How to go pet friendly

It’s easy to create a safe haven for all your four-legged friends. Here’s how to craft an outdoor space that works for the whole household

Keep your pets safe and happy

Growing a garden that appeals to everyone in the family means you’ll need to take the household menagerie into consideration, too. With some research and a bit of careful planning, you can make an outdoor zone that will keep your pets safe and happy, and be a sensory pleasure for the two-legged members of the family as well.

Look at the basics

A pet-friendly garden requires shelter, shade, security, plenty of water, an exercise area for your pet and secure fencing with no potential escape routes. “Position your pet’s shelter somewhere dry, in half shade, half sun, off the ground and sheltered from direct sun, wind and rain,” says veterinarian Dr Leigh Davidson. Large shrubs, trees or garden umbrellas can also provide shelter, while a shallow paddling pool can help to cool your dog in hot weather. 

To keep your cat safe – not to mention the local wildlife – consider building a cat enclosure or installing cat-proof fencing. Include places for your prowling feline to hide, such as large pots, and places for climbing and perching on up high, where they can survey her territory and bask in the sun. 

Play is also important. Cats can be entertained with hanging toys and scratching posts made of recycled tree limbs. Plant areas where your cat can snoop, prowl and shelter from the summer sun. Angie Thomas, horticulture consultant to Yates, suggests building an outdoor playpen for smaller pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. “But never leave them unsupervised,” she adds. “Sit next to them with a cup of tea, as they can be a target for potential predators, such as cats, foxes and dogs.” 


Danger zone

Veterinarian Leigh is no stranger to calls from pet owners worried their pet has been poisoned by a plant or chemical in the garden. “With pets increasingly becoming a part of the family, it’s important to know how to make our gardens safe for our companion animals,” she says.

“Garden pebbles can spell disaster for dogs that like to play with them,” says Leigh. “They could break a tooth or swallow them whole and get a blockage that may require surgery. Compost and grass clippings can grow poisonous mycotoxins. Fertilisers, rat and snail bait and sprays can also all cause serious pet poisoning.” If you use snail or slug pellets, place them in traps that are not accessible by pets or children, and consider natural remedies, such as natural insecticide or copper tape. “Grow a variety of flowering plants in the garden to attract beneficial insects, which can help reduce pests,” suggests Angie.

Watch your water features. If you have a pond, place wire mesh over the top to prevent small pets falling in, or install a ramp as an escape route. Also watch for exposed electrical cords, which dogs might be tempted to chew on.


Pet peeves

Man’s best friend is not always the most helpful garden companion, but a little careful planning can minimise the damage. Does your dog wear a trail as he runs the perimeter, or frequently crush the flowers on a narrow garden path? Simple steps, like keeping pots out of the play zone and planting weeping trees (with flexible branches that can be pushed out of the way without breaking) will help. 

A digging dog is the bane of many gardeners. “The best way to minimise digging damage to the yard is to train your pet to have good garden behaviour,” says Leigh Davidson. “Avoid punishment and focus on redirecting the behaviour when you see it, such as getting your dog to sit, high five, roll over or play fetch to distract from the action of digging.” You also need to understand why your dog is creating a mess – is he digging because he is bored, lonely or anxious? To discourage digging, use hidden treats and toys to direct your dog to a sandpit, or hide food around the garden for pets to find. “Sniffing is great exercise and entertainment for dogs,” says Leigh. “When leaving dogs for the day, keep them entertained by measuring out a portion of their daily food allowance and sprinkle this around the garden.” 

Dog wee can also cause damage to your lawn, as urine is rich in nitrogen, which burns the grass; try putting Dog Rocks in your dog’s drinking water, which filters the water and removes the nitrates in it. “Training your dog to wee in a certain area of the yard is a great option,” says Angie. Try placing pheromone-treated ‘pee posts’ in your garden to encourage weeing in the exact spot you want them to. 

To keep your hungry bunny or guinea pig out of your vegie or flower bed, look at using pots, hanging baskets or raised beds made of planks of chemical-free, untreated pine or scrap wood. To section off the garden that needs protecting, you can also try using railway sleepers, rocks, fencing, a row of plants or a roll of wire as edgings. Digging (and chewing) is a normal and instinctive behaviour for rabbits, so it’s best to monitor their play sessions outdoors, allow a designated outdoor area for them to dig, or consider laying down some grass mats to curb the urge.


Consider replacing a dug-up lawn with pet-friendly synthetic turf. Available in various pile depths and shades, it’s realistic, low-maintenance, won’t stain, smell or become muddy – and feels good under feet and paws! 


Must-avoid plants

“What may be safe or toxic to your dog may have the opposite reaction in your cat,” says Leigh. Most hazardous plants will be labelled as such, but ask an expert at the nursery if you’re unsure. Most plants will only cause a mild reaction, but the most dangerous include:

Lily (including peace lily)
Brunfelsia (Yesterday Today Tomorrow shrub)
Lily of the Valley
Spring flowering bulbs (daffodils and hyacinths)
Sago palm
Plants with seeds (avocado, macadamia, white cedar, cape lilac tree)

There may be other plants that pet owners are concerned about. To be sure, ensure you read the plant label on the plants in store at Bunnings. All plants known to be hazardous will have a warning on them.


Get pet friendly

Learn how to build this custom dog bed with a sliding feeding station and check out your local Bunnings for products to help you get pet friendly.

Photo credit: Gap Photos (Clive Nichols, Friedrich Strauss), iStock,, TI Media, all Alamy, Getty Images

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