Making Your Gardens Pet Friendly

There is an urban legend floating around about the ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s experimentation with grape flavored ice cream. The story claims that Ben and Jerry produced a grape ice cream that was so delicious that a customer fed some to her dog, instantly killing it.

It turns out that anthocyanin, a chemical found in grape skins, is incredibly deadly to dogs and cats. While the story may not be true, the science is. Many of our gardens might have plants that are harmless to us but can hurt our pets, so it is important to be able to identify them and keep our pets safe, especially with nearly 1 in 5 households in America adopting a pet during the pandemic!

Below are a few plants that are dangerous to pets. For the sake of simplicity, this list is mainly focused on dogs and cats. If you have other pets that roam around your garden, make sure to look up what plants are harmful to them!

Oleanders: These shrubs are found all over the south and near the coast and are most recognizable by their bright pink, red and sometimes yellow flowers. Even ingesting a small amount of the plant can cause sickness in humans and kill an animal. Since these shrubs are incredibly resilient, it’s best to remove them or refrain from planting them entirely.

Pink flowers with yellow stem

Lilies: These pretty flowers are incredibly toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure or death upon ingestion.

White lily flowers

Aloe Vera: Surprisingly enough, this desert plant that is incredibly beneficial for cuts, burns and sores is quite toxic to dogs and cats. Make sure to keep these plants out of reach, and do not use them on your pets.

Green Aloe Vera plant in soil

Philodendrons: These leafy plants are easy to take care of, making them a very popular houseplant. When chewed, however, they release calcium oxalate, which can cause swelling and vomiting. If you love having these plants indoors, maybe think about the very realistic fake ones.

Green Philodendron plant in tan flower pot

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it doesn’t include the edible crops that are toxic to animals (onions, mushrooms, potato leaves, fruit pits and seeds, and of course grapes). Sometimes it’s hard to eliminate all sources of toxins from your garden. In these situations, think of ways to separate your garden from your pets, such as:

  • Look into taller fencing, keeping in mind the size of your animal and your pet’s ability to jump over fencing.
  • Establish your garden in an area of the house/yard where your pets do not go. This can also be supplemented by training your animals to avoid the garden.
  • If your animals like to chew on everything, give them toys and reward them for chewing those. This makes them less likely to nibble on your plants.

Taking a few precautions and keeping a careful eye on our pets can make sure they stay happy and healthy!

Learn more about the NTFB Garden Programs here and sign up for our Spade to Spoon Garden and Nutrition newsletter for more gardening tips!

Amulya Bhaskara is the NTFB AmeriCorps Summer VISTA.