Down in the Garden: Pet Safe Gardens

It can be hard to create a beautiful, bountiful garden filled with all the things our heart desires when we share our homes with curious cats and digging dogs, but it can be done with a little additional consideration and care.

Careful placement of toxic plants or foregoing them all together, while providing a wildlife-safe garden are obviously top of the list but also, what does your pet need from your garden?

Toxic Plants

The last year has seen an incredible boom in gardening.

Pot plants are the new little black dress (everyone should have at least one!) and it seems growing your own veggies is almost expected if you have more than a postage stamp sized yard.

Hang on, is that a balcony I spy? Where is your balcony garden!

Seriously, it is wonderful to see so many people pick up the trowel and get into it.

The thing is, although plants are natural, that does not mean they are safe for our pet friends or even us for that matter.

The following list is not at all definitive, but it contains a few of plants that are popular and dangerous.

Before leaving any plant within reach of your pets, check it out via your local nursery or do an internet search.

Highly Toxic

There are lots of plants that fall into the ‘mildly or moderately toxic category and these will generally cause digestive issues and skin problems.

The following though will cause death so should not be planted around pet areas.

Again, this is a tiny list and one to get your knowledge base started when selecting or creating a pet friendly garden.

Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium podophyllum), Begonia (Begonia spp.), Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii), Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Elephant Ear (Colocasia spp.), Fiddle-Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrate), Painted Leaves (Euphorbia cyathophora), Especially to dogs: Grapes (Vitis vinifera), Especially to cats: Lilies (Lilium spp.).

Non -Toxic Houseplants

There is such a thing as a well-behaved pot plant.

Here are a few tried and true, easy to grow plants that will not only thrive indoors but will also pose no threat to your animal friends.

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus), Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Golden Cane Palm (Dypsis lutescens), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum).

I had a chat with Sally Smith B.V.Sc (Hons) M.V.S Principal Veterinarian Surgeon at Doyalson Veterinary Hospital and asked her to share the signs we need to be aware of in our pets that just might indicate they have run into danger in our gardens.

Toxic Plant Poisoning

It can be tricky to identify this issue, Sally explains.

“Often you won’t notice any change at first until the plant matter metabolises.

“The pet may vomit, and this is what we want them to do.

“If you suspect your pet has eaten a toxic plant, bring them into a vet straight away and bring anything they throw up with them to help us identify what they have eaten.”

Tick Bite

This is a major concern, and the indications need to be acted on quickly.

“A pet that has been bitten by a paralysis tick will usually vomit, and you will notice a change in bark or cry,” Sally says.

“They become wobbly in the back legs and then this moves forward in the body and breathing changes.

“There is no time to lose, and your pet needs immediate, urgent medical attention – take them straight to the vet even if you are unsure.”

Other Insect Bites

Most insect bites will only cause localised swelling and although you must watch your pet for any additional signs that could indicate deeper problems, your pet usually only needs rest until the reaction settles down.

“You will find that bees and wasps will cause a reaction that makes your dog look like they have been in the fighting ring with Mike Tyson with a big swollen eye or jaw,” Sally explained.

“They may also have lumps all over their body that are itchy.

“Although it looks distressing, it just takes time for the swelling to go down and these types of stings don’t usually turn into breathing problems.”

Pets often get bitten by ants on their feet and this can cause lumps and you will see them chewing their paws as they are itchy and sore.

So, unless your pet is having other symptoms, they will be ok.

On this point I had to ask Sally if it was true that dogs and cats are immune to Funnel Webs bites.

She told me that it was 100% correct! The venom is only a problem for primates and that all other animals neutralise the toxin in their systems.

Doyalson Animal Hospital Perfect Dog Friendly Garden

Sally asked around the staff, the other Vets, the nurses and Reception Team for their tips on the perfect garden for a dog.

Other than one filled with non-toxic plants, these were the key tips:

Fencing to keep them safe

Sandpit for non-stop digging

Shallow pool, like a clam shell to splash about

Shade trees to keep them cool

Shelter to keep them warm and dry

Toys that are safe

For those who work, a webcam dog treat dispenser

Caring for Garden Visitors

This is an area that we share with native flora and fauna and that also means that our gardens are habitats for creatures and insects that can cause harm to our loved pets.

Learning to create areas that are for pets only and others that are out of bounds to them is also a way to share with care.

Sam from Wildlife A.R.K (Animal Rescue and Care) agreed and said that while it’s important to care for our pets we also need to be careful our pets don’t harm garden visitors.

She advised that cats need to be indoor pets unless you can build an enclose run for them or take them out on a lead.

They are predators and things like bells will reduce their efficiency, but they will still be hunting.

I also asked Sam what we should do if we see a baby bird on the ground in our garden.

Sam said, “Leave it for an hour but watch closely as it may simply be in training and a little slow on taking flight.

If, however it appears in distress, injured or is still there for more than hour, you should ring Wildlife ARK for assistance.”

With the huge rainfalls we recently have had, we did experience a few birds nest falls in our garden.

Sam advised that a fallen bird’s nest with chicks/eggs needs the help of wildlife carers.

“You can’t just put it back in the tree as it won’t be secure, and the parents will often be either gone or no longer interested in the nest.”

Wildlife ARK is a Central Coast group that is manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help rescue and look after our precious wildlife. (Phone: 43250666)

Tick Deterrents

As ticks are such a problem for many of us, I want to leave you with a few plants that you may consider adding to your garden as they deter ticks.

These include rosemary, roses, lemon balm, sage, sunflowers, rose geranium and garlic.


Things are getting drier so even though your soil may still be holding a bit of water, you might just find that some areas need a drink.

Also pull that mulch right back from plant stems as these warm days and the water retention equals disease and you don’t want that.

Let those beauties breath!

This week, you could plant: artichokes, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, cress, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, spring onions, all types of peas, radish, shallots, spinach, turnips, candytuft, carnation, cornflower, cineraria, everlasting daisies, hollyhock, larkspur, pansy, Iceland poppy, snapdragons, coriander, rosella, silverbeet, garlic


Free Native Plant Giveaway, Central Coast Council: 8am – 12pm, Sat 24th April, Mangrove Mountain Public Hall. Flowering varieties to provide food and shelter for a variety of native birds, bees and other animals.

Mycology Walk with Urban Botanica: 8:30am – 11am, Sun 25 April, The Pines Campground, Martinsville. Mushroom season is here, so join this educational walk through the park to learn and to collect fungi! More details and to book: 0413339172

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am every Saturday on Coast FM.

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