Keeping Pets Safe Around Plants

Many plants represent a threat to Fido and Fluffy. Protect them with these tips from our gardening expert.

Gardens are wonderful places for pets. They provide entertainment, room to exercise and cool shade in the afternoon. However, many of the most common and seemingly innocuous garden plants are also poisonous to your furry friends.

The apples and oranges we humans enjoy, almost all flowering bulbs and some of the most popular houseplants all share one thing in common: They are dangerously toxic to cats and dogs.

toxic combo
Irises, bottlebrush and daylilies all pose a threat to pets.

Plants ranked ninth on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA’s) list of top pet toxins in 2017. Roughly 5 percent of calls made to the organization’s Animal Poison Control Center involved landscaping plants, houseplants and bouquets.

Before we even cover the poisonous plants, let’s focus on the biggest dangers. Insecticides ranked seventh on the ASPCA list, and lawn and garden products came in 10th. Keep all chemicals out of reach, and if you’re getting your lawn sprayed, allow at least a day before letting your pet on the grass.

Problem plants for pets

Many plants are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to pets, but luckily there are many more that are completely safe. Here are some toxic plants to avoid, followed by safe alternatives. This list is just an introduction and is by no means exhaustive, so refer to the ASPCA website to search for the plant in question.

Plant type Toxic Nontoxic
Bulbs Caladium, calla lily, tulip, daffodil, iris, narcissus, crinum, amaryllis,  dahlia, lily of  the valley, crocus Canna, muscari, Scarborough lily, ginger
 Annuals and
Arum, elephant ear, begonia, sweet pea, coleus, bird of paradise, cyclamen,  hellebore, hosta, lantana, chrysanthemum, morning glory, asparagus fern, geranium. Lilies and daylilies are toxic to cats but nontoxic to dogs. Aster, fern, marigold, gerber daisy, snapdragon, hollyhock, ornamental grasses, nasturtium, nerve plant, petunia, sunflower
and shrubs
Holly, rhododendron, azalea, oleander, sago palm, citrus (lemons, oranges, etc.), apple, apricot, peach, cherry, yucca, black walnut, yew, gardenia, nandina, wisteria Crepe myrtle, bottlebrush, aralia, hawthorn, pittosporum, mulberry, magnolia, mahonia, rose, hickory, bamboo, banana
 Vegetables Tomato, garlic, leek, onion, shallot, grape Cucumber, squash, melon, okra, zucchini
 Houseplants Dieffenbachia, Swiss cheese plant, Chinese evergreen, dracaena, pothos, ficus, anthurium, aloe, desert rose, kalanchoe, snake plant, euphorbia, asparagus fern, schefflera Calathea, areca palm, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, spider plant, episcia, false aralia, orchid, bromeliad, peperomia, echeveria, haworthia, sempervivum, gynura, plectranthus

If you’re unsure of the toxicity of a certain plant in your garden, refer to the ASPCA website to find out.

Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.
Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.

Safety steps

While you needn’t tear apart your garden to keep poisonous plants off your dog’s menu, you should definitely educate yourself so you can make your own informed decisions.

Remove risky plants, transplant them to pet-free areas of the garden or, if the plant is too big (or special) to easily remove, make it inaccessible to your pet with fencing.

Just remember that even fallen leaves or seedpods are also often poisonous, so acquaint yourself with the symptoms your pet might experience following ingestion so you know what to tell the vet.

You might not need to go out and remove a foundation planting of azaleas tomorrow, but it isn’t that big of a deal to replace your toxic aloe plant with a nontoxic (and more attractive) haworthia.

If your pet shows any worrying symptoms, don’t waste time looking at lists like these. Call your vet or visit the ASPCA poison control hotline website immediately.

Top photo from Offset.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.


Originally published June 25, 2015.


4 Ways to Ensure Your Pet Is a Good Rental Resident

Yapping, chewing, howling, scratching … not in this home!

Nobody likes living next to a yappy dog — or even a howling cat. And while a growing number of rental properties specialize in pet-friendly apartments and homes, it’s understandable why both property owners and their leasing agents are skeptical about pets.

Here are some quick tips to help your pet be a neighborly renter.

1. Get them certified

To really show your future landlord that your dog is a good resident, consider getting a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate. Offered by the American Kennel Association (AKC), this certification proves that a dog has received basic training and is well socialized around both people and other dogs — thus, less likely to cause disturbances.

If your dog is currently working with a trainer, ask about this certification, as many trainers are also CGC certified. The AKC provides details about groups in various states that also offer this certification.

Additionally, get a letter of recommendation from a previous landlord about your pet’s behavior. It can put you in a strong position to look at a wider variety of pet-friendly properties.

2. Keep them busy

Take your dog for a long walk or run before you go to work to leave them tired and happy — and content to snooze instead of scratching the front door or annoying the neighbors by howling nonstop.

Separation anxiety and stress often lead to bad behavior in your absence. Give your pets distraction toys to keep them busy, or leave on a TV or radio for a sense of companionship.

Consider employing a dog walker to come once a day, or send your pup to day care. Even if it’s only one day a week, it’s one day less of them being stressed because they’re home alone.

A variety of calming products — such as plug-in pheromone diffusers and anxiety wraps like the ThunderShirt — may help reduce your pet’s anxiety levels and prevent nonstop barking throughout the day.

3. Mind the felines

If you have a cat, get a large litter box and scoop it daily. Cats will go outside the litter box and pee on carpets if their box is dirty.

Similarly, keep a variety of scratchers around the home. Cats usually like to scratch soon after they wake up from a nap, so place scratching posts close to a favorite sleeping spot. This will deter them from permanently damaging your woodwork and carpets.

4. Prevent pests

Summer is the height of flea and tick season. Make sure your pet has the necessary protection so they don’t bring fleas indoors to infest your home.

Interestingly, fleas only spend 20 percent of their life span on a pet. They spend the rest of their time in your carpeting and furnishings — and they can be difficult to eradicate quickly. Plus, landlords will charge for this kind of pest control.

Like with so many other things in life, prevention is key.

Looking for more information about renting? Check out our Renters Guide


Originally published July 13, 2016.


Cleaning Tools You’ll Need for Your Apartment

Whether you’re in your first apartment or someone else used to buy the stuff to keep your place clean, there’s a number of cleaning tools you’ll need for cleaning your apartment.

Here’s a shopping list of must-haves and tips on how to clean an apartment.

Basic cleaning tools everyone should have

First, let’s tackle the items you’ll need in your closet or under the sink, the “tools” required to clean an apartment. Most of these items are reusable so it may be worthwhile to spend a little more for higher quality products.

  • Scrubby sponges (choose one color for surfaces and another for dishes, don’t mix them up)
  • Dish Scrubber with built-in soap holder (an alternative to the scrubby sponge for dishes)
  • Mop (the self-wringing kind or a Swiffer-type is easy to use, the choice will depend on your flooring)
  • Bucket or small plastic tub (for mopping)
  • Rubber gloves (trust us, you’ll want to wear them for certain tasks)
  • Broom (choose the angled kind)
  • Dustpan (some dustpans come with a small attached hand broom, which is a nice bonus)
  • Dust rag (you could cut up an old T-shirt for this)
  • Large scrub brush (you’ll need this for tubs and floors)
  • Small scrub brush (you’ll need this for corners and around faucets)
  • Toilet brush (some come with a decorative holder which hides the brush, a nice buy)
  • Plunger (one of these might come with your apartment, so store it near the toilet for emergency situations)
  • Trash cans (it’s extra nice to have a foot pedal one in the kitchen)
  • Vacuum cleaner (warning: used vacuums can contain fleas)
  • Optional item: blind/fan cleaner

Cleaning products you’ll need to buy and replace

You’ll find a wide variety of cleaning products at any grocery store, dollar store or drug store. And most of them last a really long time.

Also, note that you can substitute the brands below with other products, including those that might be more environmentally-friendly. (Use the brand name to find the right section of the cleaning aisle!)

  • Paper towels
  • Garbage bags
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dryer sheets
  • Spot removal (for laundry)
  • Dishwashing soap (for hand-washing dishes, choose a kind that’s easy on the skin)
  • Dishwasher soap (for the machine)
  • Soft-Scrub (this product has a little grit in it, and cleans stubborn stains from sinks and other surfaces)
  • Endust (for dusting wooden furniture and décor)
  • Tilex mildew root penetrator (for dirty grout in the kitchen and bathroom, or any tiled room)
  • Pine-Sol (which you add to water) or Swiffer products (mop product depends on your flooring)
  • Bleach (you’ll need to use this with caution, but when added to warm water, can erase stains)
  • Glass cleaner (like Windex) for mirrors and windows
  • Febreze or air freshener (it’s nice to keep this in your bathrooms)
  • Stainless polish (for stainless appliances and trash cans)
  • Stove-top cleaner (if you have a glass-top stove)
  • Oven cleaner
  • Hand cleanser (dish-washing soap can be harsh on the skin; some are designed for double-duty)
  • Lint removal roller (if you have pets, use this to pick up fur from fabric-covered furniture, linens)
  • Optional item: Shelf liner
  • Optional item: Poison Ivy Soap by Burt’s Bees is good to have on hand if you love nature

Natural cleaning products

Many cleaning supplies contain dangerous chemicals that can irritate the eyes or throat, or cause headaches and other health problems. According to the American Lung Association, some products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can produce dangerous pollutants indoors and be especially harmful to your health.

You can purchase all-natural soaps and cleaning products or make your own citrus vinegar cleaning spray or other non-toxic products. For some other ideas, here are green tips for a naturally clean kitchen.


How often to clean your apartment

How often should you tackle the various tasks to keep your home clean and healthy? The following are some general recommendations. But, for roommate harmony, it would be a good idea to look at these suggestions together, tweak them for your own reality, and make sure your hopes or expectations are in line with each other. Dividing up chores with your roommates is a critical part of learning to live well with others.


Clean your toilet (don’t forget to lift the seat) twice a week or more often, if needed. Clean your tub and shower walls, sink areas and the floor weekly.


Clean surfaces after each meal prep. Sweep the floor daily. Clean sink at least once a week. Mop floors weekly. Deep-clean refrigerator surfaces twice a year, or immediately after a spill. Clean stainless surfaces, as needed.


How often you should clean your oven depends on how often you use it. For avid cooks and bakers, you should scrub it once every three months. If you rarely use it, cleaning it about once or twice a year should suffice. If you use a microwave oven regularly, you should clean it at least once a week.


Dust twice a month, or more often, if you have dust allergies.


Vacuum any carpeting weekly or more often if you have pets. Mop floors at least twice a month. Having an entrance rug to scrape shoes on will cut down on the dirt.


Use a lint roller often if you have pets on the furniture, otherwise, as needed.


Wash windows as needed or every month or two. Use a glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth to wipe away dust or grime on the window panes. Vinyl or metal blinds collect dust and should be dusted with a damp cloth. Curtains should be vacuumed at least once a month.

Make cleaning a priority

To stay organized, keep a list of needed cleaning supplies on your refrigerator or an app on your cell phone. Clean a little each day to keep from being overwhelmed. Relax, make a game of it, turn on some music and have fun!




How to Spring Clean Your Pet Toys

From pet beds to pet toys to leashes, collars and more, there’s no reason to leave Spot’s stuff off the spring cleaning list when the time comes to freshen up your apartment!

Pet Toys

Just think about the kind of use your pets’ toys get. The mouth. The feet. Sometimes the ground outside. And all of it on your floor (you may want to wash that, too, since we’re talking spring cleaning!). Toys come in varying shapes, sizes and most importantly – materials. Some are easier to care for than others.

Hard rubber or plastic toys are simple: just load them into the dishwasher, but forgo the usual detergent (just in case) and opt for pet-safe vinegar instead.

Soft toys can be bundled together for a trip through the washing machine. Check labels, if any, to make sure they are washer-safe. Those with more sensitive parts can be bundled into a pillowcase or purpose-built string bag for a gentler journey through the cycle. Mild detergent and a little baking soda will do the trick and, if you can time it right, a little more white vinegar during the rinse cycle is beneficial, as well.

Toys with squeakers can lose a bit of their noise when wet, but most can be restored to normal with a bit of “squeak-wringing.” (You may want to do this out of earshot of your dog!) Dry them on the low or no-heat setting or – if time permits – allow them to air dry.

clean cat toysclean cat toys

The bed

Sure, you might be like many dog owners and allow your pup to sack out on your bed or sofa, but hopefully these areas are already handled! Cleaning the dog’s bed, however, can be tedious. And the larger the bed, the more challenging the job.

Does yours have a removable cover? If so, great! That makes the job easier. First, use a sticky lint roller to get as much pet hair off the cover as possible. This is easier if you leave it on the bed. Follow the directions on any inside labels and if none exists, simply wash the cover in hot water with mild detergent (be mindful in the event your pet has allergies!) and some baking soda to deodorize.

If the bed’s cover isn’t removable, and you can’t wash and dry it via your machines, you may be able to hand wash it in your bathtub, wringing it thoroughly before air drying. If your apartment has a balcony or patio – you can make great use of it here!

Related Content:

Pet Fees: What to Expect

Dog-Friendly Apartments: What You Need To Know

Catify Your Crib: Turning Your Apartment into a Cat Wonderland




10 Critical Questions to Ask as a First-Time Renter

Avoid huge mistakes and bad surprises before leasing your very first apartment.  Ask the property manager these critical renters’ questions.  The feedback you get will help you decide if a community is a good fit for you, and the answers will also affect your quality of life, should you sign a lease and move in.

Hot Tip: Forward this list to yourself before you go to your apartment viewing so you can refer to it while you’re there!

  • Are there roommate restrictions?
  • How many people can live with you?  How long could your out-of-work cousin hang out if he’s not on the lease?  Does the number of residents have any relation to the number of bedrooms?  Even if you’re planning on living alone, you might discover that neighboring apartments are being overloaded without oversight.

  • What amenities and utilities are included in the rent?
  • Ask if your cable, internet, water, electric, gas or trash service is included. If internet speed and quality is important to you, don’t sign a lease without speaking to other residents about their experience.  Find out which cable provider offers service there. Check the bars on your phone before you sign a lease; are you in a solid service area?  If you work nights and like to work out at midnight, ask about the gym’s hours. It’s also a great idea to visit the gym and see if the equipment measures up to your standards and if a key or code is required for entry: preferable and safer.

  • What happens at lease renewal time?
  • Can I go month-to-month if I need to? You never know what your circumstances will be a year from now, so it’s definitely preferable if you can extend your lease by less than 12 months.  It may be a couple of months before your next great place is available for move-in, and believe us, you don’t want a gap in between the two! Be sure to read the fine print about your obligations if circumstances dictate an early departure too: that can be pricey.  (Subletting is one answer, but isn’t allowed in some communities).

  • What’s the noise level like?
  • Do the upper-floor apartments have carpet or flooring?  Will I hear a lot of noise living below an occupied unit when its residents are home? If you’re noise-sensitive, you probably won’t like living below hard-surface flooring.  Residents walking across upstairs rooms can be incredibly noisy, day and night, if they’re wearing shoes.

  • What are the security measures at this complex?
  • Are there nightly patrols, coded gates, security cameras or neighborhood crimewatch groups? You need to know what community infrastructure is in place to dissuade or solve a crime. How far away is the fire department?  Be really smart by finding out what crimes have happened at this apartment complex, or nearby, in the past year or two. This is a question for local law enforcement officials, or to research on your own, using a county or city website.  Make sure you’re leaning toward a safe location… or choose a different community based on the numbers or types of crimes which turn up in your research.

  • What are the pet policies and amenities?
  • Will you be able to keep your puppy when he hits 40 pounds?   What’s required if your cat likes to go for a walk?  Is there a rule against talking parrots?  Can your dog get in the pool?  (Don’t bet on this one!)  What about a dedicated dog park, or a place to wash your dog?  Can your pets be kept on your patio or balcony?

  • What are the parking options?
  • It’s important to know how far you’ll be walking from your car to your door.  A garage may also be an option. Be aware that you might hear garage doors going up and down if you move in above them. Ask where your friends will park, too, and how they’ll get into the complex.  And while you’re on the subject of cars, go ahead and inquire if there’s a place for washing vehicles.  More and more apartment complexes are offering dedicated spaces or facilities for this task.

  • What insurance does the property carry, and what will I need to carry?
  • Your complex should be adequately insured for fire, tornadoes, flood or other natural disasters. You can ask for a copy. Even if they don’t show or give it to you, their response will be telling. Note that the apartment complex will very likely insist that tenants carry renters’ insurance, which will add to your monthly cost.  You might also inquire about grills if you’re hoping to have one on your balcony or patio; some apartment complex policies don’t allow this.

  • How close is the nearest public transportation?
  • Even if you love love love to drive, you  (or one of your roommates or visitors) may want to use public transportation.  Ask where it is, then go see if you’d feel good about making the trek on foot or bicycle.

  • What types of problems can management help to resolve?
  • Ask if the apartment manager will intervene with noisy neighbors, dog problems, unsightly or abandoned cars, or dead landscaping.  Inquire how to address appliance repairs, or window and door repairs, and find out what the procedure is for reporting a problem.  Get the phone numbers you’ll need if you sign a lease.

    Did we cover all the tips a first-time renter will need? What advice would you give a first-time renter? Let us know below!


    Traveling With Pets? Put Their Safety and Comfort First

    What would the holidays be without your beastie bestie? Check out these travel tips if you’re taking your four-legged pal on the road or in the air.

    The holidays are a time to gather with friends and family, so it only makes sense that you would take your pets along when you go visiting or adventuring. No celebration would be complete without them, after all.

    Of course, not all pets can travel, but if yours do, these tips will help you make sure everything goes smoothly from door to door.

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    Shopping guide

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    Video shot and edited by Sebastian Sokolowski.

    Originally published November 13, 2015.


    Budgeting for a New Pet

    Budgeting for a New Pet

    Whether you’re considering adopting a cat, dog, rabbit, hamster, or guinea pig, you must be committed to caring for your new pet for its lifetime. Adding a pet as a new family member is exciting, sometimes frustrating, and extremely rewarding. But you have to make sure you understand up front what kind of commitment you’re making. Pets thrive on love, but they also require tangibles like food, shelter and bedding. And you have to be prepared to give your new pet the veterinary care necessary for a long, healthy, happy life.

    In 2011, there were approximately 218 million pets in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pet ownership crosses almost all demographic boundaries, and pet owners spend substantial amounts of money caring for their companion animals. On average, US households spend over $500 per year on their pets. Budgeting for your new family member helps ensure the best possible experience for both you and your pet. Here’s what budgeting for your new pet should include.

    Home Preparation

    Puppies chew, kittens climb, and dogs have a tendency to get into food storage and trash cans. Before you bring your new best friend home, lock up any hazards like antifreeze or pest control products. Consider rearranging to keep “attractive nuisances” out of your pet’s territory. You may need to invest in storage products to items away from your pet that could become impromptu chew toys.

    Choosing a Veterinarian

    Many pet adoption agencies require you to list your veterinarian on the adoption application, so be prepared. Word-of-mouth referrals are great for finding a good vet, and you should visit, or at least telephone your new vet’s office to let them know you’ll be adopting an animal. Learn what your vet’s hours are and how after hours emergencies are handled.

    Pet Supplies

    Dogs generally require the most in the way of supplies. Here are the typical supplies you’ll need to consider when budgeting for your new pet:

    •Food and water dishes
    •Collar and leash
    •ID tags (or implanted ID microchip)
    •Dog bed
    •Baby gates if you’re keeping your dog within certain parts of the house
    •Treats and toys

    If you’re adopting a cat, you’ll need a litter box and litter, and ideally you should have a climbable “kitty condo” to keep him entertained and allow him to climb and use his claws. Small pets will require a safe, properly-sized cage, bedding, and specialized food.

    Adoption Costs

    Adoption costs vary widely, but pet adoption is rarely free. Some shelters will refund part or all of the cost of spaying or neutering your dog or cat, and some animals receive their initial vaccinations before they’re put up for adoption.

    Day-to-Day Expenses

    Budgeting for pet food will need to become a habit, and you’ll have to include cat litter for your cat, or bedding for your smaller pets when budgeting. If you use budgeting software like, you can easily add line items for regular pet expenses that will make budgeting for your new family member easier.


    Dog training may seem like an unnecessary expense, particularly if you’re adopting a small dog, but budgeting for training is smart for any dog you adopt, even if he comes to you already trained. Basic classes cost around $100, and help you establish your household “chain of command.” Training classes are well worth the investment, particularly if you live in an apartment complex or other environment where your dog will regularly encounter other people and pets.

    Veterinary Care

    Budgeting for an initial veterinary evaluation is essential for your new pet. Your vet can alert you to any potential health problems, ensure your pet is properly vaccinated, help you with flea and parasite control, and arrange spaying or neutering – procedures that help pets have healthier, and often longer lives. Vaccinations will need to be updated yearly, and your budgeting should include money set aside for unforeseen veterinary expenses.

    Adopting a pet can be one of the happiest and most rewarding of family events. Budgeting for your pet ensures that he will receive all the care he needs and deserves for a happy, healthy life. You may be surprised at how much of a financial investment adopting a pet is, but when you budget properly and make a solid commitment to provide a safe, healthy, happy home for a pet, the rewards are priceless.

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