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Casandra Maier- February, 2023

Cats and Dogs.jpeg

Petscaping is the process of designing a safe outdoor space for our four-legged friends.  A pet-friendly landscape includes all things conducive to a peaceful, non-chaotic, and non-toxic environment.  Always consider the plant material in any outdoor space where cats and dogs are present.  The list of toxic plants is long and intimidating, causing a wide range of unwanted symptoms, worst of all, death.  It is important to know your dog or cat's habits.  Plants have the capacity to spark interest or trigger them to roll, rub against, dig up, chew, and ingest the organic material or its parts.  Fortunately, there are many petscape-worthy plants considered generally safe and non-toxic for both dogs and cats, confirmed by the ASPCA.  Please note, we are talking about canines and felines specifically.  We will not be covering trees, eddibles, or indoor plants.  This article is solely for informational purposes.  It is meant to educate from the perspective of landscape design.  It does not replace the advice of a qualified veterinary professional or plant expert.  If a pet is showing symptoms or having an adverse reaction after encountering, chewing, or ingesting a plant, contact their veterinarian or local emergency animal hospital immediately.  Do not delay treatment.  In addition to this list of shrubs, groundcovers, succulents, perennials, and annuals that are safe for cats and dogs, there are also a few contradictions to understand, among other important considerations when choosing plants for the pet-friendly landscape.                                                                         


Important Considerations

No landscape is foolproof when it comes to pet-friendly plants.  There are a few important rules to live by when designing a non-toxic outdoor space for dogs or cats.  These rules include:

  1. Observe and immediately treat any signs of distress

  2. Mind the amendments

  3. Be specific; get scientific 

  4. Watch out for contradictions

  5. When in doubt; leave that plant out

1.)  Always be observant of pets in the outdoor space.  Notice their behaviors and interactions with the plants and materials in the landscape.  More importantly, look for any signs of distress and seek treatment immediately if symptoms present.  Dogs and cats may experience adverse or allergic reactions to a plant regardless if it is considered toxic or non-toxic.  Some animals experience sensitivity.  Any plant may irritate a pet's digestion if consumed.  Although these symptoms may only be temporary with non-toxic plants, it is important to consult with a vet professional.


2.)  Landscape amendments and applications may also create problems for pets by increasing the toxicity of the environment when added to plants or the soil in which they grow.  Be mindful of the amendments incorporated into the landscape's care and maintenance.  All elements and ingredients must be safe and non-toxic for pets.  Such amendments include: 


  • Mulch

  • Fertilizers

  • Pest Control

  • Herbicides

  • Fungicides

3.)  Plant names are sometimes confusing.  A word within a plant's name may be recognizable, for example, 'rose.'  However, this does not mean that the plant is a true rose, despite the word in its title.  Often, the same plant will go by multiple aliases or common names depending on the region in which it grows.  There are also different species and varieties of plants within the same genus.  The best way to ensure that the plants in the outdoor space are safe for cats and dogs is to be as specific as possible and use scientific names.  All plants have a Latin scientific name, genus and species, in addition to a common name.  Scientific names ensure specificity and confirm that the plants chosen are indeed the correct variety, and non-toxic to pets.

4.)  Contradictions abound when it comes to information about pet-safe plants online.  We will cover more detail about this in the following section.  Most importantly, we must understand that the internet is filled with conflicting information about the safety and toxicity of certain plants for cats and dogs.  For this reason, we must consider our sources.  It is best to get confirmation from multiple reputable online sources, such as the ASPCA, or a qualified vet professional to make sure that the plants in the landscape are non-toxic for our fuzzy friends.  

5.)  Another rule of petscaping includes listening to our gut intuition.  If a plant seems like it may trigger a pet, if there are multiple online sources with conflicting information about said plant, or if there are any doubts in identifying the plant via genus and species, keep it out of the landscape.  It is better to err on the side of caution.  If there are any doubts, keep dogs and cats safe by leaving that plant out.  This is the golden rule of the pet-friendly landscape.                            






Ah the internet; a place filled with contradictions.  This is particularly confusing when it comes to determining the safety or toxicity of plants for a pet-friendly outdoor space.  In this section we aim to break down some of those inconsistencies and clarify some conflicting information.  Please note, this is not a complete list of plant contradictions.  There are far too many to list.  When designing a landscape with pets, always confirm plant safety information with multiple reputable online sources.  If this search yields too much contradictory information, or if there is any trouble in identifying a plant using its scientific name; default to the golden rule of petscaping.  When in doubt; leave that plant out.  One source may specify a plant as toxic, while another says it's okay to use in landscapes with cats and dogs.  Such plants include:

  • Ferns- many fern varieties are indeed toxic to pets.  Some lead to fern poisoning, which includes symptoms such as gastrointestinal upset and skin irritation.  However, there are a few varieties of ferns which are non-toxic to both dogs and cats, as noted by the ASPCA.  Always confirm these varieties using scientific names to ensure specificity and safety.  Non-toxic fern varieties include:

  1.   Western Sword Fern - Polystichum munitum

  2.   Bold Sword Fern -  Nephrolepis biserrata

  3.   Boston Fern -  Nephrolepis exaltata

  4.   Christmas Fern -  Polystichum acrostichoides

  5.   Rabbit's Foot Fern -  Davallia spp.

  • Palms- many palm varieties are unsafe for landscapes with pets.  However, Chamaedorea elegans, which goes by the common names Bamboo Palm, Dwarf Palm, and Parlor Palm is a safe and non-toxic variety for outdoor spaces with cats and dogs   


  • Burro's Tail- Sedum morganianum, commonly known as Burro's Tail,  is on the ASPCA's list of non-toxic plants for both dogs and cats.  It is a safe addition to the pet-friendly landscape.  This specific sedum species is okay.  However, within the genus sedum, there are a number of plant species that have toxic effects.  For this reason, some professionals advise keeping all sedum varieties away from pets.


  • Sweet Potato Vine- Ipomea batatas, commonly called Sweet Potato Vine comes up as non-toxic in some places online.  However, it is ineed toxic We recommend keeping this plant out of the landscape where pets are present.  Although some of the plant material may be non-toxic, other parts pose a danger to both dogs and cats.  The seeds and vines contain a chemical component similar to LSD.  Pets encountering this plant may suffer from dry mouth, throat swelling, mouth blisters, dermatitis, gastrointestinal upset, and hallucinations.


  • Hibiscus- Hibiscus syriacus, commonly referred to as Rose of Sharon, is one of the most popular Hibiscus varieties.  All parts of this plant are toxic to both cats and dogs.  Online however, there are many sites that list other Hibiscus varieties as safe for the pet-friendly garden.  

  • Other plants- there are many other plants that come up in contradiction in blogs and informational websites across the internet.  This may be because the toxic effects are not as severe.  Eating these plants may make a pet ill and cause gastrointestinal upset, but they are not fully poisonous.  However, erring on the side of caution means avoiding chaos and keeping these types of plants out of the landscape for the well-being of our fuzzy friends.  The following plants and their parts have toxic effects when consumed by dogs or cats:

  1.   Marigold

  2.   Daisy

  3.   Jasmine

  4.   Snapdragon

  5.   Impatiens

  6.   African Violet      



Now that we have explored some of the most important rules, considerations, and contradictions of petscaping, let's review some of the plants that are safe for outdoor spaces with both cats and dogs.  Here are some non-toxic plants for the pet-friendly landscape, confirmed by the ASPCA and backed by many other reputable online sources: 



  • Fishpole Bamboo/ Golden Bamboo - Phyllostachys aurea

  • Bottlebrush - Callistemon

  • Camellia - Camellia japonica

  • Creeping Mahonia - Mahonia aquifollium

  • Fuchsia - Fuchsia spp.

  • Big Leaf Paper Plant/ Figleaf Palm - Fatsia japonica

  • Star Magnolia - Magnolia stellata

  • Rose - Rosa spp.

  • Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis

  • Nannyberry/ Black Haw - Viburnum lentago



Pictured: Rosemary- a safe ornamental shrub in landscapes with cats and dogs

Groundcovers & Succulents

  • Alyssum - Alyssum spp.

  • Chinese Plumbago - Ceratostigma willmottianum

  • Krauss' Spike Moss - Selaginella kraussiana

  • Creeping Zinnia - Sanvitalia spp.

  • Moss Phlox - Phlox subulata

  • Slender Deutzia - Deutzia gracilis

  • Thyme - Thymus vulgaris

  • Houseleek / Hens and Chickens - Sempervivum



Pictured: Houseleek- one of the few succulents safe for landscapes with cats and dogs


  • Coral Bells - Heuchera sanguinea

  • Cornflower/ Bachelor Button - Centaurea cyanus

  • Sage - Salvia officinalis

  • Spider Flower - Cleome hasserlana

  • Sunflower - Helianthus

  • Bee Balm - Monarda

  • Cat Mint - Nepeta


Bee Balm.jpeg

Pictured: Bee Balm- a safe perennial for landscapes with cats and dogs


  • Petunia - Petunia spp.

  • Zinnia - Zinnia spp.

  • Canna/ Arrowroot/ Achira - Canna edulis

  • Celosia/ Cockscomb - Celosia spp.  



Pictured: Zinnia- a safe annual flower for landscapes with cats and dogs


Dodge, N. (December, 2021). Interviews with ND Design Services Inc. 

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (2023). 'Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Cats'. ASPCA- Pet Care/ Animal Poison Control.

American Society for the Prevention of Creulty to Animlas. (2023). 'Toxics and Non-Toxic Plant List- Dogs'. ASPCA- Pet Care/ Animals Poison Control.

Hubbard, Pamela, T. (2019). 'Petscaping- Creating a Pet-Friendly Garden'.  PennState Extension.  College of Agriculture Sciences.

Loughrey, Janet. (2023). '.Common Plants Safe for Cats and Dogs.  Garden Design.

Dr. Simon, Linda- MVB, MRCVS. (2023). 'Fern Poisoning in Dogs'. Wag Labs Inc.

Earth's (2022). '10 Houseplants that are Safe for Cats and Dogs'. Earth's Ally,and%20tolerates%20shadier%20spots%20too.

Plant Care Today. (2023). 'Is the Burro's Tail or Donkey Tail Plant Poisonous or Toxic?'. Elite CafeMedia.,of%20children%2C%20pets%20and%20livestock.

Plant (2023). 'Are Sweet Potato Vine Poisonous'. Plant Addicts.,difficulty%20swallowing%2C%20or%20mouth%20dryness. (2023). 'Sweet Potato Vine Poisoning in Cats'. Wag Labs Inc.

Plant (2023). 'Are Impatiens Poisonus'. Plant Addicts.,throw%20up%20or%20have%20diarrhea.

Gowens, Marylee. (2021). 'Flowering Plants Non-Poisonus to Pets'. SFGate. Homeguides. Gardening. Landscaping

Jackon, Emily. (2022). '7 Surprisingly Common Plants That Are Poisonous to Pets.' Humane Society of Charlotte.,nausea%2C%20diarrhea%2C%20and%20vomiting.

Gaeng, Jennifer. (Feb, 2022). 'Are Marigolds Poisonous to Dogs or Cats?'. A-Z Animals

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