garden plants are safe for our pets. As cats love to chew on leafy foliage and teething puppies will literally put anything in their mouths, when better for such an article than springtime on Capitol Hill?

Whether you are starting or expanding your garden, be sure to thoughtfully consider the potential impact each addition could have on your pet. Many plants that are harmless to us can cause our pets distress or may even be fatal. The worst offenders are lilies. The Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum), day lily (Lilium hemerocallus), stargazer (Lilium orientalis), and Asian lily (Lilium asiatic) are all dangerous. Any part of the plant can be toxic. Even ingestion of the pollen or drinking the water the lilies are standing in can be dangerous. Consumption can lead to severe lethargy, vomiting, and eventual kidney failure. Some kinds of lilies are less dangerous, such as calla lilies (Calla palustris) and peace lilies(Spathiphyllum), which cause gastric upset (drooling, vomiting, and loss of appetite) from the sharp calcium oxalate crystals they contain. But if you are a cat owner, you should steer clear of planting any lilies in your garden.

Spring tulip and daffodil bulbs are just making their way out of the ground. While the leaves and flowers are not very toxic, the bulbs of both can be harmful if your pet eats them. Keep your dog from digging them up by planting in hard-to-reach places, and when you store bulbs make sure they are on a high shelf.

Fruit seeds can cause problems if your pet ingests enough of them. The seeds in apples and the pits in plums, cherries, apricots, and peaches all contain small amounts of cyanide. Likely if your dog was chewing on a single piece of fruit lying on the ground, there is not enough toxin to do significant damage, but there may be enough to cause vomiting or lethargy.

Oleander and foxglove are beautiful garden additions that contain digitalis, a drug often used in heart medication. Chewing on this plant could be very dangerous, and we recommend keeping them out of your pet-safe garden (see photos).

Azalea, laurels, and rhododendron make up the garden or front yard of many a Capitol Hill home. If ingested all parts of these plants are considered moderately to extremely toxic (from grayanotoxins). Azaleas, laurels, and rhododendron are toxic if even just a few leaves are ingested. The good news is that these plants are not very palatable, and most pets will not go out of their way to eat them. But a curious puppy should be kept far away.

Nightshade has a beautiful purple flower but should be avoided in a pet-safe garden. Ingestion can lead to hypersalivation, loss of appetite, severe gastrointestinal upset, and/or diarrhea (see photo).

Chrysanthemums (mums) look great in a pot on your front stoop. But your curious pet should be kept away from the flowers, which contain pyrethrins that can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, and disorientation.

Grapevines can be a great space filler and add color to an otherwise boring gate or fence. However, we recommend against grapevines in a pet-safe garden. If eaten, the grapes themselves have the potential to do harm to your dog’s kidneys.

Wisteria vines are plentiful around Capitol Hill and are commonly found in both front yards and backyards. Unfortunately the flower is toxic as are the pods and seeds within. These should be collected regularly to avoid pet ingestion.

We love growing tomatoes in our backyards, and the fruit of our labors is worth the time invested. However, the tomato plant itself is toxic to pets. It contains solanine, which if ingested in sufficient quantity can trigger hypersalivation, loss of appetite, severe gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and drowsiness. Keep your tomato plants elevated or wall them off to keep curious snouts at bay.

Most herbs are fine to grow. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family and it is thought the scent mimics “happy” cat pheromones. Rosemary and lavender are safe, and dried forms of these plants are said to have natural flea repellant properties. Thyme, sage, mint, and basil are also safe for your garden and great for cooking.

I hope this has given you a brief outline of what to avoid planting in your pet-safe garden. For a more complete list please consult the ASPCA poisonous plants website, www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants. For immediate questions about whether the plant your pet just ingested was toxic, please call your veterinarian or the ASPCA poison control hotline, 888-426-4435 (a $65 consulting fee may be charged).

Happy spring, and see you ‘round the Hill!

Dr. Antkowiak resides on Capitol Hill and is the co-owner of AtlasVet (the Atlas District Veterinary Hospital) at 1326 H St. NE(www.atlasvetdc.com,Twitter: @atlasvetdc Facebook: atlasvetdc).


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