Best and Worst Flowers to Plant for a Pet-Friendly Garden

Know before you grow, and your pets will thank you!

Great Dane in the Garden
Photo: Barbara Rich/Getty Images

Every pet owner knows their dog or cat will chew on anything it can sink its teeth into, whether that's a toy, shoe, or ball of yarn. And at some point, your furry friend will inevitably gravitate towards plants and flowers for a bite or two. As beautiful as these colorful blooms are, from household plants to flowers grown in the garden, some can be particularly dangerous to our tail-wagging companions. Of course, fragrant varieties are especially tempting (and, yes, even deadly), but did you know that your pet simply drinking water from a vase containing poisonous cut flowers can result in vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, lethargy, and lack of appetite? As you will see on this list, sometimes the potency is wrapped in the leaves, whereas in other cases, it could be in the seeds or bulbs.

You can always take extra precautions by placing your indoor containers in inaccessible areas of your home. But, the best (and most obvious) form of recourse is to avoid buying and planting toxic plants altogether, especially if your dog or cat is known for roaming around outside and nibbling on anything out of sheer curiosity. And if you can't possibly part way with your precious wisteria and tulips this season, growing your flowers on fences is another viable alternative.

Although you can't do anything about the neighbors' gardens, you can protect your pup by starting in your own backyard. According to the ASPCA, these are the safest plants to thrill, fill, and spill, as well as the ones to avoid.

Perennials That Are Toxic to Pets

  • Aloe Vera - For humans, aloe vera works wonders for the skin and for burns. For dogs and cats, not so much. Symptoms from eating include vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors.
  • Chrysanthemum - Consuming any part of this autumn bloom can cause gastrointestinal issues and loss of coordination for your four-legged friend.
  • Carnation - They're not as harmful as other perennials, but they can cause mild gastrointestinal problems for your beloved pet.
  • Dahlia - Eating this delicate petal may lead to mild gastrointestinal suffering and dermatitis.
  • Daisy - Even though most consider this flower as the bedrock of the garden, several species carry dangerous toxins. Gerbera daisies and the blue-eyed African daisy are pet-safe options.
  • Iris - Irises come in many different colors, but that rainbow of hues could come at a price for your pet. Symptoms include mild to moderate vomiting, drooling, lethargy, and diarrhea. Rhizomes are the most toxic part of the plant.
  • Lily of the Valley - We adore this shady flower, but it can produce serious symptoms in pets and people, including vomiting, heart arrhythmias, seizures, coma, and, ultimately, death.
  • Monkshood - This one is a dead giveaway, considering its more common moniker "wolfsbane." All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the roots and seeds. Eating it can cause weakness, heart arrhythmias, paralysis, tremors, and seizures.
  • Peony - The garden and bouquet filler is a favorite among Southerners, but it poses a health hazard to our pets, including vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Other toxic perennials you should be aware of are Forget-Me-Nots, Peace Lilies, Coleus, Lavender, and Lenten Rose.

Annuals That Are Toxic to Pets

  • Begonia - The most toxic part of these plants is the tubers, which can cause irritation of the mouth and vomiting.
  • Geranium - Commonly grown in outdoor gardens, containers, and hanging baskets, Pelargonium species are toxic for pets, causing skin rashes, vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
  • Poinsettia - This traditional holiday plant can cause irritation of the mouth and stomach for kittens and puppies.

Shrubs and Trees That Are Toxic to Pets

  • Azaleas and Rhododendron - These bright and popular garden shrubs are not only dangerous for cats and dogs, but for horses, goats, and sheep, too. If leaves are ingested by these animals, it can cause digestive problems, excessive drooling, weakness, and loss of appetite.
  • Boxwood - Evergreen and ever-dangerous when a significant amount of its leaves are ingested by your pet. It mostly causes dehydration, due to severe vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Gardenia - Unfortunately, the white and fragrant blooms of this shrub can take a toll on your pet's health, causing mild gastrointestinal distress and rashes.
  • Hydrangea - Summer and fall gift us with hydrangea's large clusters of flowers, but eating this plant can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Lantana - If you've recently planted this small, tropical shrub, look for signs of diarrhea, weakness, or labored breathing in your pet.
  • Oak trees - The acorns are harmful to dogs, potentially causing gastrointestinal discomfort, a choking hazard, or even kidney failure or death.
  • Oleander - This popular blooming shrub is highly toxic, potentially leading to drooling, gastrointestinal symptoms, arrhythmia, and even death.
  • Rose of Sharon - Most hibiscus species are non-toxic, but dogs that eat Rose of Sharon (H. syriacus) flowers can have a lack of appetite and vomiting. Both stems and flowers are toxic to cats.
  • Yew - This slow-growing, drought-resistant shrub is attractive in the garden, but it's dangerous for pets and livestock and is known to cause sudden death from acute cardiac failure in dogs.

Bulbs That Are Toxic to Pets

  • Amaryllis - We love these beautiful bulbs, but they're extremely toxic. If consumed, it can cause abdominal pain, tremors, diarrhea, and hypersalivation for both cats and dogs.
  • Caladium - Their big flamboyant leaves contain dangerous crystals that can penetrate your pet's skin and mouth, causing severe irritation and difficulty breathing and walking.
  • Crocus - This chalice-shaped bulb is usually the first sign that spring has arrived, but ingestion of the spring crocus can lead to a gastrointestinal upset for your pup.
  • Daffodil and Jonquil - It's a good thing that daffodils are too pretty to eat, because if your pets munch on the bulbs, these plants can cause cardiac issues, convulsions, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Gladiola - Here, it's the corms that lead to excessive drooling, lethargy, and vomiting.
  • Hyacinth - You may be drawn to its sweet scent, but keep your dogs, cats, and cattle away from this bulb, because it can damage the mouth and esophagus and cause violent tremors.
  • Lily - To put it simply, lilies are definitely not the cat's meow. The verdant and fragrant bulb can cause kidney failure in cats, but doesn't appear to affect dogs.
  • Tulip - Eating the cup-shaped flower may lead to convulsions, cardiac problems, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

Vines That Are Toxic to Pets

While these climbing growers are useful for sprucing up your landscaping and vertical space, they can also be toxic to dogs and cats, particularly since wisteria contains poisonous seeds and pods.

  • Clematis
  • English and Boston Ivy
  • Morning Glory
  • Wisteria

Vegetables and Herbs That Are Toxic to Pets

  • Tomatoes, Potatoes, and Peppers - The stems and leaves of these plants contain solanine, which can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, weakness, and a slow heart rate. However, the fruits are edible if eaten when fully ripe, or, in the case of potatoes, after cooking. Stick to bell peppers, as spicy peppers can be harmful to pets.
  • Onions, garlic, and chives - When eaten in large quantities, all plants in the Allium genus can cause anemia in pets.
  • Mint and Oregano - Eating these herbs can result in gastrointestinal issues for pets.

Pet-Safe Plants for Your Garden

These plants are generally considered safe to plant around Felix and Fido. Keep in mind this list is not exhaustive and only includes some of the most common flowers typically grown in the South. If you are ever uncertain or suspect your pet has ingested harmful plants, you should contact your veterinarian.

  • African violet
  • Alyssum
  • Aster
  • Blooming Sally
  • Cilantro
  • Snapdragon
  • Cornflower
  • Crape myrtle
  • Creeping zinnia
  • Daylilies
  • Feather palm
  • Marigolds
  • Hibiscus
  • Impatiens
  • Magnolia bush
  • Mulberry tree
  • Pansies
  • Petunias
  • Purple passion vine
  • Sage
  • Spider ivy
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet potato vine
  • Thyme
  • Tiger lily
  • Zinnia
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