How To Create a Pet Friendly Garden


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Belinda Stancombe

Australians love the great outdoors. Whether your home has a spacious landscaped backyard, quaint courtyard or petite balcony, we all enjoy entertaining, exercising and soaking up the sun, in our own private oasis. Our pets are no different, with many loving spending time outdoors enjoying the sights and sounds that a garden has to offer.

Creating a pet friendly garden that you and your dog or cat can enjoy, doesn't have to be difficult. Here are some tips on how to make your garden pet friendly and keep your fur baby happy and safe.


Fence Them In

A good quality fence is important when establishing a pet friendly backyard. Old rickety fences or those with gaps can allow dogs to squeeze out and escape the yard, putting themselves at risk of becoming lost or injured.

Generally for small breed dogs, a 4ft fence is recommended while for larger breed dogs, 6ft fences may be required. Solid fences are great because they allow privacy while not letting your dog to see what is on the other side of the fence. This can reduce barking and reactive behaviour when there is activity outside the property.

It is important that the fence is not able to be climbed. Some working dogs are very athletic and will easily scale a chain-link fence. For dog breeds that love to dig, fences may require concrete around the base to prevent them from digging their way out.

Cats require a cat proof fence as a regular fence will not stop them from jumping over. A cat enclosure is a safe way of providing your cat with some fresh air without the risk of them disappearing over the fence. If you want your cat to enjoy the outdoors but want to keep them safe and secure then a cat harness is recommended.

One of the downsides to letting cats outside is the risk to local wildlife. If your cat ventures into the yard, ensure that you attach a bell to their collar to warn wildlife of their presence and prevent your cat from hunting.

Dogs that frequently escape the yard, especially when the owners are not home, may be suffering from separation anxiety. This is a common and serious issue that can put dogs in danger. It is important that anxiety is addressed to prevent escaping behaviour and help your pet feel more calm when left home alone.

Create a Shady Retreat

Providing your pet with plenty of shade will give them a cool place to retreat to on a hot summers day. Try adding an elevated trampoline style bed under a shady tree. The raised sleeping platform allows air to circulate underneath to keep your pet cool and well ventilated during summer.

A kennel or covered area is important for pets that are left outside for periods of time. This will provide protection from the elements and keep your pet safe and comfortable, no matter what the weather.

If you want to provide your pet free access to the house, a pet door is a must! You can even get microchip pet doors to allow your pet access, while keeping other neighbourhood pets out. A pet door will save you having to get up when your pet needs to go outside to the toilet, and reduces the risk of indoor accidents.

To help keep itchy pests away, consider planting some natural repellent plants such as Basil, Rosemary, Catnip, Lemon Balm, Marigold or Sage, around the outdoor area that your pet likes to rest, to ensure their sleep time is as comfortable as possible.

Take Care with Chemicals

Few pesticides, herbicides or insecticides are 100% safe for pets, so it is important to be cautious when using these products in your garden. Access to chemicals can result in serious illness in our pets or in severe cases, even death.

While not using garden chemicals is the safest option, this is not always practical. Always read the label when choosing any garden chemical and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Ensure that your pet is kept away from any treatment areas during and after application and remove any toys, beds and bowls before application.

Snail and Slug Bait can contain metaldehyde, which is incredibly toxic to dogs, cats and wildlife. Even a small amount can cause poisoning, resulting in vomiting, drooling, severe tremors, seizures and even death. To ensure your pet is not put at risk, it is best to avoid using this product. Opt for natural deterrents such as crushed egg shells or sand sprinkled on your garden, or a non-toxic slug or snail product.

Organic fertilisers such as blood, bone or fish meal, are a great natural way to boost your garden. Due to their content, these products can be appealing and highly palatable to dogs and cats, and if ingested in large amounts can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea, pancreatitis or intestinal obstruction. Ensure that any chemicals or fertilisers are always safely stored away from where pets can reach them. If your pet does come into contact with any harmful chemicals, always see you vet as quickly as possible.

Turf Control

The lawn is an essential feature of many Australian homes. It provides a place for families to bond, play in the sunshine and burn energy. Who doesn't love a good game of frizbee or cricket in the backyard!

Many dogs love getting out and playing on the grass. If your dog is particularly active and loves to play and scratch up the grass, a hard-wearing turf such as Kikuya or Couch may be the way to go.

Like humans, pets can suffer from allergies to grass, more commonly in the Spring and Summer when grasses begin to seed. Common signs of grass allergies in pets include runny eyes, a rash on hairless areas such as the tummy, chest and under the arms, itchy feet, over grooming and hair loss. If you are laying turf and are looking for a low allergen variety consider Sir Walter.

Synthetic grass can be a good option for small courtyards and other areas where grass struggles to grow. Be mindful that synthetic grass can get very hot in the heat of summer and is best avoided during the middle of the day to prevent any injuries to paws.

The Potty Area

Try to establish a designated toileting area for your dog outside. This may be an area of grass that you take your dog to and encourage and reward them for using when toileting. Ensure that you pick up any faeces regularly to reduce the risk of parasites, and dispose of them using a poo bag. If your pet toilets on synthetic grass it is important to sanitise this area properly with an enzyme-based cleaner such as Petsafe Cleaner to remove any bacteria and minimise residual odours.

Dead grass patches caused by dog urine, can be a frustrating issue for pet parents. Urine burn occurs because of the high nitrogen content in dogs urine. Products such as Dog Rocks and feeding a premium diet not too high in protein, can reduce nitrogen in your dog's urine.

If your cat ventures outside, then an outdoor litter box could be very useful. This minimises the likelihood of your cat toileting in the garden or in other unwanted locations, including the neighbour's yard!! Try setting up a private litter area, with raised sides and a cover to protect it from the elements. Regular litter will not work outside so you may want to consider using material such as sand or loose soil. This material can be replaced at regular intervals, to keep it clean and fresh smelling. You might also consider adding an outdoor cat bed to give them another dedicated space to sprawl out.

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Pet Safe Plants

Plants are a great way to complement any home. Unfortunately, not all plants are safe for pets. When choosing new plants it is best to select non-toxic plants or those that don't pose any risk to your pet. Avoid trees such as macadamia or stone fruit trees that may cause obstructions or toxicity if the fruit or seed is ingested. If you have a young dog, it is best to avoid spiky plants as natural puppy curiosity, may result in injuries.

To prevent dogs and cats from accessing garden beds or vegetable gardens try raising them above the ground and surrounding them with a fence. Be sure to secure any loose wires or pickets to avoid potential injuries.

Try creating natural pathways using pavers, stone or rocks when planting your garden to encourage your pet to use these when moving around the yard. This will minimise damage to garden beds. Some dogs like to naturally patrol their perimeter so providing them access to do this and avoiding planting any delicate plants along the fence line can reduce the chance of them getting trampled.

When planting a new garden, the addition of mulch or rocks to garden beds can help deter dogs from digging or cats from toileting in the area. Bare soil can be an invitation for some dogs to dig and investigate any new additions, which may result in them uprooting your favourite plant!

Many pets enjoy eating grass and it is not necessarily a sign that anything is wrong. Consider planting some cat grass (not just for cats!) or cat nip for your pets to enjoy, inside and out!!

Pet friendly plants

  • Camelias
  • Native bottle brush
  • Jasmine or Star jasmine
  • Bromeliads
  • Calathea
  • Crepe Myrtle
  • Hibiscus
  • Spider Plant
  • Golden Palm

Toxic Plants

  • Lilies
  • Japanese Sago Palm (Cycad)
  • Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
  • Oleander
  • Azalea
  • Philodendron
  • Fiddle Leaf Fig
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Daffodils

Make the Backyard Fun!!

Giving your pet plenty to do in the backyard, can help to keep them mentally and physically stimulated while preventing destructive behaviour that often occurs due to boredom. Consider setting up a pool, sprinkler or water fountain in the backyard to help keep them cool on hot summer days. They may even enjoy some water play toys.

If your dog is active and energetic then an automatic ball thrower or Aussie Dog Toy hanging from the tree will help keep them amused. There are a wide range of interactive toys and long lasting treats suitable to use in the backyard, that can help keep your dog amused for hours! You may even want provide your dog or cat with a treasure hunt of kibble or treats hidden around your backyard for them to sniff out and find!

When outside, cats generally love exploring in the garden and watching everything that is going on. Ensure that you provide your cat with plenty of elevated places where they can observe, rest and enjoy the sights and sounds.

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Further Reading

Your Guide to Pet Supplements

Real Cost of Supermarket Food

How to Calm an Anxious Pet

First Aid Tips

Toxic Plants

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