SPCA New Zealand

Planting a pet-friendly garden

31 January 2020
Planting a pet-friendly garden

​Summer is a great time to roll up your sleeves and get back to nature – quite literally, in our own backyards.

While your pet might use your garden as their bathroom or indeed, a place to stash their treasures, they can enjoy their backyard too!

Pets can get sick from eating toxic plants, so it helps to be aware of which plants in your garden and neighbourhood can be harmful, and remove any toxic plants in your house or garden or put them out of reach of your pet.

Here is our guide to creating an amazing pet-friendly garden that every member of the family can enjoy this summer!

From the ground up

First things first, laying a good base for plants to grow in is key. Making sure you use a pet-friendly fertiliser, such as seaweed, is the best way to go with four-legged friends about. Anything with manure, bone meal and blood meal might be dug up, rolled in, or even eaten, as dogs like the smell! Keep away from herbicides and pesticides, as they can be harmful to your pet.


It may be a good idea to fence your vegetable patch to avoid your dog digging up your prized veggies and your cats using your garden as a toilet!

Many vegetables are safe to plant with pets, but do avoid planting tomatoes, onions, chives, garlic, and potato if your pets have access to your vegetable garden.Additionally, fruit seeds and pits contain toxic chemicals, so keep your pets away from these.If you’ve got a particularly curious pet then they might like to dig up the garden, so be sure to put netting over the plants as they grow!

Bursting with colour

There are many flowering plants that are safe for pets.

Petunias are a great choice to bring colour to your garden, as they are great for pets and you can get a lot of bang for your buck. Roses are another safe (but prickly!) choice, and they double as protection for other plants you don’t want your pets getting into, as the thorns act as a deterrent for nosy noses.

Alyssum is a common honey-scented low-growing flowering plant that draws beneficial insects to your garden, and comes in white, pinks, yellows, with silvery green foliage. Aster daisies are popular with gardeners for their long flowering period.They come in blue, purple, red, pink, and white, surrounding a yellow centre.

Snapdragons are tall, stately plants with ruffled blooms in a rich variety of colours. They are great and safe for pets.Add these to your garden to add height variety to your garden.They come in a huge range of colours, including hybrids of pastel and bright shades of white, yellow, pink, red, orange, peach, purple and violet.

Cornflowers bring a beautiful splash of cobalt blue that make them very popular with bees and butterflies.They are an annual flower which means they grow, flower, set seed, and die, all in one season.You can also find varieties with white, pink, and even rich burgundy.They dry well and keep their colour after picking.

Zinnias are a very bright and cheery bunch of flowers that go well in the vegetable garden, attracting bees and butterflies.They come in white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, red, and multi-coloured flowers, and are perfect for children to plant as they grow easily from seed and can handle a wide range of soil types.

Sunflowers are a popular choice for gardeners as they can grow to such an amazing height, some up to 3.5m tall with a 50cm flower! Marigolds are well known for the riot of colour they produce for about half the year.They come in yellow, limes, creams, to just about every shade of orange and bronze.They are a reliable companion plant as they help keep away aphids.

Up and away

Consider planting in containers, planter boxes, or raised garden beds when designing your garden.These ensure pets and plants can be separated if needed!

Water, water, everywhere

A bird bath is a lovely way to encourage native wildlife to visit your garden (just make sure your cat is safely indoors when the birds come for a dip!).

Cats generally tend to prefer drinking from a water source where the water is gently moving, so a water feature that allows for this is ideal for them. Ensure water sources don’t become overgrown with mildew and are kept clean, so they are safe to drink from.

Cat grass and herb gardens

Lots of people know that cats go crazy for cat nip, but did you know that cat safe plants are also a good way to give your cat sensory enrichment?You could consider planting a cat garden outside, or plant pots indoors.Your cat will love it!

Karaka tree berries

In New Zealand you should especially watch out for Karaka tree berries whilst walking your dog during summer. Throughout the warmer months (January – April) the berries ripen, turn orange and fall off the trees – these berries can be fatalif eaten by dogs.The kernels in the fruit contain the alkaloid karakin, which is very toxic if ingested by your dog. Signs of Karaka berry poisoning include weakness, vomiting, confusions and convulsions. These symptoms can be delayed by a day or two, so even if they are not displaying symptoms yet, if you have any concerns that your pet may have eaten any please seek veterinary treatment immediately.

It is also important to note that the berry kernels remain toxic for a long time, so dogs can be poisoned by eating even a previous year’s fruit.

The trees themselves are quite distinct and easy to spot; they have thick dark leaves and can grow up to 15 metres with the berries turning a bright orange colour during fruiting season. These are native trees and are a vital food source for Kereru so we advise that if you have spotted any in your local area, to keep your dog on the lead or take them to an alternative location for a walk.

Be sure, be safe

It’s important to first check the safety of any plants before your pets have access to them. If you’re unsure about the safety of a particular plant, talk to your veterinarian for advice.If your dog shows symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, difficult breathing, abnormal urine (colour, smell, frequency, etc.), salivation, weakness or other abnormal condition contact your vet immediately.

Toxic plants for pets

Watch out for these plants in New Zealand as they are toxic for our pets:

  • Black nightshade
  • Deathcap mushroom
  • New Zealand tree nettle (Onga Onga)
  • Daffodils (especially the bulbs)
  • Foxgloves
  • Ivy (some species)
  • Rhubarb
  • Aloe Vera
  • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila)
  • Bird of Paradise plant
  • Wandering Jew
  • Barley Grass seeds
  • Lilies
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