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Beautiful but Deadly
Make your Garden Safe for your Pet

Centre of the City, Toronto, September/October 2005.

In our desire to develop the perfect get-away garden, we sometimes forget to pet-proof our design. Many everyday garden plants are toxic to dogs and cats, and may cause sever reactions in our pets. Since we want them to share the garden with us, it makes sense to take their vulnerabilities into account, to minimize the risks.

We do believe that our gardens are safe, and that most of the time, our pets donít bother with noxious plants. When youíre not looking, however, you never know what they eat. It is sensible to understand the risk factor in your garden. In a recent walk around a garden with a space specially designed for the familyís leisurely (and severely pampered) cat, it was apparent that even with the best intentions, there is potential danger. This space had a nice place to lay, partly sunny, partly shady, with catmint growing nearby for snacking. Unfortunately, surrounding the area were hardy hibiscus (toxic), chives and giant allium (toxic), wisteria (toxic), euphorbia (toxic), and nearby, two types of tomatoes (toxic). In fact, the only plants not toxic in that supposedly cat-friendly area were astilbe and the catmint.

So, if your pet hasnít eaten the poisonous plants so far, should you leave them there and take the risk, or rip them out? If you choose to take the risk with your pet, you may wish to familiarize yourself with typical symptoms that your pet has ingested a toxic plant, or talk to your vet.

And just how Ďtoxicí are Ďtoxicí plants? Well, many common plants are very toxic to either dogs or cats, and sometimes to both:
- Lilies, for example, are particularly disastrous for cats. Nibbling on a leaf of a lily like Stargazer, Tiger lily, or Daylily, may cause vomiting and other symptoms, escalating to full renal failure.
- The Calla Lily causes a sore, burning mouth and tongue, drooling, vomiting and difficulty in swallowing, as does Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia), a common house plant
- The leaves and buds of some hydrangea varieties are more toxic to dogs than others, and may cause vomiting, depression, anorexia, diarrhoea, an increase in heart rate, an increase in body temperature, irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract, and worse
- English Ivy may cause stomach irritation, diarrhoea, troubled breathing, coma and/or death
- If you have just one vegetable growing in your garden, it will probably be tomatoes. Ingestion of the green parts Ė any green parts - of a tomato plant can cause hyper salivation, severe gastrointestinal upset, confusion, weakness and slow heart rate, among other symptoms
- Chewing on any part of a Delphinium may result in vomiting and diarrhoea for your pet
- Some gardening resources recommend Creeping Charlie or Clover as lawn replacements. Many Clovers cause severe reactions if your pet is allergic, however, and Creeping Charlie could cause sweating, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, cramps and other symptoms if ingested by your pet. Itís a balance between lawn health and pet health, sometimes
- Yucca is sometimes prescribed for medicinal purposes for dogs, yet if eaten from your garden, may cause a variety of symptoms, including seizures
- Aconitum (Monkshood) produces stunning spires of rich bloom mid-summer, yet there is a price for this. It can be fatal, even just from handling, to both humans and pets

Further examples of plants that may be toxic to your pet include common varieties such as: Azalea, Bleeding Heart, Boxwood, Clematis, Crown of Thorns, Daffodil, Geranium, Grapes, Lily of the Valley, Lupine, Morning Glory, Periwinkle, Rosemary and Trumpet Vine.

There are, however, a huge number of non-toxic plants from which to choose to create a thoroughly enjoyable garden for both you and your pet. A sampling of these non-toxic plants includes: Astilbe, Bachelor buttons, Canna Lily, Catmint, Cosmos, Coneflower, Coleus, Coral Bells, Impatiens, Jacobís Ladder, Magnolia, Muscari, Russian Olive and Phlox.

Many pesticides and herbicides are very toxic if ingested by your pets, or by humans. Labels often state that the chemicals are safe for you and your pet to be around, shortly after application. Very few actually state the risks if your pet eats the leaf of a plant treated by one of the chemicals, however. Take care when using any chemicals in an area where your pet visits or nibbles.

If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic plant or chemical, contact your veterinarian immediately. The faster treatment is begun, the better the outcome is likely to be.

For more information about plants and your pet, and for more complete lists of toxic and non-toxic plants, visit the website of your local animal advocacy group.

Helen Kirkup
HMK Consultants
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Also by Helen Kirkup:
The Kirkups: Pioneers & Travellers
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