Many plants in your garden could be deadly to household pets warns veterinary surgeon Peter Green
You’d never knowingly put your trusted companion in danger but when your gundogs are out sniffing and investigating in the garden you could unwittingly be putting their health at risk, by exposing them to plants poisonous to dogs.
It’s surprising (or maybe it’s not for some owners) just what dogs will find worth eating. Many gundogs are at risk because they are so inquisitive and regularly ingest plant material. They may avoid poisonous berries, leaves or fruits if they are unpalatable, but it’s surprising what they will eat. (It’s always worth knowing how to make a dog vomit after it has eaten something dangerous and you can read how here.)
When you’re having a garden tidy up or cutting the grass the danger is increased if your dog has access to clippings or prunings as these may become more palatable as they wilt, and may also have the master’s or mistress’s scent all over them.
It is crucial to know what is potentially deadly to dogs, and to teach a ‘leave’ command.
So which plants are poisonous to dogs? Here is a list of those found in our gardens which could pose a danger.
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Common plants poisonous to dogs
Dogs may be poisoned by the most common spring flower bulbs in our gardens: daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. These cases occur either in the autumn, when the bulbs are lying about for planting, or in the spring, when they are lifted after flowering.
Big, greedy breeds – labradors, retrievers, poodle crosses and springer spaniels – are the worst as they seem to think that bulbs are for eating, especially when we play the game ‘you plant it and I’ll find it, dig it up and eat it’. A bellyful can be fatal.
Lily of the Valley, and other plants that love shady corners
Both dogs and cats have been poisoned by lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). All parts of the plant are poisonous, but the strong fragrance seems to attract browsing when it is in flower.
It’s a plant of damp, shady places where pets love to nose about and where they may also encounter the attractive berries of the cuckoo pint or lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum).
This distinctive little plant is a native that is rarely planted deliberately, but is common in larger, wilder gardens and its brightly orange-coloured berries are both palatable and poisonous. Gardeners are well advised to cut off the seed-bearing stems when the berries start to ripen.
Deadly border plants
Monkshood (Aconitum) is widely planted in herbaceous borders, where it offers tall, spike-like racemes of deep-blue flowers; its wild cousin, wolfsbane, is sometimes cultivated.
Both are very toxic indeed and share the ability to cause poisoning by contact of the plant juices with the skin of gardeners or their pets. Human fatalities from such contact are not unknown and both dogs and cats are known to have succumbed to the alkaloid aconitine present throughout the plant.
The shrub Nerium oleander is a drought-tolerant Mediterranean bush with narrow, dark-green leaves and trusses of pink or red flowers. With climate change and an emphasis upon plants that thrive without irrigation, it is appearing more commonly in garden centres and retail outlets, especially in the south of England, where it is frost tolerant to just below freezing.
Nerium oleander, however, is a killer – all parts of the plant are toxic and it is the most common cause of animal poisoning in some parts of the southern USA. If bushes are trimmed, the clippings are attractive to both dogs and cats and, unlike most other toxic plants, if you put the clippings on the bonfire, the smoke itself is dangerous.
Lilies are a risk
Cats are at great risk from garden lilies, including Lilium and Hemerocallis species: day lilies, tiger lilies, Easter lilies and stargazers all contain acutely toxic substances. Even a brush with the pollen or a bite on a couple of petals can be fatal.
Remember, autumn crocuses (Colchicum) are actually lilies and are equally toxic.
What to do when you think a dog has eaten a poisonous plant
See a vet at once and take along a specimen of the plant the dog has eaten
Avoid this scenario by not leaving clippings lying about to wilt, and clear up fallen berries – the fruits of laburnum, mistletoe, privet, cherry laurel and wisteria are all potentially poisonous.
If you have a vine in your garden keep an eye out – grape poisoning in canines is well recognised.
The RHS publishes a list of more than 130 common garden plants that are potentially toxic to dogs so take a look.