Is your garden safe for pets? Find out about some of the commonest hazards.
Commonly used garden chemicals can be dangerous and should be stored safely out of the way of children and pets. Liquids such as white spirit and barbecue lighter fluids can cause serious poisoning if swallowed, licked off fur, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled.
Most intruders come into gardens through gates or over fences, so it is important to keep garden gates closed. Urban foxes in particular are very successful at gaining unauthorised entry, posing a threat to rabbits and guinea pigs. Keep small pets safely in their hutches and never let them out of their cages unsupervised.
Bees, wasps and hornets can give a pet a nasty sting. This can be especially dangerous if the pet is stung in the throat while eating one of these, or is stung several times at once. Check gardens for nests and contact local pest control.
When threatened, toads secrete an irritant poison that will hurt a curious pet’s tongue or skin. If this happens, rinse the affected area with plenty of water and phone the vet as soon as possible.
Before using any herbicides (weedkillers), read and follow the instructions very carefully. There is a wide range of weedkillers available on the market, and some can harm pets if accidentally swallowed. Plants treated with some weedkillers may also be poisonous if eaten. Some pets are able to absorb chemicals through the skin, either directly through spillages or indirectly from a walk through treated plants.
Many gardeners use chemical pesticides to rid their gardens of unwanted insects, slugs and snails. These chemicals can be harmful; use them exactly as instructed.
Some slug bait pellets and rat poison pellets can be deadly if swallowed, and it is very important to keep pets away from treated areas if this is the case. However, there are alternatives to using poisons. Try pet-proof slug traps.
Often gardeners recommend trying a chemical-free, or organic, approach to gardening. Local nurseries are the best place to go for expert advice about both traditional and organic methods of pest control.
Broken bottles and sharp stones are obvious hazards, but grass seeds can also cause problems for pets. The seeds can pierce a pet’s skin, or become lodged in ears, eyes or toes.
Dustbins are very attractive to dogs and cats. Keep bins out of the way, and ensure that the lid is on firmly at all times as pets can easily rip open bin liners with their claws, inspecting and eating the contents. Cats are especially attracted to plastic bags with the remains of meat or fish in them, while dogs are likely to swallow anything that captures their attention.
Motorised garden tools such as hedge-trimmers, and, more particularIy, strimmers and lawnmowers can injure small animals. Tortoises and hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable, as they are easy to miss in long grass and cannot move quickly enough to escape injury.
Hedgehogs also tend to crawl into hedges or bonfires for shelter, so gardeners should check all bonfires before they are lit.
Plants bring colour and fragrance to a garden, but some commonly grown plants can be hazardous to pets.
Local nursery staff will be able to advise about plants which are poisonous.
The following are just some of the plants found in many UK gardens that can be harmful to your pet. When buying new plants seek the advice of experienced nursery staff about
the relative toxicity to humans and pets.
(Prunus laurocerasus) This is a hedging plant, often used in public parks and gardens. The most common cause of poisoning in dogs is through eating or chewing the leaves so dog owners should be careful how they dispose of hedge cuttings.
Castor oil bush
(Ricinus communis) The seeds, or more frequently oil cakes used as a fertiliser, appear very attractive to dogs and can be potentially fatal.
(Narcissus) All parts of the daffodil are harmful. Dogs sometimes eat the bulbs, and even a small portion of a bulb can kill a small animal. In fact, drinking the water in which cut daffodils have stood is potentially hazardous.
(Cytisus alpinus) All parts of this plant are poisonous, but the seeds are especially dangerous. Even chewing laburnum bark or twigs can affect a dog.
(Taxus baccata and related species) Nearly all parts of the plant are harmful, including dried clippings. A mere 30g of leaves could be potentially fatal to a dog.
Lily of the valley
(Convallaria majalis) Lily of the valley flowers and leaves, which are often used in bouquets, contain a toxin that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and heart problems in dogs and cats. The pet could also collapse and have fits.
(Lilium) Some parts of lilies, such as Tiger, Easter, Stargazer and Arum, are potentially toxic, especially to cats. Lilies are often used in bouquets and pets can be poisoned through eating or chewing parts of the plant, such as the leaves, stems or flower heads. Even the pollen can be harmful, as cats may lick this off their fur after brushing against the flower head. Other types of lilies can also be hazardous to pets so you should always seek advice from your florist or garden centre.
(Philodendron and related species) All parts of this popular ornamental houseplant are toxic, although it is usually the leaves that pets like to chew or eat. Even contact with the plant can cause irritation to the eyes and mouth resulting in excessive salivation. In cats, the condition usually develops into a more serious condition, and can be fatal.
There are websites and books that can help you identify the plants that may be harmful to your pet. These include:
Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardeners’ Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers, edited by Christopher Brinckell and published by Dorling Kindersley (ISBN 0-75130-800-5), will help you to identify plants.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s website also lists useful books on this topic www.rhs.org.uk
Download a copy of the Safer Gardens leaflet (PDF - 1.48 MB)
All credited photographs © Royal Horticultural Society
There are 4 links on this page which are in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format. In order to view them you will need the free Acrobat Reader software installed on your computer.