Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

September 14, 2004 > Tasty But Toxic

Tasty But Toxic

by Nancy Lyon

Our animal family members offer companionship, protection, enjoyment and their own special love for us. For all that they have to offer, though, they must rely on us for protection from harm that can come in many forms.

Recently an experience dealing with OHS's Special Assistance Program brought home the lack of general awareness of the dangers to our animal companions that can lurk inside the greenery in our homes and yards. In this instance, a frantic person called that his dog was vomiting and in great distress. As in any situation of this nature it is vital to seek immediate veterinary support, and at the same time try to help the animal's guardian focus on what had recently occurred that could provide valuable information to help the veterinarian to make a speedy diagnosis.

The dog in question, a bored and lonely backyard dog had found a natural outlet for his youthful energy by digging. Further questioning turned up the fact that the dog had been digging in an area where forgotten lily bulbs were buried and "tasting" a number of the tantalizing tubers had resulted in a possibly life threatening veterinary emergency.

Luckily, OHS was able to provide immediate assistance and the dog's life was saved. In the process he suffered greatly, and if left untreated, he could have sustained permanent damage or died from complications. This preventable incident brought up the fact that many families of companion animals are unaware of the risks presented by plants commonly used as ornamentals or houseplants.

While house and garden plants provide us with lush beauty and enjoyment, they can prove to be a major cause of problems for our companion animals In fact, we live in a world that surrounds us with poison. Plants, looking to their own best interests, produce an incredible array of toxic concoctions. The toxic effects of plants vary with the animal species, health status, and age of the individual(s). Time of year, humidity, growth conditions, growth stage, and other factors that also play a role in the hazards posed by toxic plants

Certain animal species may have a particular vulnerability to a potentially poisonous plant, and you might not notice the symptoms or immediately associate them with the ingestion of the plant. Some deadly fungi can have delayed symptoms before collapse and death.

Whether indoors or outdoors, animals are inclined to sample foliage. We need to look at our homes and yards through the eyes of our animals, seeking out "toys" and "entertainments" that may be harmful for them.

Check out the leaves on indoor plants for tooth marks. Cats may chew on plants as a form of entertainment if they are bored. One safe release for their boredom is to plant lawn grass in a pot for them. The grass isn't harmful, and cats may also enjoy digging in the dirt. Covering the soil of other houseplants with aluminium foil may discourage them from digging in it and decrease the likelihood of eating the plant.

If your dog spends long periods of unsupervised time in the yard and is a digger, a youngster teething, or just enjoys chewing, look at your plants as possibly dangerous outlets for his needs. You may want to restrict him from certain areas but this is no guarantee that if he is motivated enough he won't gain access to off-limits areas.

According to the Humane Society of the United States more than 700 plants have been identified as producing physiologically active or toxic substances in sufficient amounts to cause harmful effects in animals. They produce a variety of toxic substances and cause reactions that range from mild nausea to death.

Familiarize yourself with some of the common landscape plants known to have poisonous properties when ingested. You may be surprised to learn just how many of our common plants, such as azaleas, hydrangeas, boxwood, oleander and English ivy, are known to have poisonous properties. Indoor holiday plants such a poinsettia, mistletoe, and Easter lilies can produce severe to fatal poisoning symptoms.

You may wish to evaluate the hazards of your existing yard or interiors plants, and find alternative safe plants to have around your companion animals. Not only cats and dogs fall victim to toxic plants - rabbits, horses, reptiles, cows, goats and other species can be seriously affected. We suggest researching in-depth information based on species and plant relationships.

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to toxic plant poisoning. We can save a lot of grief by being aware of the potential hazard of certain plants when used in landscapes or in our homes that are frequented by young children and companion animals. As the saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Suggested Resources:
Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America
By Nancy J. Turner and Adam F. Szczawinski; Timber Press
This book contains all the information needed to identify toxic plants, including houseplants. Each plant is fully described and pictured for easy identification.

Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine
Provides a growing online Poisonous Plants Informational Database that includes plant images, pictures of affected animals and presentations concerning the botany, chemistry, toxicology, diagnosis and prevention of poisoning of animals by plants and other natural flora (fungi, etc).

Visual identification: http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/db2www/plants.d2w/report1;
By animals affected: http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/anispecies.html

 
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