Dogs in the garden and poisonous plants

zaphod42March 24, 2010

I have two dogs who have the run of the backyard. My concern is how closely do I need to watch whether or not a plant is poisonous? They'll occasionally eat grass, rabbit likes the 'Karl Foerster' grass when its windy. The frustrating thing is that everything I already have and everything I want to plant is in some way, shape, or form poisonous. Can I plant a Morning Glory or Sweet Pea? Do I really need to worry they'll eat the seeds? I put some Hellebore in the front yard instead of the back in case they would possibly be tempted. The other thing is that nothing ever tell you in what quantity something is poisonous. Like would someone have to ingest a pound of seeds or is it just one?

Any thoughts? Anyone have the same problems or suggestions?

To worry, or not to worry, that is the question.

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I have 3 small dogs and a couple of cats. They have free run of the yard. I once grew castor bean, I grow foxglove, I had a monkshood last year volunteer, and I am sure there are probably other things. My dogs are like yours, they dont have access to rabbit poop, but will eat cat poop any chance they get. I cant say I have seen them nibble on any plants other than regular grass.I cant say "not to worry" about yours, but I have never had a problem. However, when I was looking for stuff for snails, I did check the label to be sure it was safe around plants. It would be interesting to note how much of these plants would be considered toxic tho.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 10:28AM
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Do I have the book for you: The Handbook of Toxic and Injurious Plants.

I have the same concerns. Two Labs. Everything goes in their mouths - inherent with the breed. I have spent the last three or four years researching toxic plants, and I came up with the same questions as you: How MUCH is toxic? And how toxic is it: Just a stomach ache, or certain death? Much of the information out there is conflicting, or incomplete. And you're right, most plants are "toxic" in some way.

To be on the safe side (and honestly, just for the challenge of seeing if I could do it), I landscaped the backyard using entirely non-toxic plants. It really does limit your choices! But by using different cultivars of things like roses, butterfly bushes, coreopsis, and ornamental grasses, I think it is going to look nice and not terribly boring. :)

The above book is the best resource I have found. It goes into detail about symptoms, quantities required for toxic dose, treatment. The one down side is, it was written with humans in mind, not dogs.

UC Davis has a pretty good toxic (and non-toxic) plant list. There is ASPCA Poison Control who, incidentally, have been very nice to me about answering questions when I couldn't find info online. Here's another good one:

I also invested in a veterinary poisoning textbook (to the tune of a hundred bucks). With it I learned that most things have to be eaten in large quantities, such as horses or cattle do when grazing. Still, I would rather avoid those plants that have the potential to cause harm in any quantity, you know?

If you'd be interested to know what I would absolutely avoid in my yard with pets, here's my top few baddies:

Castor Bean
Sago Palm (not hardy here, but you see it as a house plant)
Lilies (only dangerous for cats, reportedly)

Here is a link that might be useful: Buy this book!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 10:30AM
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Welcome to my world. I'd have to yank my azaleas, rhododendrons, and too many plants to name. I also plant morning glories, but they've not shown any interest.

On top of that, I have puppy mill rescues, so going from living in a crate the first years of their life to the freedom of roaming the back yard, they are literally like puppies that don't have a clue what is or isn't acceptable behavior.

They'll run, and grab a plant along the way, including eating their own feces, something they learned to do while in a crate, but with consistent training, they're getting better - I clap my hands if they start to show interest, and give them a toy anytime they try to chew on anything inappropriate. For this reason, I keep plenty of toys in the yard to keep them interested.

Like babies, I watch them every chance I can. Short of removing the plants, I think the best thing to do is train them what is acceptable to put in their mouth.

My dogs are small - Boston terrier and BT mix, so I have a small fence border around one particular area that keeps them out. Obviously, this wouldn't work with larger dogs.

What about spraying the plants with an organic deterrent, I think there's something involving pepper oil, I don't remember exactly, but available at local garden centers. I don't know if that's feasible, but worth a try during the training process.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 11:12AM
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kimcoco, just wanted to say: You're a hero. Thank you for doing what you do to help these poor babies learn to live a normal life. :) I can imagine the challenges involved, and I really appreciate what a task it must be to teach them everything they need to know.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 11:17AM
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connietn - Thanks for the book recommendations!

On a side note - kimcoco, I have a Boston Terror, too. She's easier to deal with in the backyard than my other one. I can immediately grab her attention with the word 'CHEESE.' I grew up in a big dog family, but I can honestly say that once you go Boston, you never go back. :)

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 11:39AM
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I agree, kimcoco, rescues are such a wonderful thing to do. Sounds like your load is a boatload of fun!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 11:45AM
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Ultimately, it depends on your pet. Some animals are smarter than others.

My backyard is a forest, so there's no way I could remove all the potential dangers. Catnip and ryegrass keep the cats from nibbling on anything else, and the dog seems to be able to sense what is safe and what's not. He loves wild mushrooms, but he only eats the ones the squirrels eat, so I assume they're safe.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 12:23PM
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One of my rescues is a chihuahua, he is smart, but better developed mentally as he wasn't confined to a crate, but a house where they hoarded 80 dogs. Still, he needed to be socialized, but learns fast. In the beginning, he'd bark at any object he wasn't familiar with - a coat hanging on the back of a chair, garbage cans on the street on garbage pick up days. My husband jokingly made a turkey sound one day and the dog took off like a bat out of hell to the second floor. LOL.

The others, a Boston and a Boston Chihuahua Mix are more work, but definitely worth it. The BC mix didn't even know how to walk on the ground the first week she was out of a wire crate, and that was with the rescue agency. By the time I got her, she could walk, but was uncoordinated and looked like a bobblehead, from lack of muscle tone.
She was terrified of people, for the first week she'd seek shelter beneath a shrub in my yard (while I'm gardening), and then one day she came out with her little tail wagging, started exploring, from there it was all uphill.

She had to learn how to take treats out of my hand, negotiate stairs, walk on a leash, wear a collar, etc. We'd have to leave the back door open and walk away because that's the only way she'd come in the house on her own. Once winter hit, however, that all changed. LOL. Now all I have to do is say 'treat' or 'park' or 'go for a ride in the car?' and she comes running. All my rescues took to squeaky toys immediately, I think it helped to redirect their anxiety, in addition to stimulating them in their new environment.

It's definitely a lot of work and a ton of patience involved, but it's so rewarding. It took 7 months for her to finally approach me on her own, and she's just the sweetest little thing - she'd sit on the couch with us but always on the far end, and one day she walked over and plopped her head on my lap. That's when all your patience pays off.

The other Boston is better socialized, he had more interaction with people and was the puppy mill stud, but he's a bull boston, loves to take charge and definitely has a mind of his own, but he's just a big teddy bear. He's so friendly and lovable, it worries me because he'll befriend anyone at the dog park..he runs up to people, sits at their feet and looks up at them waiting to be pet. LOL. The first week we got him, he growled at his reflection in the mirrow at the edge of our bed for a good 15 minutes, perhaps he was guarding us though that is not at all his nature. He plays endlessly with my other dogs. He's snoring away at my feet as I type.

I'd definitely recommend Bostons to anyone with kids - they have been handled endlessly without any problems whatsoever. They don't have a mean bone in their body. Aside from passing gas and the snoring, they're pretty close to perfect. LOL.

For anyone looking to rescue dogs that need to be properly socialized, my best advice is to have all your guests give them treats when they walk in the door - and good treats like chicken and meat. That worked wonders for us.

Zaphod, I grew up with large dogs too and if someone had told me 5 years back I'd have a Chihuahua and Bostons, I'd have laughed. Thankfully, they're not small "yappy" dogs.

Sorry to revert from the subject. I feel like the "new parent" who loves to talk about their children. LOL. I love my dogs and rescuing them from those ungodly puppy mills is very rewarding. I can't even watch those commercials where they show the abused animals, I have to change the channel. Breaks my heart. Sadly though, the puppy mills are legal here in Wisconsin.

I'm on my fifth cup of coffee!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 2:09PM
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I'm sorry to revert from the subject too, but I just have to say, again, what a hero you are for doing this. Thank you, thank you! It is just, wow, hard to imagine all the little things that a dog who lives in a normal environment has learned by simply existing, but you have to teach these rescues everything, right down to how to walk on grass. It is just heartbreaking that people could do this to defenseless animals. How do they live with themselves?? Unreal.

My two are rescues as well, and while they were not puppy mill puppys, one of them has had to deal with a lot of disadvantages regarding his social development (long story). Living with him gives me an idea of what you must do, on a much smaller scale of course. He has definitely been a challenge!

I love talking about my "kids" too. :p

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 2:29PM
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I learned my lesson two weeks ago. No Castor Bean plant on this property.

Grew one for the first time in a planter on the deck last year. Because of the cool wet summer we had, I thought the plant had not gone to seed. Our DD's dog, a Valleybulldog (breed between an English Bulldog and a Boxer), came out with me to check on some winter sown containers. Next thing I knew he was munching on something and when I checked I got a pod with 2 seeds in it from his mouth. I quickly removed other pods around the pot and called the vet. We got him to 'bring up' what he had eaten, but couldn't see any seeds. For 24 hours I was on edge like never before. Chewy is 13 years old, well past his expected life span. He is partly blind and a bit deaf, but otherwise a spry fellow.

I always used to tell people that animals know the difference and we shouldn't be worried about them eating poisonous plants. Older dogs lose their faculties so from now I will certainly be careful about what I say in this matter.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 7:20PM
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I've got monkshood and foxglove in the backyard and my dogs (Westie and dachshund) have never shown any interest. They don't pay much attention to the plants and view them more as obstructions that get in the way of running.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 10:22PM
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Typically, my advice is not to worry :-) Many, many gardeners are pet owners as well, myself included, and have gardened with dogs and cats for years with potentially toxic plants without problems. In fact, one of my favorite 'gardening' books is titled "Dogs and Their Gardens" :-) FWIW, more plants are toxic to some degree than those that are not and to exclude all that could pose problems would result in a very bare and boring garden :-)

But you need to know your pets and how they behave to make a full determination on this issue. Some dogs are just more 'mouthy' than others and like to sample or chew on anything they can get hold of. In that case you may want to err on the side of caution and avoid those plants that have a higher potential for accidental poisoning if ingested. The ASPCA has listings of these plants as do number of other online sites.

My dogs - and there have been many over the years - have never chewed or bothered anything in my garden so I've never been afraid to plant whatever I wanted. It does make good sense to know what you have (accurate ID's) so if something unfortunate does happen you can report the offending plant to the vet. Otherwise, let you pet's behavior and personality be your guide.

I'd also have to add that my dogs were not necessarily model garden citizens and some were (politely) "brighter" than others but they were much more interested in my company outdoors, or the squirrels, the birds, even the butterflies and bees (ouch!!) than they were the plants. Only my aging old Cocker, as she began to lose her eyesight, created some issues plowing through planting areas and damaging some plants, but she was excused by age and infirmity and I just protected what was necessary.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 10:04AM
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I think above is solid, practical advice. It really does depend on the particular dog, and it is true that most dogs don't randomly eat plants. I happen to have Labs, who are inherently "mouthy," so this colors my approach to non-toxic gardening.

In their defense, I feel compelled to add that this trait does not make them unintelligent. :) Labs were selectively bred for this trait over generations to serve their original function of retrieving birds. This hardwired tendency has been a boon to them when competing in obedience - it was a piece of cake to teach them to pick up a dumbbell and bring it back to me. I've watched handlers with other breeds struggle with this, some never able to master it. And that doesn't make their dogs unintelligent - it just doesn't come as naturally for them. They might have an easier time with group stays than me. It all balances out.

There are so many breeds, developed for everything from barking at intruders to digging out burrowing rodents to herding things that move. Any of these traits could be seen as a nuisance, or maybe even not so smart, by someone who wasn't aware of what makes them the way they are.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 10:54AM
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I totally agree. In addition to specific breed characteristics, all dogs have individual personalities and behavioral patterns, just as we do as humans, and caring, responsible pet owners will take these into consideration when planning their gardens. Both for their pets' safety as well as for their gardens' safety and well-being :-)

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 11:45AM
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Yes, that is so true about taking individual differences into consideration as well! One of mine, Angus, is about as mouthy as they come. He tends to gulp first and ask questions later. The other one, Simon, I don't worry as much about. He is far more selective about what he eats. The first time he's offered a new vegetable, for example, he usually spits it out for further examination before eating.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 12:15PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Does anyone know if ironite is horrible? I have read that it is but I don't know how toxic -in huge quantities only?

I really need to get some around some camellias but now am concerned.

My dogs do bury dead animals (yes, sigh) in the mulch and lay in proximity to these camellias.
They later dig the rabbits up and move them around.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 2:23PM
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ontnative(5b Can/USDA 4)

Glad to hear all of you talk about your dogs and dog rescue, etc. My father's family had Bostons back in the 1930's and I find it interesting to see how they have become popular again. I used to have German Shepherds in the 70's and 80's, but now have three middle aged Shelties, all of them adopted as adults from a breeder. They don't tend to eat inedible things but one never knows. I agree with Connie's list, especially castor bean seeds. I believe one seed could kill a baby, so they are on the no-no list. I also refrain from planting monkshood, datura, oleander. native baneberry, yew berries and so forth. I have grown foxglove in the past. I think a large amount of it would be necessary to poison a dog. I am very diligent in removing ANY mushrooms that grow in the back yard. I have heard of Shelties being killed from eating mushrooms, so am afraid to take a chance of any of my dogs even accidentally eating one.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 2:14PM
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Oh yes, Datura, Brugmansia, Oleander...those are all good ones to avoid. And mushrooms...ARGH! Last year we had mushrooms coming up like crazy with the wet summer, and I was on mushroom patrol almost daily. Had them all winter, too, but thankfully only in the front yard. I attempted to try to figure out a way to tell if they were poisonous or not, but apparently it's sketchy sometimes even to experts, so I do as ontnative does and just remove them all.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 8:03PM
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Speaking of baneberry (Actaea Rubra??)

Is Actaea Racemosa on the list of plants to avoid? I was going to plant this year, but I see someone mentioned baneberry, so wasn't sure if this falls under the same classifcations, and due to the multiple names with this plant, I have a hard time keeping things straight...

I've seen Actaea Racemosa also listed as Cohosh, baneberry, cimicifuga racemosa, snakeroot, bugbane

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 11:12AM
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I have it in my head that I saw Cohosh on a toxic plant list, somewhere. But I don't remember how toxic it was, or what happened. I know it was one of the ones I had flagged to keep out of the backyard. I am really attracted to it, though. :) But I don't think I have a naturally moist enough area for it.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 11:56AM
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I am so glad I found this thread. I have planned my entire garden around non-toxic plants, not for dogs, but my horses and the barn kitties. Living on a farm, we also have a lot of kids visiting and the occasional dog :)

With the price of vet bills (and house calls for horses) I believe you can't be too careful! I don't plant sweet peas, but found some great edible climbing peas with lavender and rose mini sweet peas. Roses are my favorite (as long as I can hide them from the deer) along with several herbs, veggies and edible flowers.

I've wanted to grow morning glories, but saw they were on the toxic list for dogs and cats. This summer I'm going to try them in pots with white petunias around them. I'm hoping they'll grow faster in the potting soil (we have short summers) and the cats don't like the petunias. They stayed away from my star jasmine (also a safe plant) last year in pots with the petunias. That was my favorite combination last year and I want to add a few more this summer :)

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 4:19PM
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Yay! I am so happy to hear that other people do this too!

I will definitely second not being too careful, especially with the price of vet bills. Angus is basically pretty healthy, but it seems like he's at the vet every couple of months for some reason or other. Maybe this is part of what has made me so paranoid about seems like if there is a way for Angus to hurt himself, he'll find it.

I think morning glory seeds are hallucinogenic. I don't *believe* ingestion can be fatal, but I have avoided them because Angus is freaky enough about strange/new things without adding hallucinations into the mix. OMG! The thought of Angus hallucinating...!

I heard that my aunt's dog was once behaving very strangely, and they finally came to the conclusion that it was because she had eaten morning glory seeds earlier that day...

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 4:37PM
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I also have two labs Connie. I do plant some poisonous plants throughout the yard but I wired all the garden beds and they wear zap collars....NO, they dont get zapped!!! I keep it on vibration only and it's enough to keep them from going into the beds. I think because I started them on it when they were very young, the vibration does the trick. It was the best $250 I ever spent!


    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 7:37PM
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I searched online both Sweet Pea and Morning Glory. Sweet Pea is safer. It takes a lot of Sweet Pea seeds to be problematic. Morning Glory is more toxic than Sweet Pea. You can absorb it through the skin and it can be harmful causing headaches and overall feelings of being hungover. Wear gloves if cutting down or trimming large plants.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 2:11PM
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Zaphod, Morning Glory isn't THAT toxic, except for the poisonous coating added to the seeds to keep people from "experimenting" with them. And it would take large quantities of the seeds to experience any psychotropic effects.

Never heard anyone getting sick or high from just handling the foliage, and I have pulled them up by hand on numerous occasions.

That said, I wouldn't recommend them simply because they are invasive and reseed everywhere.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 3:03PM
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