Fully Vetted: April showers bring toxic flowers

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April showers have done their job and brought May flowers. As is typical for Mother Nature, however, her beauty is not without hazards. While we humans gaze, photograph, pick, and arrange spring flowers, dogs and cats often take a different approach; their curiosity often entices them to eat them.

Many plants that bloom in the spring are toxic to pets. The most common symptoms associated with plant intoxications are nonspecific gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting, salivation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. The amount of toxin ingested usually determines the severity of intoxication, and therefore determines the course of treatment necessary for recovery.

Several common garden plants cause symptoms that affect body systems other than the GI tract, and can result in severe disease and even death. Very notable among these are plants containing toxins called cardiac glycosides, such as oleander, kalanchoe, foxglove, milkweed, and lily of the valley.  Ingestion of these plants can cause severe cardiovascular abnormalities, arrhythmias, neurologic symptoms, and even death.

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Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Daffodils can also cardiac arrhythmias, as well as neurologic symptoms such as seizures. Severe intoxication may lead to coma and death from cardiovascular collapse.

Ingestion of tulip bulbs may cause GI upset, drooling, anorexia, neurologic symptoms, convulsions, and arrhythmias.

Lilies are highly toxic to cats. Ingestion of even small amounts (one or two leaves or petals) can lead to kidney failure.

Morning Glory seeds contain hallucinogenic compounds that can cause bizarre behavior, disorientation, and GI upset.

Other toxic plants include, but are not limited to, Bird of Paradise, Aloe, Begonias, Baby’s Breath, Bleeding Heart, Buttercups, Amaryllis, Elephant’s Ear, English Ivy, Hyacinth, and Calla Lilies.

Although most mushrooms are non-toxic, the most commonly toxic variety are of Amanita species.  These may be difficult to identify from non-toxic varieties.  Symptoms of intoxication begin with GI signs followed by a period of what appears to be recovery. Severe liver failure then occurs 36 to 48 hours after ingestion.

Dogs that swim in lakes and ponds are susceptible to poisoning by blue-green algae, which can cause liver damage.

Fertilizers can also be toxic; the effects depend on their exact composition, and may result in vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, mouth irritation, fever, weakness, trembling, and seizures.

Although there is no way to provide an exhaustive list of toxic plants, thorough references are available for consultation. If you have a question about a specific type of plant, visit the ASPCA website at www.aspca.org. NC State University also has a list of toxic plants at harvest.cals.ncsu.edu .

It is highly advisable to check your property to become aware of the location of potentially dangerous plants, so that you can either remove them, or devise a plan to keep your pets away from them. If you are concerned that your pet may have ingested a toxic plant, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Most cases of plant intoxication are treatable, but the earlier they are identified, the better the prognosis for your pet.

Dr. Kelly Sulik owns and operates Animobile Mobile Veterinary Services in Tryon, N.C. She can be reached at animobiledvm@ gmail.com.