Safe & Toxic Plants For Australian Dogs

The internet is full of useful lists of plants that are poisonous to dogs. However, it’s a lot harder to find out what you can plant. That’s what I’ll do here from an Australian point of view.

Below you’ll find lists of plants I either know to be safe or I see used so much that toxicity is extremely unlikely.

Designing A Garden For Dogs

Before starting, it’s worth a quick list of what makes a good space for dogs.

  • Areas to run and play (typically grass as paving can hurt the pads in summer)
  • Shady areas
  • Areas with loose dirt where digging is allowed
  • Permanent water (but not ponds due to the risk of blue green algae)
  • People

The focus of this article is on choosing the plants that go between grass and trees. These are great for creating hiding places, complexity and areas to snuffle and explore.

Note: any plant can be toxic if enough is consumed. You will reduce the risk further by offering edible grass to chew on. The items marked with an asterisk (*) have no data but widespread usage suggests that they are safe.

Grasses and Strap-Leafed Plants

Low strap-leaved plants are great to pee on or snuffle around in.

  • Bamboo (though it tends to try and take over the garden)
  • Clumping grasses* (esp Lomandra)
  • Cordyline
  • Kangaroo Paw*
  • Sedges (Carex species)*

Watch out for Dracaena which looks very similar to Flax or Cordyline.

Exotic Shrubs

  • Camellias
  • Ferns & Palms (avoid cycads, bracken or sharp-tipped palms)
  • Pittosporum tobira (‘Miss Muffet’ is a nice compact form)
  • Plumbago auriculata (dogs love exploring in these when they get straggly)
  • Rosemary (may attract bees and make your dog smell like a lamb roast)
  • Star Jasmine (more of a climber but great on fences)

Native Shrubs

Many Aussie shrubs are theoretically poisonous due to the irritant oils they contain but in practice dogs find them too unpleasant to nibble.

  • Callistemon (bottle brush)
  • Correa*
  • Diosma (Coleonema pulchrum)*
  • Lilly pilly (Syzygium comes in a wide variety of sizes so don’t get a tree by mistake)*
  • Tea tree (Leptospermum)
  • Westringia fruticosa (‘Native rosemary’)*

My favourites here are Lilly pilly, Westringia and Correa, as you can tell by the garden at Walkerville Vet! Your final plant list will depend on your climate and the space available.

Plants To Avoid With Dogs

It’s worth a quick list of the plants I don’t recommend, especially with puppies who tend to chew everything. You’ll notice that these are generally the more ornamental species. Asterisks (*) mark the extremely toxic plants.

  • Azalea & Rhododendron
  • Agapanthus & Clivea
  • Box (English, Korean, Japanese)
  • Brunfelsia* (yesterday, today, tomorrow)
  • Bulbs
  • Dracaena*
  • Lilies (very toxic to cats)
  • Grapevine*
  • Ivy* (read about that here)
  • Euphorbias eg Poinsettia 
  • Fig (except the edible fig)
  • Flowering quince
  • Gardenia
  • Geranium
  • Hellebore
  • Hydrangea
  • Nandina or Sacred bamboo
  • Oleander*
  • Periwinkle*
  • Philodendron
  • Privet
  • Strelizia
  • Umbrella plant
  • Wisteria 
  • Yucca

How Common Are Plant Poisonings Anyway?

Some years ago I cataloged all the dog and cat poisonings seen at Walkerville Vet; you can find it here. If you visit you’ll see that despite toxic plants being common in Australian gardens, actual poisonings are rare.

Instead, here were the top five threats from the garden:

  1. Rat poisons
  2. Mushrooms
  3. Pesticides
  4. Fertiliser
  5. Compost

Compared to plants, it’s actually quite easy to prevent dogs getting to these, and well worth the effort. Add in a well-designed dog friendly garden and you can hardly go wrong.

Except of course, by thinking that a garden is enough on its own. As any dog would love to tell you, it’s never a substitute for a good outing with the family.

Related: Designing a cat friendly garden | Causes of sudden death in dogs

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Andrew

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