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My Pet World: How to keep pets away from plants in the garden

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

I have a six-year-old Cockapoo who has started to eat my Hosta plants. He rips the leaves off the plant and chews them. Sometimes, he spits them up later. I have tried to spray the plants with a store bought “yuck” spray and tried vinegar as well. He just keeps going to them. He actually looks to go outside more in the day than usual once they bloom and runs right to them. Is this bad for him? Is he getting something from the plant that he is lacking in his diet? He currently eats dry dog food and drinks plenty of water. Not only is he making a mess, I am concerned for his health. Please let me know what I can do to keep him away from these plants, if it is bad for him and any other suggestions you may have in regard to this matter.

—Christa, Hauppauge, New York

Dear Christa,

According to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center website, Hosta plants are toxic to dogs, cats and horses. Because your dog is alive, I assume there is a correlation between the size of the dog and the amount of plant ingested. Thankfully, you’re stopping the behavior when you see it. Signs of toxicity though, include vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. So, if you see these symptoms after ingestion, call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or your veterinarian.

You can use barriers, deterrents, and training to keep your dog away from your outdoor plants. If possible, design your garden so your dog can’t get near this plant. There are fencing materials and other barriers available that can keep animals away from plants. If it’s not possible to do this, then consider adding plant barriers. For example, dogs and cats don’t like the smell of citrus, so plant lemongrass around the Hosta. Or, plant prickly plants like aloe, roses or holly, to make the area less inviting. You also can put orange and lemon peels around the plant to see if it discourages your dog from approaching.

You mentioned you used a store-bought spray deterrent, but it didn’t work. Bitter Apple is a good one to try. Or you can make your own deterrent with diluted lemon juice to spray on the plants. This method, however, requires frequent reapplications.

You also should train your dog to leave the plants alone. Whenever he goes over to the plant, shake a can of coins, or use a Pet Corrector (a can of pressured air that makes a Shh! sound) to get your dog’s attention. Then tell him to leave it and call him to you. When he comes to you, give him a treat. Eventually, you will only need to say “leave it” to get him to stop, and then at some point, he will know to just leave it alone. Having said that though, you can’t leave him in the yard unattended no matter how well trained he is because dogs don’t always do the right thing when left alone.

Finally, you can remove the plant entirely from the yard or move it to a side yard or front yard where he can’t get to it.


As for diet, it’s hard to know if he is missing something. Check with your veterinarian to make sure he is eating a high-quality dog food with proper fiber for his needs.

Dear Cathy,

Oliver is a Havanese that recently has come to stay with me while one of his owner’s is in hospice. He is a dog who is prone to separation anxiety and depends on a bite of grass when his tummy is upset. There is absolutely no grass anywhere near my condo since this is Arizona desert. I decided to make grass for Ollie. I bought some sod, a plastic under the bed bin, and soil. I drilled holes in the bottom of the bin and turned the lid upside down to use as a planter saucer. I filled the bin with dirt and cut the sod to fit. Oliver loved it immediately and ate a few bites to show his appreciation. My friend thought I should share this with you.

—Miss Autrey, Tucson, Arizona

Dear Miss Autrey,

This idea works for cats (use cat grass seed, not sod) and rabbits who like to munch on grass as well. Some people also use sod for indoor potty training purposes. Kudos to your ingenuity and thank you for sharing.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)




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