Safety is the key to any successful garden design and one of the easiest ways to protect your pet is to take a good look at your plants. Prudent plant choices in your landscape mean avoiding thorny, spiny, sappy and toxic plants.
Small dog breeds and puppies that are in their chewing phase are especially sensitive to toxins because of their limited body size. Cats too can be tempted.
Local nurseries sell many common landscape plants that can be poisonous to pets. To add insult to injury, plants don't come with a toxic warning label. The level of toxicity will depend on the plant, the part of the plant ingested, the amount eaten and your pet's current health.
If you want to err on the side of caution, here are some plants that you may want to avoid entirely or put in areas of your garden that are off limits to curious pets.
Lilies (Lilium sp.) are considered to be highly toxic to cats and can result in severe kidney damage even if small amounts are ingested.
Sago Palm (CycasRevoluta) All parts of this palm are poisonous, but the seeds contain the greatest amount of toxin. Just one or two ingested seeds can have serious effects including vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and liver failure.
Azalea/Rhododendron (Rhododenron sp.) contains gray antitoxins that can produce vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and if severe enough, ultimately lead to coma and death from cardiovascular collapse.
Oleander (Nerium oleander) All parts of the plant are considered to be toxic, as they contain cardiac glycosides that can have serious effects like gastrointestinal tract irritation, abnormal heart function, hypothermia and even death.
Yew (Taxus sp.) contains a toxic substance known as taxine, which affects the central nervous system causing trembling, lack of coordination and difficulty breathing. It can also cause gastrointestinal irritation and cardiac failure.
Daphne (Daphne sp.) is prized for its scented flowers but all parts of the plant are poisonous and just a few berries could kill an animal.
Lantana (Lantana sp.) berries contain high levels of toxins if ingested while they are still green, causing vomiting, diarrhea, labored breathing and weakness.
English Ivy (Hedera helix) contains triterpenoidsaponins that can result in vomiting, abdominal pain, drooling and diarrhea.
Plants are not the only consideration in the garden. "About 20 percent of the calls to the poison center are about insecticides," states the Animal Poison Control Center whose hotline is available 24 hours a day to help pet owners (888-426-4435).
Keeping your pet away from insecticides (used in the garden to kill insects), herbicides (for killing weeds) and rodenticides (rat bait) is not really difficult if you take an organic approach to gardening. By working with Mother Nature, not against her, you'll find a healthy eco-system that is happy to coexist with you and your pets.
Lastly, be aware of what type of mulch you bring into your dogscape. Cocoa mulch, a byproduct of chocolate production, contains the same toxic compounds as chocolate, which is poisonous to dogs. Coir or Coconut Husk mulch is known for its ability to retain water around water-loving plants. However, this same expansion will occur in a dog's digestive track if ingested and potentially cause blockage in the intestines.
Even with the best prevention strategies, accidents can happen. If your pet exhibits any of the following signs of poisoning, contact your vet for immediate assistance: digestive trouble (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite), neuromuscular injury (seizure, paralysis, labored breathing), confusion, excessive tear production or rashes.
For an extensive list of toxic plants for dogs and cats, visit ASPCA.
Julie Orr, a member of Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), is a landscape designer specializing in pet-friendly, water-wise, low maintenance gardens. Call 650-468-8020 or visit Julie Orr Design.