By Anna Cooke
In recent conversations with fellow dog lovers, we’ve discovered many are not aware that certain frogs, palm tree nuts, and blue-green algae are dangerous and potentially deadly to our dogs. While we’ve written about these subjects before, we thought there’s no time like the present to repeat ourselves.
Every year, during the summer, we’re faced with these dangers in the great outdoors, even in our own backyards. Sometimes the descriptions are so gross and creepy, it’s any wonder we ever step outside with our dogs. In reality, we’ve been living with these potential dangers for years. Our dogs may have gotten into and/or tangled with one of these, and faced death without our ever knowing what happened. As pet parents, we are becoming more aware of our surroundings, subsequently preventing our dogs from being poisoned or worse.
1) Bufo or Cane Toad – This is a large, nonnative amphibian, poisonous to most animals that try to bite them. Let’s just call them giant ugly frogs, okay? Cane toads are reddish-brown to grayish-brown with a light-yellow or beige belly and can be uniform in color or have darker markings around the body. They have enlarged glands behind the eyes, which angle downward onto the shoulders. The glands secrete a potent milky-white toxin (bufotoxin) as defense against predators including domestic pets.
If your dog bites or swallows a cane toad, she can become sick and die in as little as 15 minutes without proper treatment. Symptoms may include frantic or disoriented behavior, brick red gums, seizures, and foaming at the mouth. If you see these symptoms, follow these steps:Wash toxins forward out of mouth using a hose for ten minutes being careful not to direct water down the throat.
Click here to listen to what a cane toad sounds like. You’ve most likely heard the sound in your backyard or during your evening walks with your dogs.
2) Sago Palms and Their Seeds – On September 14, it will have been a year since Shorty’s untimely death as a result of ingesting a sago seed (sometimes referred to as a nut or date). “It’s been my mission to bring awareness on the simple things like a sago palm seed that could kill our dogs,” said Marsha Droste, Shorty’s mom. Marsha and her husband Ed were walking their two Frenchies, Pete and Shorty, in their neighborhood, where sago palms are part of the landscape. They had no idea of the toxicity of the sago seed. Within two days of rushing Shorty to a critical care emergency veterinary hospital, Shorty was gone.
Dr. Tina Wisner, a veterinary toxicologist with the ASPCA said that since 2017, calls to their national poison hotline about sago cases have shot up 79%. The seeds contain something similar to cyanide. It’s not just the seeds that are toxic either. The entire sago palm plant is also toxic. A single sago palm seed can kill a medium-sized dog. Gastrointestinal signs include hypersalivation (drooling), abdominal pain, reduced appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Signs of liver damage also include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and reduced appetite, as well as increased drinking and urination, dehydration, lethargy, weakness, jaundice (yellow cast to the skin, mucous membranes and whites of the eyes) and ascites (fluid in the abdomen).
There is neither a specific test nor a specific antidote for sago palm toxicity. Lab work, with elevated liver values, low protein, low blood glucose, anemia and evidence of reduced clotting, may not show changes for 24–48 hours after sago palm ingestion. If sago palm ingestion is suspected, it is important to take your cat or dog to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible, rather than waiting for clinical signs to develop. Treatment for sago palm ingestion focuses on decontamination and supportive care and medications to reduce the effects of liver damage.
The prognosis for dogs or cats that eat sago plant parts depends on the amount of toxin ingested by body weight and how quickly treatment is instituted. Smaller dogs and cats are more severely affected compared with larger animals that ingest the same amount of plant parts. The sago palm toxins are concentrated in the nuts or seeds and just 1–2 seeds can be fatal to a medium-sized dog. Reports of survival rates from sago palm ingestion vary, with one study of dogs that ingested sago palm parts reporting a 50% mortality rate.
3) Blue-green algae – In August 2019, we posted a warning on The New Barker social media pages from two pet parents who lost their three dogs to blue-green algae poisoning in just a matter of hours. The post was shared 8,500 times. Through their grief, Melissa Martin and J Denise Mintz shared their story.
“If you search ‘blue-green algae,’ you see pictures of nasty water,” said Melissa. “That is false! The place our dogs played for their last time was crystal clear except for what appeared to be debris from foliage. Do not let your dogs near standing water. Our Westies didn’t even get in the water, but played in the mud at the edge.”
Shortly after returning home from their walk, and playing in the pond, Abby began seizing, followed by Izzy. All three dogs were rushed to the veterinarian. Abby and Izzy, the two Westies, were struggling to breathe and continued seizing. “We decided to let them go together peacefully. In the process, Harpo started to go downhill,” said Melissa.The family was advised that Harpo was suffering from liver failure and internal bleeding. “I talked to Harpo and asked him to let me know,” said Melissa. “He did. I held him and told him how awesome he was, and reminded him of all the lives he touched. Then we let him go.”
Later this week, we’ll give you some information on Leptospirosis and salt water toxicity in dogs. This information is not meant to scare you into not doing anything with your dogs. We simply want our fellow dog lovers to be aware of your surroundings. Many of you already know about the potential for alligators in almost any body of water, and to stay clear from the lake and river banks. We are aware of the increase in coyote sightings within our neighborhoods.
The more we’re outdoors exploring our surroundings, the opportunities for our dogs to get into something they shouldn’t increase. Keep your eyes and ears open. Also, know the closest emergency or urgent veterinary care facility near you. Have their numbers handy. And, here’s a good link to keep in your cell phone: the Pet Poison Helpline. The ASPCA also has a free mobile app for animal poison control. Check out the overview on this link. NOTE: Neither of these links will ever replace the expertise of a veterinarian.