you’re a dog lover, thoughts of summertime conjure memories of long evening strolls
and outdoor recreation with your dog. In fact, you may have already started this
summer to create new fond memories. Given that, the last thing you want on one of
your nature walks is for your canine companion to be sidelined by an injury. Unfortunately,
many pet parents don’t realize until it’s too late that there are menacing toxins
lurking in the plants of both cultivated and wild landscapes. Plants that you are
used to seeing in public parks, your neighborhood and perhaps even in your own backyard
can lead to devastating effects. In what follows, I will review five of these dangerous
plants so that you will be able to identify and avoid them when you’re with your
dog. First up are four plants commonly used in landscaping that are actually toxic
to canines …
Azalea – Rhododendron Species
typical choice for landscapers due to its hardiness and lovely flowers, these
unassuming ornamentals contain a toxin which can be lethal, even in small
amounts. Both the plant’s leaves and nectar are known to be harmful if eaten or
chewed by your dog, and can cause drooling (often a symptom of nausea),
vomiting, weakness and collapse. If greater amounts of its toxins are ingested,
it can lead to severe poisoning, possible coma and even death.
recognized as one of the most poisonous plants in the world, even minute
quantities of Oleander can trigger a fatal response. Unlike the Azalea, every
part of the Oleander is toxic, from flowers to roots. If dogs should chew on any
part of this plant, they could suffer varying degrees of illness, including
upset stomach, abnormal heart functioning and possibly even death. Beware of the
sap, which can irritate the skin and eyes, as well as the leaves, which retain
their toxicity even when dried out.
commonly used in planned landscapes where climates tend to be hot and dry, Sago
Palms are nevertheless popular all over the U.S. While the whole plant contains
harmful chemicals, it’s the seeds that contain the highest levels of toxins.
Estimates currently put the percentage of animals that die after eating the
seeds of the plant as high as three out of four. The incidence of Sago Palm
poisoning in dogs and cats has risen 200% in the past few years, although dogs
seem to enjoy the flavor of the plant and the seeds more than cats. Ingestion of
Sago Palm can cause vomiting, diarrhea, liver failure and seizures.
are popular ornamentals blooming late in the summer and early in the fall. While
beautiful, their flowers contain a natural insecticide. If a canine chews on the
Chrysanthemum blooms, the insecticide can cause excessive drooling, vomiting and
If your furry one is exposed to any of these toxic plants, please contact your
veterinarian immediately. As is often the case in toxins and poisons, the sooner
your pet receives treatment, the less likely they are to experience dramatic,
and sometimes fatal, reactions.
And now, I will review a common weed that can cause a great deal of grief for
your pet canine …
that resemble the tail of a fox, Foxtails are considered a widespread nuisance
in most states, especially west of the Mississippi. Prevalent from late spring
to early fall, they become more dangerous in late summer when their seeds dry.
When the seeds are released from their pods, they are covered in barbs like
little fish hooks, making them potentially very dangerous to your dog. If she
merely brushes up against the Foxtail plant, the seeds can become snagged in her
coat. Worse, the seeds can pierce the skin, or even be inhaled!
As a result, Foxtail seeds can become lodged between a dog’s toes, in their ears
or armpits; they can be inhaled or swallowed and latch onto the interior walls
of the nose or throat; or, they can stick to the eyes. Obviously, all of these
circumstances can be very painful. Perhaps most frightening, the seeds are so
small that they can be difficult to locate, and, if embedded in the skin, have
been known to migrate to other areas of the body, resulting in severe
the Foxtail seed becomes infected under the skin, it may result in a visible,
inflamed and painful lump. Commonly these lumps are between the toes, and are
painful enough that your dog will repeatedly lick or chew the raised area. If a
seed becomes lodged in your dog’s nose, she will likely sneeze, violently and
over-and-over, and may even repeatedly paw at her face. If the seed latches to
or in her ear, she will likely shake her head side-to-side and/or scratch
incessantly at her ear. In the case where a Foxtail becomes stuck in or near the
eye, you’ll likely see lots of repeated squinting, tears and redness; you may
even see the foxtail poking out!
If you see any evidence of an encounter with a Foxtail, take your dog to the vet
immediately. If you notice a red bump in between the toes, soak the paw in a
mixture of lukewarm water and Epsom salts. This will help to ease the swelling
until you can be seen by your veterinarian. Keep in mind that the longer you
wait for treatment, the more difficult it is to treat an embedded Foxtail seed,
so time is of the essence.
The best way to prevent Foxtail incidents is with an ounce of prevention. During
hikes, keep your dog away from grassy weeds, and check her paws after walks. In
addition, you should consider brushing her coat while using your hand to feel
for any raised areas, checking inside the ears, in between toes, under armpits
and throughout the belly and groin area. If you find a Foxtail in the coat,
carefully pull or brush it out. If your dog has thick or long hair, consider
getting a ‘Foxtail Clip’, a term applied to trimming away the hair between your
dog’s toes. And, if you live in an area where Foxtails are common, remove them
from your yard (be sure to exercise caution and carefully bag the weeds).
By using a little common sense and being aware of your surroundings, summer
walks can be fun and free from environmental injuries. Then, you can get back to
making some wonderful, new, summer memories together with your dog outdoors.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for your dear
Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM