Homegrown Hazards

posted on July 02, 2013 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

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As July rolls around, many of us start to see fresh produce from our gardens.  Who doesn’t enjoy some fresh greens, or watching the fruits of our labors start to ripen into the produce we will pick next month.  While spending time in the garden is good for us, there are some hidden hazards to pets in there.

Many plants in the garden may be potentially poisonous to your pet, and any plant if eaten in large enough amounts can cause issues such as obstructions.  Most toxicities are mild and include gastrointestinal (GI) upset such as vomiting or diarrhea.  However, a few of the ones listed below may be more serious.  If your pet eats something out of your garden and you are not sure if it’s safe or not, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  Please note that this list is not a complete list, just a few of the more common potentially hazardous plants seen in gardens.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a part of the nightshade family, which contains a number of toxic plants.  Green tomatoes, leaves and stems, and flowers can all contain the toxin, though ripe tomatoes tend to have very little toxin left.  Signs of toxicity can include GI upset, increased salivation (drooling), cardiac effects, and nervous system signs including ataxia (walking uncoordinated like a drunk), dilated pupils, confusion, behavior changes, muscle weakness, tremors, and seizures.

Grapes

Grapes have been identified as the cause of acute renal (kidney) failure in dogs.  The exact mechanism is not understood at this time.  It is also not known if grapes are toxic to cats.  Signs can take 24 hours to develop, and may include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased or absent appetite, and changes in urine production.  Bloodwork may be necessary to see what the kidney values are, and fluids and hospitalization may be needed to help support the kidneys.  Often damage to the kidneys is not reversible and this toxicity could be fatal, so prevention is key.  Avoid grapes and raisins for any pets in the house, and keep outdoor pets away from grape vines if present in your yard.

Avocado

Avocados, while possessing a number of health benefits for humans, are actually toxic to pets.  They can cause tissue necrosis (tissue death), and can damage the heart muscles.  They are extremely toxic to pet birds (even a small amount usually is fatal).  Dogs and cats tend to develop GI signs, but may also develop symptoms of cardiac issues such as exercise intolerance, cough, wheezing or difficulty breathing, or collapse.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is toxic to dogs and cats.  The leaves can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and irritation of the mouth (increased salivation or drooling, pawing at mouth).  The plant also contains something called oxalic acid, which can lead to formation of crystals in the urinary tract, and can cause damage to the kidneys, which, in severe cases, can even lead to kidney failure.  Fluid support for the kidneys is recommended and may require hospitalization.

Onion and Garlic

Onions and garlics both belong to the same family and both can cause negative effects on pets.  These plants can cause red blood cell issues such as hemolysis (break down of red blood cells), Heinz body formations (abnormalities in red blood cell structure), agglutination (clumping of red blood cells), methemoglobinemia (methemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin that is NOT able to carry oxygen, reducing the red blood cell’s ability to function correctly), and hemoglobinuria (red blood cell breakdown products being passed in the urine).  This may look like pale gums, bruising, weakness, difficulty breathing, urinating “blood” (very dark urine), or collapse.  In addition to anemia, pets may develop GI signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.  Bloodwork and supportive care such as fluids, supportive feeding, hospitalization, and possibly even blood transfusions may be necessary.

The ASPCA has a good website for checking if plants are toxic and what signs to watch for, and you can always give us or a pet poison helpline a call.  Hopefully together we can help keep pets safe so everyone can enjoy summer!