Digging in the Dirt: pet problems in the garden

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Apr 11 2012

In my part of the country, spring has sprung! After a particularly mild winter, the daffodils have been out for a couple of weeks and everything is starting to turn green. For those of you still tangling with old man winter, your turn is right around the corner!

It’s about this time that I start itching to get back in the garden to plant spring vegetables and freshen up the flower beds. But when you’re planning your garden this spring, it is important to recognize potential dangers to your pets and do what you can to minimize them.


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Unfortunately, some of the most beautiful plants in the garden are also toxic to pets. Lilies, rhododendrons, azaleas, foxglove and lantana are on the list, but there are many, many more. Review this list of toxic plants to check for potential problems with your landscape planning.


Most mulch is not too worrisome, but cocoa mulch can be dangerous for pets. Cocoa mulch’s sweet smell invites pets to eat it, and because it’s made from cocoa bean shells, it can cause the same effects as chocolate ingestion. Cocoa mulch contains theobromine and caffeine, compounds which cause vomiting and diarrhea, elevated heart rate, restlessness, seizures and death.

Garden Chemicals

Pesticides and herbicides are toxic to pets if ingested. Pay close attention to the labels of products you use in your yard, and restrict your pet’s access to the garden for the specified amount of time. Of course, you’ll want to keep these compounds safely out of reach of your pets, as well as slug bait and mouse/rat poisons.

Even the most organic garden can benefit from fertilizers, which can cause gastric upset in small doses or gastrointestinal obstruction if ingested in large amounts. Additionally, take care when using compost. If you can’t restrict your pet’s access to your garden, make sure your compost doesn’t contain coffee grounds, moldy food or foods that are dangerous for pets, like onions and grapes.


Ticks and fleas love this time of year because as we all emerge from our winter hibernation, we often forget that it’s time to start applying flea and tick preventive to our pets. Many of us kept up flea and tick treatments all winter long, but if you took a break, now is the time to get back into the routine. Fleas and ticks spread debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases.

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