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What’s Toxic in Your Garden?

By Colleen Williams
June 5, 2017 • 3 min. read
dog lying in backyard garden

Last updated Mar. 28, 2022.

Though gardens are a place of beauty and peace for people, they could feasibly pose many risks to pets. Everything from fertilizers to pesticides to poisonous plants can pose a problem for pets if exposed to or ingested. As garden season peaks, here are some of the most toxic elements of which to steer clear.

Chemicals and Compost

Rat poison and slug bait

Out of all the chemicals we use in our gardens, rat poison and slug bait are two of the most harmful substances your pet can ingest. While rat poison is well-known as toxic to all animals, slug bait may come as a surprise. It contains a compound called metaldehyde, which causes slugs to “dry up.” If a cat or dog ingests the poison (or a slug that has recently eaten the poison), it can lead to tremors, increased body temperature, kidney failure, and death. If you suspect your dog or cat has eaten either poisons, get them to an emergency vet ASAP. For those who have pets that like to explore the garden and yard, it would be best to skip these insecticides and pesticides and research more biodynamic, pet-friendly ways to keep your garden blooming.


Fertilizers of all sorts can also be a problem. If your pet eats a large amount (and the odor can sometimes be attractive to pets), it can cause vomiting in both cats and dogs, diarrhea, and pancreatitis. If you use fertilizers, it’s best to keep your pets away from treated areas until they are dry or rinsed into the lawn.


Rooting through and eating compost has its own set of problems: it may contain poisonous food scraps, in addition to a specific toxin that occurs organically when food begins to break down. If you find your pet suddenly panting, drooling, and vomiting, get to the vet. Also, avoid dairy and meat products in your compost, and be sure to fence off the area so a furry friend can’t get into it.

Toxic Plants

Pet parent Rochelle discovered her mini Australian shepherd Jemma munching on a sago palm tree. After contacting the Pet Poison Control Helpline, she learned that the plant is so toxic that even one seed was enough to kill Jemma. Rochelle brought her pup to an emergency vet hospital and then followed up at her regular vet. Jemma recovered with a bill of $1,779 (and Healthy Paws reimbursed $1,288). We’ve seen other pet parents submit claims ranging from $1,100 to $2,000 for similar circumstances.

There are about 700 plants considered toxic to household pets. The AKC’s Poisonous Plant Guide graphic is based on research of common plants, and the Pet Poison Helpline has every poisonous substance categorized and searchable on their site. Some of the most common plants and weeds to keep your pet from ingesting are:

  • Sago palm
  • Buttercups
  • Poison hemlock
  • Lilies
  • Daffodils
  • Narcissus
  • Nightshade
  • Holly
  • Common flowers such as amaryllis, azaleas, begonias, chrysanthemums, and daisies
  • Succulents (aloe and jade)
  • Vegetable plants like tomatoes, rhubarb, garlic, or onions

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of poisoning include hemorrhaging, seizures, tremors, drooling, and vomiting. Most vets recommend getting to an emergency veterinarian hospital within the first hour of exposure to fully treat and even save your pet’s life.

Preventing Ingestion of Toxic Garden Items

Make sure you know what’s growing in your garden, and if it’s toxic, either pull it or fence it out of your pet’s way. While pesticides and herbicides are fairly common toxins, check on what’s growing, what the weeds are, and keep tabs on possible “problem plants” to make sure your pet stays safe while they enjoy the outdoors.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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