Kitten in the garden

Preparing a pet-safe Spring Garden 

FOUR PAWS' guides on how to make your garden safe for animals


Having a garden can be great fun, but if you also have a pet, you need to make sure your garden is a safe space for them to enjoy also. There is a lot to consider, from which plants to use and which to avoid, how to make your yard escape-proof and also how to protect local wildlife from your pets – FOUR PAWS has got you covered!

Dive into our guides so that you and your pets can enjoy the warm season without worries.

Dogs and Gardens

Dog owners with large gardens can use high fences or walls to establish a “dog garden” and separate it from the kitchen garden and flower garden. Hedges are not suitable for this purpose. On the one hand, animals may be able to get through; on the other hand, many hedges are poisonous or have thorns capable of harming your pet. Fences should always be built on a solid foundation to prevent a dog from digging its way underneath. 

Ideally, a dog garden should consist of a large area including a hard-wearing lawn, a few trees and carefully chosen bushes. It should provide your dog with the opportunity to frolic, run and dig around trees and bushes and hide bones and chew sticks. In the summer, dogs enjoy digging holes where they can lie to cool down.

More things to think about

  • Dogs always want to be with their family– so it’s important to situate the dog garden in the part of the main garden most commonly frequented by the human family members.
  • In summertime, dogs need a shady place, e.g. under an awning or a homemade wooden shelter, where they can stay in visual contact with humans. As a roof, a frame made of thick laths planed to minimize the danger of splinters is fine. This should be high enough to give the dog plenty of space to dig a hole where it can cool down. The width and length will depend on the size of the dog itself, though the shelter should not be smaller than 0.8 x 0.8 meters. Planks should be screwed carefully on to the frame to provide cover. Caution: do not glaze the wood as the wood glaze may be harmful.
  • The trees and bushes in the dog garden should be non-toxic and free of thorns.
  • No dog garden, no matter how large, can replace excursions and expeditions with the pack! Dogs enjoy exploring and discovering new scents.

Combining your dog garden with the main garden

Many dog owners don’t have enough room for a separate dog garden, so plants and dogs have to coexist in the main garden. The following points will be helpful.

  • A dog can be trained to not go into flower beds – but if so, it should also have its own spot for digging (this should be sheltered from the sun).
  • To avoid your dog urinating on your vegetables to mark out its turf, herbs and vegetables should be planted in a raised bed.
  • Avoid poisonous plants.

Choosing the Right Plants for a Pet-Friendly Garden

Poisonous plants

Many plants commonly found in today’s gardens are poisonous to animals. These include clematis, ivy, laburnum and wisteria, honeysuckle, rhododendron, azalea, cherry laurel, daphne, dogwood, box tree, privet, yew, thuja (arbor vitae), juniper, candelilla, lilies, larkspur, aconite and spring bloomers like crocus, spring snowflake, narcissus, primrose, tulip, poinsettia and lily-of-the-valley. The full list of poisonous plants can be obtained from your vet or from various poison service points and hotlines. Some plants are poisonous to dogs specifically; others are dangerous for cats. Likewise, the toxicity level of these plants or of the poisonous parts of them also varies.

If the garden is also used by a pet, you should dispense altogether with poisonous plants. You cannot rely here on your pet’s natural instinct to recognize of its own accord which plants are unfit for consumption. The choice of plants in a garden is too narrow, so there will always be the risk that your pet may nibble on something poisonous simply because no alternative presents itself.

Dogs can be trained not to bite plants, and provided enough cat grass is available, cats will seldom chew anything else. However, this does not eliminate the danger. Special care needs to be taken when dealing with young pets, who will happily nibble at anything that happens to be within biting distance. In the case of some plants – including some classified as only mildly poisonous – mere touching will be enough to cause irritations or allergic reactions on sensitive areas of the animal’s skin. You should therefore make it a basic principle never to leave young dogs and cats unattended in the garden.

FOUR PAWS advises you to draw up an inventory of the poisonous plants in your garden and to show this to your vet in the event of any unexplained symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea or skin irritation.

Plants with scents that repel pets

Some plants have scents that are disagreeable to sensitive canine or feline noses. This aversion can, however, vary from one animal to the next. For example, many dogs dislike southernwood while some cats will refuse to go near common rue, wormwood or Balkan cranesbill. These individual aversions on the part of your pet can be used to protect it from poisonous plants or to keep it away from flower beds and vegetable beds.

Cats love catnip

Cats adore valerian and catnip. In fact, they find the latter so beguiling that lying down and rolling around in it is their idea of heaven. Amateur gardeners are fond of catnip too because it is undemanding and quick to bloom. Bear in mind, however, that cats love this plant as much as you do and cannot be kept away from it. Indulge your cat – but make sure you don’t plant your catnip near any poisonous or thorny plants.

Pet-friendly Gardening

The layout of your garden determines how much manuring and pest control it requires and what gardening tools you will need. If pets will also be spending time in your garden, the following tips are well worth heeding.


The most animal-friendly fertilizing method, albeit also the most laborious, is to use naturally occurring substances like horse dung. This is particularly well-suited to kitchen gardens, though many flowers also react well to it. When using standard commercial fertilizers, it is essential to follow the instructions. If they contain substances that are dangerous to humans, you should assume that these are harmful to animals too. If you have dissolved a fertilizer in water, it is vital to dispose of the water that remains. And because pets like to drink from watering cans, these should be carefully cleaned or placed somewhere out of their reach.

Pest control

Please do not spray your garden with toxic substances to combat pests like greenfly or plant diseases like mildew. Not only do these harm pets, they also harm other animals living in the garden. There are all kinds of natural ways of keeping plants pest-free. A thorough prune will often help. You can read up on such remedies in any number of specialist books or ask about them in your local organic garden center. 

Gardening tools

All electrical or petrol-powered gardening tools are dangerous for pets. They can accidentally slip out of your hand and injure an animal if it is nearby. Cats and dogs should therefore be kept in the house when you are mowing the lawn, tidying up borders with a grass trimmer, cutting hedges, tilling and sawing. Please do not leave mechanical knives, hoes, saws and other sharp gardening tools of any size lying around in the garden. Your dog is extremely likely to treat them as toys to be picked up using its mouth. To avoid injuries, you should put all your tools away in a safe place the moment you’re done using them.

Share now!