The Dangers of Digging in the Garden

Many companion dog parents dread the times when their dog fancies himself a groundhog. Beyond the headache of holes making the gardens that we lovingly tend to ugly and even dangerous, are there any health dangers to dogs? Yes; there are.

Ornamental Bulb Toxicity

You might be thinking to yourself that your dog ate a tulip flower and is fine. But, foliage like the flower of an ornamental bulb is less toxic than the bulb itself.

Ornamental bulbs have concentrated amounts of toxic chemicals like alkaloids that can produce symptoms ranging from mild gastrointestinal (GI) upset to more serious adverse effects such as cardiac arrhythmias, seizures and death. The bulbs can cause greater damage than the foliage.

The reason the range of symptoms is so large is because the toxic chemicals in the bulbs vary in concentration and in amount between each bulbous flower species.

For instance, crocus that blooms in the spring/summer may cause mild to moderate GI discomfort and upset. However, ingestion of bulbs from the autumn crocus that blooms in the fall, can lead to a progression of symptoms from possible bloody diarrhea, followed by abdominal pain, vomiting, depression, and drooling. The companion dog may become weak, have impaired coordination and may collapse 24 to 72 hours after exposure.

Lily of the Valley

Ingestion of lily of the valley – which grows from a rhizome – can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, heart blockage, seizures, coma and possibly death.


Recently, we chronicled the dangers associated with glyphosate, the chemical found in the herbicide RoundUp™ and under many other trade names. While you may have stopped using glyphosate-based products, those are not the only weed killers that pose a danger to dogs. Other known toxic products sold under many trade names include dicamba and the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

Herbicide-treated lawns have been associated with significantly higher bladder cancer risk in dogs.

A 2013 study out of Purdue University measured the herbicide chemicals 2,4-D, MCPP, and dithiopyr concentrations in the urine of dogs.

2,4-D + MCPP are often combined and sold in popular brands. This chemical combination targets dandelions, clover, and a wide range of annuals and perennial broadleaf weeds.

Dithiopyr controls certain annual broadleaf weeds and crabgrass.

These chemicals were detected in the urine of dogs in 14 out of 25 households before lawn treatment, in 19 of 25 households after lawn treatment, and in 4 of 8 untreated households. It is believed that drift from other chemically treated areas contaminated the untreated households and/or that walking around the neighborhood contributed to the exposure to the chemicals.

Synthetic Fertilizers

Fertilizer can be either organic or synthetic. Most fertilizers are composed of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

According to toxicologist, Dr. Charlotte Means of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, once liquid fertilizer is dried, it is no longer bioavailable to harm companion pets. It is advised that you simply keep your pet inside or away from plants until they are dry.

Agricultural fertilizers may include additional minerals that can cause adverse reactions:

  • Calcium carbonate – which is found in agricultural or garden lime and dolomitic lime – can produce GI upset.
  • Calcium chloride may cause significant vomiting and diarrhea that requires treatment.
  • Calcium cyanamide can cause skin irritation and ulceration.
  • Calcium oxide (quick lime) and calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime) are corrosive.
  • Anhydrous ammonia is generally only used in agricultural settings and is typically not available for everyday home garden or lawn use. However, pets on farms may be exposed and contact can result in: severe burns to the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes; acute lung injury with pulmonary edema; breathing difficulties; and, low blood oxygen levels.

Open packages of fertilizer could become contaminated with tremorgenic mycotoxins. Tremorgenic mycotoxins are produced by fungi that can cause neurotoxicosis in dogs. even if the fertilizer does not look moldy. This mold can cause muscle tremors, seizures, vomiting, hyperthermia, diarrhea, impaired coordination, and involuntary eye movements. Death is possible in severe untreated cases.

Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers – like blood meal and bone meal – are available. Blood meal is high in nitrogen and is usually dried, ground or flash frozen. Bone meal is high in phosphorus; it comes in a powder after the animal bones have been defatted, dried and ground down.

With these and fish meal, extremely large ingestions can result in pancreatitis, but death is rare.

Bone meal can cause a potential obstruction in the GI tract since it takes awhile to digest and may even require surgery to remove the impaction.


Disulfoton is an organophosphate insecticide used as a systemic rose insecticide.

Disulfoton can be premixed with rose fertilizers, or gardeners may mix it with bone meal and spread it in the soil surrounding the roses. It does not take much disulfoton to kill a dog: only one teaspoon of 1% disulfoton can kill a 55 pound pet.

Other organophosphates can result in severe symptoms including the so-called “SLUD” signs: salivation, lacrimation (teary eyes), urination, and defecation. Additional symptoms are seizures, difficulty breathing, hyperthermia and potentially death.


Instead of personally deciding whether or not your dog consumed a bulb or flower that may or may not produce severe symptoms, we suggest contacting your veterinarian, local emergency clinic veterinarian, or the ASPCA Poison Control helpline at 888-426-4435 for guidance.

Additionally, we suggest putting up fencing or gates that keep your companion dog safely away from the these beautiful plants. It would be good to note what bulbs are planted and where to let the vet know what your dog may have consumed.

When it comes to all bags of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides – or the combination of two or three of these lawn and garden treatments – please know what the bag contains before purchasing. Overall, it is best not to let your companion dog near any of the bags – including bone and blood meal.

If you choose to treat your lawn with products, make sure it is dry before letting your companion dog walk on it and wipe off his paws after every trip outside.


Bone Meal & Blood Meal Is Toxic To Dogs. Pet Poison Helpline,

Dodds, W. Jean. “How Do Nitrates and Nitrites Affect Dogs?” Pet Health Resources Blog, Hemopet, 20 Oct. 2019,

Knapp, Deborah W., et al. “Detection of Herbicides in the Urine of Pet Dogs Following Home Lawn Chemical Application.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 456-457, 1 July 2013, pp. 34–41, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.03.019,

Means, Charlotte. “Treating Fertilizer Ingestions? As Easy As N-P-K.” Today’s Veterinary Practice, 22 Oct. 2019,

Murphy, Tim. “Weed Control in Home Lawns.” University of Georgia Extension, University of Georgia, 1 Jan. 2007,

Smith, P. Allen. Bone Meal vs Blood Meal. What’s the Difference? P. Allen Smith, 29 June 2016,

Toxicology Brief: Bulb Toxicosis. VetFolio, 8 Mar. 2019,

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