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  • By Lisa Jevens

Make your garden pet-friendly

We often think of dogs and cats as strictly carnivores, but it is common for them to chew on and eat many types of plants. While most plants and flowers are fine, some can cause mild skin irritations and even serious intestinal problems. Keep your pet safer by filling your garden with friendly plants.

Favorable plants

If you have a dog or outdoor cat, then you can landscape your yard with pampas grass or bamboo, both of which are generally nontoxic to animals and humans. Another option is to plant something a dog might actually like to eat, such as green beans, in the vegetable garden. And feel free to grow African violets inside.

If you have a cat, try planting a camellia bush, filling the flower garden with marigolds or landscaping with Japanese moss. And of course, plant some catmint if your cat is into it. Or grow some cat grass inside.

In addition, a number of herbs favored by humans can be tasty and beneficial to our canine and feline companions. The good news is that these widely available, easily grown plants are among the most popular in vegetable gardens, outdoor planters and kitchen pots.

Fresh or dried herbs that can be added in moderation to dog and cat food include basil (has antimicrobial properties), oregano (aids in digestion), rosemary (acts as an antioxidant), peppermint (eases nausea) and parsley (prevents bad breath).

Popular flowers that are safe around dogs and cats include bachelor's button, blue-eyed daisy, begonia, bottlebrush, hollyhock, nasturtium, petunia, snapdragon and sunflower.

Know what's in your yard

Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center at the ASPCA, says it's smart to find out what is in your backyard before getting a pet. Then you'll know whether you need to replace any of them with safer species.

"This is important, particularly if you get a new puppy," she says. "Maybe the old dog never chewed on any plants in the backyard. But the puppy is curious and chews on anything."

Some plants to avoid

One of the most common no-nos for cats is lilies, says Ahna Brutlag, a veterinarian and director of counseling services at Pet Poison Helpline. Lilies from the plant genus lilium, such as Easter lilies and stargazer lilies, have an unidentified poison that is so potent a cat doesn't even have to eat it to be on the road to kidney failure. However, the canna lily and leopard lily, are nontoxic to cats and dogs. So is the Easter lily cactus. Orchids are nontoxic choices for indoor flowers.

And if your dog is a digger, don't let it unearth freshly planted bulbs. The skin of tulip and crocus bulbs is toxic. Wismer warns that dogs may be attracted to bulbs or other toxic plants they might otherwise ignore because the owner has used organic fertilizers such as blood meal or bone meal on them, which attract dogs. She recommends fencing the area after application. And if your pet has a reaction of any kind, even to a plant you think is nontoxic, contact your veterinarian.

This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune "From House to Home" section and on on May 15, 2015.

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