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Biggest Risks for Pets in their own Yard

As Albertans, we always welcome the warm, summer weather as we enthusiastically enjoy outdoor activities. However, the summer does present a number of risks to our pets we don’t have to worry about when it’s frigid outside, and many of these are right in our own yards.

Dr. Vicki Janes

Dr. Vicki Janes runs a small animal veterinary clinic in Fort Saskatchewan, and has worked in large animal clinics.

In the Garden

Backyard Plants

Lilies pose a significant risk to both cats and dogs. Different varieties have varying toxicity levels, but all lilies should be considered poisonous. Cats in particular can suffer fatal kidney damage. Even a small amount of the plant, if it gets on the cat’s nose from smelling it, can be toxic if ingested later while grooming.

Tulips and daffodils are popular garden plants that are also toxic to both cats and dogs. While not as toxic as lilies, they can still cause serious health problems. The bulbs are the most poisonous part of the plant and should be stored appropriately if saving for future planting

Mushrooms grow quite readily in our province and pet owners should be on the lookout for them. Different types of mushroom have different toxicity levels, from not harmful to animals to some that can cause significant health issues such as liver failure. Most people will not know the difference between edible and non-edible or poisonous mushrooms so it’s best to simple remove any mushrooms you find growing in your yard and to keep your pet away from wild mushrooms if you come across them in your travels.

Azalea/Rhododendron plants are more toxic to dogs than cats, but it’s best to keep all your pets away from them as they are highly toxic and can lead to death as the toxic properties interfere with normal skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle and nerve function. If you suspect your pet has consumed azalea/rhododendron, seek medical attention immediately

Dieffenbachia is more common as an indoor plant but can be placed outside in warmer weather. Dieffenbachias contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause swelling of the mouth, irritation, difficultly breathing and vomiting.

Philodendron plants, while different from dieffenbachia, have similar toxicity attributes. Philodendrons also are mostly indoor plants in our climate but can be placed outside in warmer weather.

Dracaena is typically an indoor plant in our climate. Like many toxic plants, chewing on a dracaena plant can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling, which can then lead to dehydration.

Cannabis (marijuana) Intoxication

The incidents of cannabis intoxication in pets have increased significantly since marijuana was legalized in Canada in 2018. Pets can ingest product in any number of ways, from eating food items that contain cannabis to ingesting cannabis directly when the product is left out or discarded. The signs your pet has ingested cannabis are obvious; the animal is disoriented, is having trouble walking or falling over, is lethargic and not responding to its owner. Even though cannabis is typically not lethal in pets, the symptoms are very concerning for owners. If the animal ingested the product recently, your vet may try to induce vomiting to limit the amount of product that is ultimately processed by the body.

Fruits and Vegetables in the Garden

Growing your own food is a rite of summer for many Albertans, but the plants and the food they produce can cause significant health problems for our pets.

Chokecherry fruit is not poisonous but the pits can be if eaten in a great enough quantity. Birds and humans typically separate the fruit from the seeds so it’s not a problem for them, but a dog may eat the fruit whole. All fruit within the Prunus family of trees and shrubs produce fruit pits that can produce natural cyanide. This includes plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots.

Rhubarb stems are not poisonous but the leaves of the plant are as they contain a significant amount of oxalic acid. The good news, your pet is unlikely to feast on the green shrubbery of a rhubarb plant but if they do, it could lead to kidney failure.

Onions and garlic are common in our kitchens but they can also be grown in our gardens. All parts of the onion plant are poisonous to both cats and dogs, and cats seem to be far more susceptible to the toxic effects. However, it’s not just the garden we need to be concerned about as onion/garlic powders are also dangerous and could be an ingredient in any number of human foods our dogs would happily eat if given the chance.

Tomatoes, when ripe, are not toxic to pets, but unripe tomatoes, as well as the stems and leaves of the plant, can be. While tomato plants do not pose as much risk to cats and dogs as some other plants found in our garden, it’s best to keep them away from the plants just to be safe.

Potatoes belong to the same nightshade family of vegetables as tomatoes, and therefore can be toxic to both cats and dogs if raw. When cooked, the toxicity is reduced, but potatoes have limited nutritional value for our pets so there’s no need to offer them to our animals.

Other Plants

The list of garden and household plants that pose a risk to our pets is significant, and the list above only highlights only some of the more toxic varieties. It is recommended that you take the time to learn the types of plants and shrubs you have in your yard so that if your pet does become sick, you can let your veterinarian know right away which one might be causing the health issues. The American SPCA keeps an extensive list of toxic plants on its website.

Mulch is a common product throughout flower beds, and many dogs love to chew any wood product. Unfortunately, some mulch is treated with product that may not be healthy for your dog. Ensure your mulch is free of any additional additives or chemicals that may be toxic to animals.


In the Garage or Shed

Rodenticides and pesticides are often stored in the garage and are exceptionally toxic. Fortunately, poisonings with these products are not common in urban settings and owners are generally quite responsible with them. In an acreage setting, these types of poisons are more common as acreage owners typically have more pests to control. Regardless, it is important to be cognizant of the chemicals stored in your garage or shed and take steps to ensure your pets are not exposed.

Antifreeze is another highly toxic substance and should be stored in a manner that pets cannot access.

Fertilizers are far less toxic than in the past, but it is always best to be safe and keep your animals away from areas recently fertilized for at least 24 hours – this includes lawn, planters, shrubs and trees where the product has been administered.

How to tell if your pets has consumed poison

If your pet throws up and the vomit is blue or green, that’s a good sign that they’ve ingested rodent poison. Rodenticides often have bright blue or green dyes added so veterinarians can quickly determine if the animal has consumed a toxic product. Pets may also have blue or green stools if they have consumed rodent poison.

Keeping your pets safe in the yard

There are many excellent garden fences that will help keep your pets away from the dangers presented outside. However, if they do still find a way to ingest something they shouldn’t have, knowing what they’ve consumed is important information for your vet. It’s always best to take the time to learn about the plants and shrubs in your garden so you know if they pose a risk, and so you can let your vet know what you have should your animal become ill.

Other Dangers

Xylitol is a common sugar substitute used in many foods that are considered sugar-free. Unfortunately, Xylitol is very toxic for pets. It causes them to go hypoglycemic (blood sugar levels below normal level) and even small amounts can cause seizures, liver failure and death. Xylitol is found in products such as sugar-free gums and sugar-free peanut butters. When making treats for your pets, always ensure you are not using a product that contains Xylitol. Even a small amount can cause distress in a dog in as little as 10 minutes.


Ticks, in particular, are a risk when camping, in a wooded area, or in tall grass. Unfortunately, cases of ticks attaching to pets is growing problem, even for animals within their own yard. Ticks may be hard to detect at first, and may present simply as a lump on your pet; often they’re discovered by accident. Ticks can carry Lyme Disease so having it removed from your pet as quickly as possible is important. Some owners will try to remove the tick on their own, others will have their vet do it. Regardless, ticks in Alberta can be tested, free of charge, for Lyme disease. If you remove the tick yourself, simply place it in plastic bag and take it to your vet for testing. Many owners choose to use parasite control products to ensure their animal are protected from ticks, fleas, mites, and various types of worms in the first place. Consult with your veterinarian to determine what is the best produce for your pet.

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