Keeping my pet safe from garden dangers

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If your companion animal (pet) – or other animals – have access to your garden, there are a few things you need to know to keep them safe.

Toxic plants

Many plants, both indoor and outdoor, are toxic to animals, and can sometimes be fatal. Given there are so many different species of plant that are toxic to different species of animal, we suggest checking with your vet first before allowing your companion animals to have access to any plants or consulting a reputable resource (such as the US ASPCA’s Poisonous Plants list).

Of particular concern for cats are lily plants (including the Easter lily, Day lily, Tiger lily, Japanese show lily and the Rubrum lily) – these are extremely toxic to cats, so you should seek urgent veterinary treatment if you suspect your cat has had access to a lily (even if you didn’t see your cat contact the plant). Even minimal contact (such as brushing past a flower and then licking their fur) can be fatal.

Fruit stones

It’s not just the plant itself – dogs (and sometimes cats) will eat fruit stones, berries or seeds that have dropped from trees. Ingesting these can lead to serious intestinal blockages or obstructions, which can be fatal. Some stones, berries or seeds may also contain toxic compounds which can be poisonous for animals. You can help protect your pets by removing any stones, berries or seeds from your garden (or ensuring there are no potentially dangerous trees, if appropriate).


A variety of common fertilisers can be poisonous or fatal if ingested by animals. Fertilisers are usually a combination of ingredients some of which may be toxic, and may also contain added herbicides, insecticides, fungicides. and may have a wide range of potentially dangerous effects on animals. These effects can lead to the following clinical signs in animals (but are not limited just to these): vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive salivating, lethargy and abdominal pain.

In many cases, particularly if only small amounts are ingested, the effects resolve within 24-48 hours with supportive veterinary care, but the situation can be worse if a large amount of fertiliser is ingested or if the fertiliser mix contains particularly toxic ingredients such as certain insecticides (e.g., disulfoton) or a large volume of potentially dangerous ingredients like iron. In any case, seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect your pet has eaten fertiliser.

Garden mulch

A particular type of garden mulch, known as Cocoa Mulch , can be highly toxic to animals including dogs and cats. It’s a by-product of chocolate and cocoa manufacturing, and contains “theobromine”, a compound that has similar properties to caffeine and is toxic to dogs and other animals. Cocoa Mulch does not appear to be readily available in Australia (it is more common overseas) but you should still be mindful of it – especially because the scent is highly attractive to dogs and they may go to great lengths to get to it, such as by jumping over fences or breaking open bags!

Rat and mouse or snail and slug baits

Rat and mouse baits are a common cause of pet poisonings. These baits are designed to be attractive to mammals, so attempts to prevent your pets from accessing baits (such as placing them in hard to reach places) are often unsuccessful. Snail or slug bait poisoning is also relatively common in companion animals and can be very severe or fatal.

Avoid using or keeping these products anywhere your animal could access them. You can help protect your pets by substituting poison baits with other, more humane methods of pest control  that are also safer to use around your home and garden.

In addition to watching out for these common garden dangers, if you have a cat, you can protect them by keeping them safely contained on your property, ideally with access to a secure and safe outdoor area.

You can read more about common garden dangers – and how to protect your companion animals from them – on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.


This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers