ASK THE VET: Lawn & Garden Dangers?
Answered by MHS Veterinarian Dr. Michael Redmer, D.V.M.

Q. Now that spring is here, I can’t wait to begin gardening and greening my lawn. Could you give me tips to keep my dogs, cat and rabbit safe from potential dangers in the yard?

Ask the Vet 

A. As we begin to emerge from the long winter, we will start to spend more time enjoying the outdoors. That goes for our pets as well, so we’ll need to plan ahead and prevent access to anything that could harm them. First, take a look inside your garage. Make certain that deicing agents, antifreeze, as well as fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides have been secured in pet-safe storage containers.

Next, perform a spring cleanup around your yard. Make certain that potentially toxic leaves, seeds and pits from apple, apricot, black walnut and cherry trees have been collected and discarded where your pet has no access to them. If you compost organic yard and kitchen waste (such as leaves, plant clippings, and vegetable or fruit cuttings), make sure that your pet cannot access these decaying items; they emit odors that can be appealing – and very toxic – to pets.

Newly emerging perennial bulbs, plants and grasses can be a tremendous temptation for dogs, cats and rabbits to ingest. You should discourage your pets from eating any plant or fungus in the yard, as many common garden plants and moisture-loving mushrooms often are poisonous if ingested.

Although many plant ingestions in dogs and cats result in mild to moderate signs of vomiting and diarrhea, liver, kidney, central nervous system or cardiovascular effects also can occur. The most frequently reported poisonous plants causing serious systemic effects include lilies, azaleas, oleander, castor bean, autumn crocus and Japanese yew. Ingestion of even a small amount of the yew, a very common evergreen shrub, often results in a pet’s sudden death. Following the ingestion of other toxic plants, however, liver and kidney damage might not occur until one to two days after exposure. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent permanent, life-threatening toxicities from developing.

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All varieties of lilies, including Easter lily, tiger lily and day lily, are particularly toxic to cats, often resulting in kidney failure unless the animal receives immediate treatment.

Perennial bulbs, including daffodils, gladiolas, iris, crocus and tulips, also are highly toxic to pets and easily can be dug out of the ground. Although some fertilizers used for planting bulbs have mild toxic properties, another risk is that their scents can entice your pet to dig up and ingest the toxic bulbs. A list of common plants that are harmful to pets can be found at

When shopping for landscape mulch, keep in mind that, while the scent of cocoa bean mulch is appealing, it’s similarly attractive to pets, and its ingestion can be toxic, such as with chocolate candy or coffee grounds. Even if your pet doesn’t ingest enough to cause toxicity, the cocoa bean hulls can cause intestinal upset or intestinal blockage, requiring surgery.

Lawn and garden chemicals are other common sources of toxin exposure for our pets. Most are listed as being safe if they are applied according to the manufacturer’s directions. Read labels carefully, or ask the lawn service representatives applying these agents for safety recommendations. Do not allow pets access to treated areas until the recommended amount of time post-application has elapsed. Watering the lawn after fertilizer application is usually required, and pets and people should avoid direct contact with the area until it is completely dry.

MHS recommends that cats remain indoors. If they must go out, supervise them closely to help prevent exposure to, or ingestion of, a potentially harmful substance, as well as the many other outdoor dangers, from cars to confrontations with other animals.

We wish you and your pets a safe and enjoyable season

Michael Redmer, D.V.M., has been a staff veterinarian at the Michigan Humane Society Berman Center for Animal Care in Westland for more than 14 years. The three MHS veterinary centers comprise one of the largest veterinary practices in the state.

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