Garden Safety: Toxic Plants and Other Hazards in your own Backyard

There is nothing better than having a safe and secure backyard that you can let your dog enjoy.  Whilst it should never replace daily walks, it is great to allow your dog extra fresh air, an area for going to the toilet outside of walk times, an outdoor but secure space for training and it can provide them with extra enrichment.

A garden is a great space for extra enrichment, not to replace a walk though, and can be perfect for a spot of sunbathing! 

To make sure that your dog can make the most of this space and to save you from worrying too much, especially if your dog is a notorious destroyer,  it is important to doggy proof your backyard before you allow your dog access.  

Below are some of our top suggestions for ensuring your dog can enjoy their garden space as safely as possible.

Make sure that the garden is fully enclosed and secure

This may seem obvious but often gardens can have fencing that is not really suitable for dogs.  

It needs to be tall enough

If your fence is below 5 or 6 ft it is likely that it is not tall enough to allow your dog out in, especially if they are left unsupervised at any time.  Even small dogs can jump surprisingly high and they can often have a hidden talent for scaling too.

It needs to be in good repair

Regularly check your fencing for any damage, if there are any hidden holes or breakages your dog is likely to be an expert at finding this and could end up escaping without you even realising.  Broken fencing can also result in injury from splinters, hanging nails or wire.

If the fence is old and has any areas that may be rotten, these may be easier for a dog to break through.  Always check to ensure that there are no gaps or broken areas (even if these are hidden behind shrubs).

The fence needs to be secure, high enough and in good repair to keep your dog safe

If you have a gate make sure it has a good latch

We would recommend a self-closing gate and that way you know the gate will not stay ajar (unless something is in the way).  We would also recommend considering a padlock or some other method of security to avoid the risk, however small, of your dog being stolen from the garden if they have been left unsupervised for a short time.  It is surprising the number of dogs that are clever enough to work out how to open the latch, so make sure it is positioned high enough or that it is a specific dog proof one.

Make sure the gate is in good repair and that it is not easy for strangers to access or for your dog to break through

Wire fences and barrier frustration

Be aware that if you have a wire or picket fence you may have a dog that reacts more to the environment outside the garden and you may need to do more work on teaching them not to become over-aroused and excited and work on stopping the barking.

Watch out for diggers

Be aware that some dogs don’t just jump and climb fences but they can also try to dig their way out.  If you have a prolific digger you may need to take further measures to secure your fencing. Some people choose to put a dig-proof layer of chicken wire or concrete under the fence.

Keep all sharp tools and chemical substances out of your pups reach

Keep your garden tidy and clutter free.   Don’t forget to pick up the hand trowel or secateurs after using them and tidy away any cleaners, fertilisers or paint.  You may want to have a secure and lockable box to store these sorts of things in and then you know that your dog will not accidentally get access to them.

Don’t leave dangerous tools lying about in the garden for your dog to injure themselves on 

Be aware of what you are planting

There are a surprising number of plants that can be extremely toxic to your dog.  Whilst some dogs will not really be interested in the planted items in the garden others can take a real interest and even those without an interest can accidentally ingest items.

We would always recommend familiarising yourself with what is already in your garden and remove the items that could pose a risk and then make sure that whenever you are planting anything new that you check whether it is safe first.  

Don’t forget to also consider your neighbours garden.  Sometimes they may have overhanging flowers, roots or bulbs that may have crossed over to your garden.  If there are items of concern trim back whatever is on your side or have a chat with your neighbour, perhaps they will be understanding enough to plant something different on your joint border.  Maybe you could offer to contribute to the cost of some new, dog safe options.

For a very comprehensive list of plants that are a risk to your dog and what effect they can have we recommend this guide compiled by the Charity Dogs Trust.

Common Garden Plants that are toxic to dogs

Daffodils

Many people are unaware that this very common flower is highly toxic to dogs, especially if the bulb is ingested.  Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, severe stomach pains, seizures and low blood pressure.

Many people don’t realise that the common Daffodil can be highly toxic to dogs 

Azaleas

These flowers may look pretty but they can cause low blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhoea in your dog

Lily of the Valley

This flower contains cardiac glycosides which are also used in many human heart medications.  If ingested by your dog it can result in vomiting, diarrhoea, heart rhythm issues and even seizures.

Some of the most toxic plants

There are certain plants that are seriously toxic to dogs and can often result in fatalities if ingested.  We would always recommend removing these from your garden if they are already in place, taking care to remove all parts including the bulbs.

Autumn Crocuses

The spring blooming crocuses can cause tummy upsets.  The autumn-blooming version is much more toxic and ingesting can result in a burning sensation in the mouth, severe vomiting, possible bleeding and organ failure.

Keep your garden Autumn Crocus free, if ingested by your dog it can be fatal 

Sago Palm

This innocuous looking plant is actually highly toxic.  Symptoms, when ingested, can include vomiting (often with the presence of blood), runny stools, liver failure and death.

Oleander, Larkspur, Foxglove

These are all highly toxic and symptoms can include blood in the stool, diarrhoea, changes in the heart rhythm, severe abdominal pain and coma.  A number of dogs have been reported to have died as a result of ingesting one of these types of plants.

Steer clear of thorny bushes


If your pup is a real explorer you may want to remove any shrubs, plants or cacti that have thorns.  Dogs can accidentally get tangled or injured by them. I did have a berry bush in one of my previous gardens and the dogs generally knew to avoid it but one day Daisy got a nasty scrape on her eyelid because she tried to chase a cat out of the garden and in her heightened state of arousal she plunged into the thorny bush.

Ornamental grasses are also something to consider.  Sometimes their tougher seed heads can become wedged in between your dog’s paws or in the eyes and ears.

Remove access to any still water sources

If you have any ponds, low standing bird baths or any other still water sources we would recommend either removing them altogether or making sure that there is no way your dog can access them.  Still water that is not regularly cleaned can develop blue-green algae which is highly toxic to dogs and can easily result in death if it is ingested. Infections such as leptospirosis can also be harboured in these type of water sources.

If you do have a dog water bowl outside it is really important to make sure it is thoroughly cleaned daily.

If you leave water out for your dog in the garden, make sure you regularly clean the bowl and top up with fresh water.

Tight lids on the bins, especially the compost bins

Composted material is often highly toxic, especially as the mould begins to grow and the lids on these bins are not always terribly secure and the smell from them may be appealing to your dog.  Make sure they are securely closed or moved out of the reach of your dog to avoid any incidents.

Dog-proof your plant borders

If you do have non-toxic plants you are proud of in your garden, you can’t expect your dog to realise this.  You need to make sure you have a solution in place to try to avoid your dog digging or trampling them. You can either put up a barrier around plant borders or use raised beds that are harder for your dog to access.  We don’t recommend planting borders around fence peripheries that your dog regularly patrols.

Steer clear of slug and snail pellet and watch out for rodent bait

Slug and snail pellets are commonly used in gardens but they contain an active ingredient called metaldehyde and it is extremely toxic for dogs if they ingest it.  It is very fast acting and dogs can become life-threateningly ill and would need emergency treatment at the vets. Symptoms can include a severely high temperature, seizures, shaking, sickness, drooling and agitation.

Plants like lavender, mint and rosemary can be useful natural repellents for slugs and snails.

Spreading some non-toxic diatomaceous earth can also be a good solution. This is made from tiny, fossilized diatoms (plankton) and it is a common natural and humane remedy for deterring bugs and beasties.

Ant Powder and Rodent Pesticides can also be highly toxic.  Do not use these types of products in your garden unless you have a full-proof solution to ensure that your dog will not have access.  Also be aware of what your neighbours may be using.

Avoid using slug and snail pellets which are toxic to dogs and choose a more natural alternative to rid your garden of these pests 

Watch out for cocoa-based garden mulch

A lot of people may not realise that the mulch they buy for their garden could be highly toxic to their dog and the smell is often irresistible to them.

A lot of garden mulch is made from the leftover hulls or shells from cocoa beans.  This is obviously a by-product resulting from when chocolate is being made. Whilst it is good that it is then being recycled, this product contains theobromine and caffeine and these can be very poisonous for dogs.  The levels will vary greatly depending on the brand and some may actually be safe enough to use around dogs but it is not really possible to work out the levels easily so it is best just to avoid using these products altogether.  Choose a safe, organic alternative as a soil topper instead.

What to do if you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic

Please do not try to do a home remedy vomiting inducing session.  Contact your vet immediately. Don’t wait until the morning if the incident has happened out of hours.  Get in touch with an emergency vet to seek advice on whether treatment will be required. Your dog may not show symptoms straight away.  Sometimes symptoms may not appear for up to 48 hours but, by then, the damage may already be done.

Consider a safe sensory garden for your dog

Sensory gardens are becoming more and more popular with dog owners.  This is where a space, or even an entire garden, is devoted to providing your dog with a safe and stimulating environment.  

Certain plants, surfaces and activities are laid out in the garden, many set up to allow your dog to use their great sense of smell.  This can be very enriching for your dog.

Some people will provide a sandpit to allow dogs that have a strong desire to dig to have an appropriate outlet (this does need to be introduced with training and care to ensure this is the only place that the dog will dig).  This can sometimes stop them from always trying to dig under the fence or dig up the flower beds.

If your dog likes to dig, provide them with a designated area that it is okay for them to do this, like a sand pit

Others set up little herb gardens and grow products that are safe and often have healing benefits should your dog choose to have a nibble.  Items such as Burdock (good for the skin), Milk Thistle (good for the liver and with calming properties), lemon balm (it is claimed it helps with memory and vitality) and peppermint (this can help aid digestion).

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