When Good Dogs Eat Bad Plants

by Joan B. Guertin


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If your dog spends time outside during the warm months, his activities likely include such enjoyments as barking at birds, running after Frisbees and the occasional hose bath.  Unfortunately he may also give in to the urge to taste a bit of plant or shrub in the backyard.  In some cases this can be fatal.

The incidence of plant poisonings in dogs goes up every summer, says Larissa Hautekeete, D.V.M., of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA’s) National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC), a nonprofit 24-hour emergency consulting service.  Usually the problem is that dogs get bored and decide to nibble on plants.

Certain ornamental plants and shrubs, such as rhododendrons and Dieffenbachia (known as dumb cane), are particularly toxic.  If you have these plants in your yard or in your house, it’s best to keep your dog away from them.

Nibbling on grass, which some dogs like to do, can become problematic when the lawn has been treated with chemicals.  In fact, Fred Oehme, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor of toxicology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, says plant poisonings of dogs are far less common than poisonings with pesticides, rodenticides and rotten garbage.  (Toxicologists point out that dogs can become sick from the same plants that are toxic to cats.)

In Case of Emergency

If your dog ingests part of a poisonous plant, call your vet immediately.  Under veterinary advice, you may need to induce vomiting, using either 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (1 Tablespoonful for a 30-pound dog; can repeat twice) or ipecac (1 to 2 milliliters per kilogram of body weight, which is 3 to 5 teaspoons for a 30-pound dog).  Your veterinarian can give an injection that will induce vomiting in a matter of minutes.  This may be the best solution, especially if you have trouble getting your dog to take whatever medicines you administer.

If your veterinarian is unsure about the toxicity of the plant ingested, you or the doctor may have to phone your local poison control center or the NAPCC, which can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-4ANIHELP or 1-800-548-2423 (to charge the $30 consulting fee to your credit card; you can also opt to charge the call to your phone bill by calling 1-900-680-0000).  Be sure to keep the tags from any plants you buy—you may need to supply the Latin name as well as the common name to the consulting veterinary toxicologist.

The NAPCC advises dog owners who suspect their pet has been poisoned by a plant to remain calm and to have as much information on hand as possible before making the emergency call.  When you call the NAPCC be ready to provide:
 •  Your name, address and telephone number.
 •  Information concerning the exposure (the amount of plant, the time of ingestion, etc.).
 • The species, breed, age, sex and weight of the animal and the number of animals involved if more than one has been poisoned.
 • The agent exposed to, if known.
 • The problems being experienced.

The NAPCC publishes a list of household plants that are toxic, potentially toxic and nontoxic to animals, available for $15 (shipping and handling included).  Send your name, address and check to: ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center, 1717 South Philo Road, Suite 36, Urbana, IL 61802.

* * *
A Partial List of Toxic Plants:
Azalea — Abdominal pain, nausea, salivation, vomiting
Belladonna — Pupil dilation, hypothermia, muscle collapse
Bird-of-paradise — Abdominal pain, nausea, salivation, vomiting
Bulbs (hyacinth, narcissus family) — Abdominal pain, nausea, salivation, vomiting
Calla lily — Contains oxalate crystals which cause oral, pharyn-geal and esophageal irritation, salivation and mucosal  edema (swelling)
Cardinal flower — Salivation, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia   (rapid heartbeat)
Castor bean — Vomiting, diarrhea and possible shock
Chinaberry tree — Convulsions
Daphne — Abdominal pain, nausea, salivation, vomiting
Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia) — Contains oxalate crystals which cause oral, pharyngeal and esophageal irritation, salivation  and mucosal edema
Dutchman’s-breeches — Convulsions
Elephant’s Ear — Same as dumb cane
Hydrangea — Cyanide poisoning
Jack-in-the-pulpit — Same as dumb cane
Jasmine — Vomiting, diarrhea, mydriasis (pupil dilation), hyper-thermia, muscle collapse
Jimsonweed — Pupil dilation, hyperthermia, muscle collapse
Larkspur — Cardiovascular effects: nausea, slowed heartbeat, arrhythmia
Laurel — Abdominal pain, nausea, salivation, vomiting
Lily-of-the-valley — Same as larkspur
Mescal bean — Nausea, salivation, vomiting, rapid heartbeat
Mushrooms — Acute gastric effects, liver and kidney damage, abdominal pain, nausea, salivation, vomiting
Nightshades — Delayed digestive tract effects
Philodendron — Same as dumb cane
Poinsettia — Sap irritates the mucous membranes
Prunus species (including apple seeds, but only when chewed) — Cyanide poisoning
Tobacco — Nausea, salivation, vomiting, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
Yellow Jasmine — Convulsions
Yews, Taxus species (Podocarpus species causes only mild gastroenteritis) — Gastroenteritis, cardiovascular collapse


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Last modified: April 19, 2012