Is your garden safe for your dog?

Safe gardening for dogs

If you have a dog and you have a garden, you need a dog-safe garden.  It’s a jungle out there and it can be hazardous for dogs. Here are just a few things to pay attention to when your dog is in the garden:

The Great Escape.

If your dog roams the garden, be sure you have identified and taken care of any possible escape routes from the yard. Can the dog get between fence railings or crawl under the bottom of a fence? Can he jump over the fence? Are the gates securely latching? Be sure to take note of chairs, tables, buckets or pots that a dog could take advantage of in leaping out of the yard.

Toxic plants.

Lovely to look at, many plants are toxic to pets. These include sago palms, aloe vera, oleanders, foxglove, kalanchoes, California ivy, birds of paradise, amaryllis, dahlias and azaleas. Sago palms, the relatives in the Cycad family and mushrooms can cause liver failure. Southern California staples like azaleas, foxglove and kalanchoe can affect the heart.  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a full list of plants toxic to dogs.

Garden chemicals.

Let us count the potential poisons a garden offers a dog: insecticides, weed killers and fertilizers. When you’re working with these chemicals be sure to read the directions carefully, keep your dog indoors and wait the recommended period of them before allowing it to come back out into the garden. Snail bait with metaldehyde, fly bait with methomyl, systemic insecticides with disyston or disulfoton, mole or gopher bait with zinc phosphide and most rat poisons are particularly hazardous for dogs. Make sure these items are property stored as well as applied.


Just like we do, dogs can develop allergies to plants, dust and foods.  Because there are so many possible causes, it can be hard to diagnose the source of the allergy. In some cases, an allergic reaction can be severe enough to cause anaphylactic shock. If you suspect your dog has an allergy, work with your veterinarian.  Don’t give a dog any medication that isn’t prescribed by a veterinarian.

Cocoa mulch.

Mulching is a great way to hold water in the soil. But one type — cocoa mulch, the shells of cocoa beans left over from making chocolate — is both attractive and potentially dangerous for dogs. The sweet, chocolate-like smell calls out to dogs. But just like chocolate, eating it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors a fast heart rate, hyperactivity and seizures. Look for alternatives at your local garden center.


Compost is a marvelous thing.  But remember, many of the items you toss into the pile are people foods that are harmful for dogs — coffee, onions and moldy food.  Be sure your compost is well processed before spreading it around the garden. Locate the compost pile itself away from where dogs and other pets can get to it.

Too much sun and heat.

When you go out to garden, you wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.  Your dog wears a fur coat. You can go inside, get a drink or cool off anytime you want to.  Your dog depends on you to watch out for his well beings. If your garden doesn’t offer shady spots for your dog to rest in, you may want to consider creating a shady area, such as an open sided dog house or tent, for him. With the trend toward low-water, drought-resistant landscaping, it’s important to consider the effects on your dog.

Not enough water.

It’s easy for a dog to get thirsty romping in a sunny garden.  Be sure to keep a large bowl of clean water available and keep an eye on it to be sure it stays full. There are many types of doggie fountains available for gardens as well. Additionally, there are faucet and hose attachments to make sure your dog always has water.

Digging dogs.

For some dogs, digging is delightful. After all their wolf ancestors and close relatives dug dens to escape heat or cold or for raising pups in. Some dogs hide bones or food in holes they dig. It would be great teamwork if you could encourage a dog to dig where and when you needed a little soil turning. There are a number of things that can be done to discourage a dog from digging up your garden plants. The ASPCA suggests created a treasure-stocked designated digging pit.

Building low fences around plants and beds where you don’t want a dog to dig can be helpful. Using dense, low growing shrubs are a natural alternative to a fence. If the dog is digging to get at prey such as moles, be sure to use pet safe methods of discouraging the pests.

Fleas and ticks.

Brush and grasses are home to fleas and ticks. If your dog is going to be out in the garden be sure that the lawn is mowed short and well trimmed. Give your dog Frontline or other flea and tick product to repel fleas. Many dogs are allergic to flea bites and prone to hot spots. Ticks in some parts of the country can cause Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Babesia.

Resources for a dog-safe garden.

There are a number of resources for designing dog-safe gardens and backyards, including