Backyard Safety


Dear Professor Newton:

I hope you can solve an argument I have with Snoopy, the beagle next door. He’s telling me that eating some of the plants in his backyard made him so sick last spring that he had to go to the vet, get poked with pointy needles, and stay overnight. I think he’s just trying to scare me so I won’t dig under our mutual fence and steal his stash of bones buried in the flower beds. I don’t see how nibbling a few plants can hurt me. After all, my humans have a vegetable garden in our backyard and they eat stuff out of it all the time. They even grow catnip for their stupid cat to snack on, so I think Snoop is just bluffing.




Dear Digger,

While Snoopy may have ulterior motives for keeping you out of his territory, he is correct in cautioning you not to partake of plant life. Sadly, people are often ignorant of the many types of leafy fauna and trees that can be toxic, even deadly, to dogs and cats. While our humans treat us like part of their family, the fact is we are completely different species with totally very different physiologies. And cats are another breed altogether, literally!

For example, that pretty Easter lily that Granny sent as a gift not long ago is likely to give a pooch a nasty upset tummy if ingested, however even one nibble to can be lethal to a cat.

Many plants, trees and shrubs humans plant around their homes are bad news for both dogs and cats. Among some of the more frequent offenders are ivy, aloe, chamomile, day lilies, holly, fig, cherry, gardenia, geranium, hosta, hyacinth, hydrangea, morning glory, oleander, poinsettia, periwinkle, pinks, rhododendron, vinca, and the aptly named yucca.

When Dad sends Mom a bouquet for Mother’s Day, be sure he tells the florist to avoid using carnations, peonies, chrysanthemums, tulips, yarrow, and even baby’s breath, those pretty little white flowers they love to stick in between all the other colorful blossoms! Popular green plants to steer clear of include dieffenbachia, dracaena, jade plant, and mother-in-law plant (also called mother-in-law’s tongue or Swiss cheese plant).

There’s another potential threat found in too many landscapes: mulch made from cocoa shells!

Chocolate can be extremely toxic to pets, even fatal, and dogs love both chocolate and crunchy things, right? Need I say more?

There are plenty of gorgeous and non-toxic plants that homeowners can use when they lay out their gardens or landscaping plans. You can help educate your humans on how to keep pets (or even the stray neighborhood cats) from getting sick when they plan their gardening. Show Mom and Dad information from the wonderful folks at the ASPCA on their website: It names hundreds of plants to avoid as well as suggestions on those that are safe to use for not only dog and cats but also horses.

A final caution to my human readers: if you think your animal is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA’s 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 888-426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.

About the Author

Dusty Rainbolt, ACCBC is's editor-in-chief. She is past president of the Cat Writers' Association. With three decades of animal rescue under her collar, Dusty has rescued and rehomed over 1500 cats. She's author of Kittens for Dummies and Cat Wrangling Made Easy. Her new paranormal mystery, Death Under Crescent Moon, can be purchased to benefit your favorite charity at