Pet Safe Gardening Prep

Fertilizers, Insecticides and Herbicides

The very treatments we use to protect and feed our plants can have the opposite effect on our four-legged friends. Why? Because our dogs and cats use their mouths and tongues to groom themselves, and what you spread on your lawn or around your flowerbeds can inevitably end up on wandering paws. It’s important to carefully consider how to be a successful gardener while at the same time protecting your pets.

Basic Considerations

  • What areas will your pets be able to access? If your dog or cat stays strictly indoors, decisions about fertilizers, insecticides and weed killers may be a lot easier.
  • No chemical treatments are safe. It’s really that simple. If you’re using a weed killer that includes an herbicide such as 2,4 - dichlorophenoxy-acetic acid (also known as 2,4-D), you’re using a solution that’s known to cause health problems in children and animals when ingested. You’ll want to take special care when using chemical treatments when pets are around.  Always be sure to read the label to ensure safe usage.
  • So-called organic or “natural” remedies are available, but they may take  more effort to get the effect you want.
  • Companies are marketing brand name pesticides and fertilizers that are “pet-friendly.” One company, for example, uses technology to create micro-pellets of fertilizer that instantly seep into the soil when watered. Another sells a brand of pesticide that uses natural materials such as rosemary oil, peppermint oil, thyme oil and clove oil to repel insects.
  • Many types of mulch are considered toxic to pets, if not a choking hazard. Cocoa mulch, for example, includes the same chemicals as chocolate, which most pet owners know is dangerous to pets.

Alternative Treatments

Here are some examples of alternative garden treatments that are typically considered pet safe.
  • Homemade weed treatments. Pouring boiling water on weeds is one straightforward solution. Some experts recommend using a heavy solution of salt and water, or just pure sugar, as a way to rid the soil of all plants, including weeds. Some experts recommend sprinkling the soil with cornmeal, which prevents seeds from sprouting without harming mature plants.
  • Bugs that hate other bugs. Some bugs won’t hurt your garden but will attack harmful bugs. Aphid midge larvae feed on most aphid species. Ladybugs feed on aphids, insect eggs and small, soft-bodied insects.
  • Plants that hate bugs. Some plant species repel harmful insects. Larkspur, tansy, rue and geranium repel the Japanese beetle, for example. Prostrate rosemary and wormwood ward off slugs. And mint, sage, rosemary and hyssop repel the imported cabbageworm.
  • Oil and soap. A commonly recommended organic pesticide is canola oil and dish soap. Mix a cup of oil and a tablespoon of soap, then dilute a teaspoon of the mixture into a cup of water and spray liberally on your plants.
  • Organic fertilizers. Some experts recommend seaweed, grass clippings and fish emulsion as alternatives to toxic chemical treatments.
  • Diatomaceous earth. Known as “DE,” this is a fossilized aquatic plant that’s become a sedimentary rock, then pulverized. The powder is toxic to bugs such as fleas, ticks and roaches but is considered safe around kids and pets.
Whatever decision you make about fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers, remember to read the instructions carefully. Note carefully any instructions that warn you to keep pets off treated lawns for a certain amount of time. Keep any materials sealed in their original containers, well out of the reach of your pets. And, of course, it never hurts to keep phone numbers handy for your veterinarian and the pet poison help line.

Explore our Resources below for more dog and cat safety tips.



  • Heed instructions on packaged lawn treatments; store them away from your pets’ reach. 
  • Consider treatments for insects and weeds that won’t harm pets. 
  • Shop for preparations that provide “pet friendly” yard treatments.