7 top tips for creating a pet-safe garden

Your garden should be a safe place that both you and your pets can enjoy together. However, from poisonous plants and toxic chemicals to mouldy food in compost heaps, there are all sorts of potential dangers that responsible pet owners need to be aware of. Indeed, Blue Cross vets recently treated a cat who was rushed into the charity’s animal
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21st March 2022

Your garden should be a safe place that both you and your pets can enjoy together. However, from poisonous plants and toxic chemicals to mouldy food in compost heaps, there are all sorts of potential dangers that responsible pet owners need to be aware of.

Indeed, Blue Cross vets recently treated a cat who was rushed into the charity’s animal hospital in London after eating a lily, while a dog was treated after eating food from a compost heap.

Caroline Reay, senior vet at Blue Cross, says: “We want people to enjoy their gardens with their pets so it’s important for owners to think about the space and how they can make it safe and interesting for them to enjoy together.”

Blue Cross advises pet owners to think carefully about what plants they use in their garden as some popular blooms – such as lilies, geranium and sweet peas – can cause stomach upsets and other symptoms if eaten by pets.

An outdoor haven for people and pets to relax in

Even leading horticulturists and designers are getting behind Blue Cross’s advice.

Garden designer and presenter Diarmuid Gavin says: “My dogs Bowie and Roxie love spending time outdoors, and with the warmer weather, this means more time in the garden, which can be a wonderful space to enjoy with your pets. However, us owners need to be aware of the hidden dangers in our backyards that could potentially harm our four-legged companions. By taking Blue Cross’s helpful advice on how to pet-proof your garden, we can ensure our pets are able to relax, play and enjoy their outdoor havens.”

Horticulturist and presenter Christine Walkden adds: “Dogs have always been an important part of my life, and like us, they fully appreciate the joy that comes with spending time in the garden. You might not think owning a pet and an impressive garden go hand in hand, but with a bit of planning and by selecting certain plants you can create a safe and beautiful space to share this summer and beyond together with your pet.”



  1. Choose pet-friendly planting

There are lots of common plants that are poisonous to pets, including lilies, bluebells, foxglove, hydrangea, yew, rhododendron, cyclamen and wisteria. Most evergreens and plants that grow from bulbs are poisonous to rabbits – Rabbit Welfare has a comprehensive list. You can still enjoy a gorgeous, colourful display with pet-safe varieties such as lavender, honeysuckle, snapdragons, Michaelmas daisies, camellias, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, nasturtiums, cornflowers, hollyhocks, violets, pansies, petunias and impatiens. If you have a cat, they may particularly enjoy taking an afternoon nap on a catnip or catmint plant. Cats Protection has a list of outdoor plants that are poisonous to cats as well as a list of cat-friendly ones.

  1. Ditch the chemicals

Avoid chemicals including weed and bug killer, slug pellets and insect-repellent citronella candles as these are toxic to all wildlife. A more natural approach is companion planting, where common plant combinations protect each other to keep garden pests at bay. Examples include growing nasturtiums with beans, mint with carrots (the strong smell apparently confuses pests) and marigolds, which repel whitefly and attract beneficial insects including hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds which will munch up pesky aphids for lunch. The Royal Horticultural Society has lots of tips on creating gardens to attract wildlife.

  1. Be mindful about mulch and fertilisers

Cocoa shell mulch is now popular in many gardens, but pet owners should steer clear. It’s a by-product of the chocolate industry and so is toxic to pets. Try bark chippings instead. Some environmentally-friendly fertilisers contain fish by-products, blood meal and even ground poultry feathers – ingredients that some dogs will find appealing but will do them no good at all if they eat it. Using a liquid fertiliser is a safer option – but keep pets away until any product you use has completely dissolved.

  1. Keep your compost off-limits

Ensure your compost heap is safely out-of-bounds from scavenging hounds as it may contain foods – such as grapes, raisins, avocadoes and onions – that can be harmful to animals. The same goes for recycling food bins. These sealed, plastic caddies are the perfect breeding ground for toxic mould from foods such as bread, cheese and pasta, which can be fatal if ingested by pets. Also make sure any leftovers from barbecues are safely disposed of – cooked bones can shatter, and splinters can become lodged in or puncture your pet’s digestive tract.

  1. Be wise about water

Even if you keep a fresh bowl of water outside, pets may still be tempted to drink from water features or ponds, so avoid the use of chemical additives to clear algae or blanket weed. A natural alternative is barley straw, available from garden centres. Ponds are great for attracting wildlife to your garden but to keep your pets safe, ensure they are covered by mesh or fence them off. Don’t attract ‘tasty’ slugs and snails by leaving pets’ bowls and toys outside. Molluscs often carry the larvae of lungworm, a potentially lethal parasite. Dogs can become infected if they eat slugs and snails deliberately, or by accident, for example when munching on grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking up toys left in the garden.

  1. Keep the shed door shut

Inquisitive pets will happily explore any area they come across and a shed, potentially packed with sharp implements and harmful chemicals, is not a place you want your furry friends to be sniffing around. But, before you shut the door, always check your pet is not inside – the same goes for summerhouses and conservatories, which can become like ovens on a hot day.

  1. Think pets first

There are also lots of ways you can make your garden more pet friendly too.

Blue Cross advises: “Trees or platforms around your garden can provide cats with a place to observe the world below, while a digging pit will provide a good hunting ground for your dog. For rabbits a secure run with a shelter on the lawn is best so your pet is safe from predators and can’t nibble garden plants. Many plants can also provide stimulation and interest for pets, cats like catnip or catmint for example.”

And, if you have small pets, why not grow forage especially for them – there are all sorts of safe plants and herbs you can grow in a garden, window box or even a plant pot. There’s even a book, Gardening for Rabbits by horticulturist and rabbit owner Dr Twigs Way available from Rabbit Welfare, that provides you with all the information you need to grow bunny-friendly plants including alfalfa, blackberry, borage, chicory, chickweed, comfrey, cranesbills, golden rod, and meadowsweet.

For more garden-related pet safety advice, check out these blogs:

  • Is your garden just a place to ‘let the dog out’? Why not make it a much more interesting place for your canine chum to enjoy >>
  • Providing an entrancing outdoor space for your cat that they’ll want to spend lots of time in will help to keep your feline friend out of mischief >>
  • Rabbits love to run and roam about your garden, but a determined bunny with digging on their mind can quickly make their escape. Keep them safe with our top bunny-proof garden tips >>

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