Vets seeing increase of sick dogs who ate plant parts

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Mike Dingus fed his puppy dinner one evening, and within an hour, the dog had vomited about 20 times.

But it wasn't the dog food that made Stanley, the rat terrier, sick. Dingus later learned the vomiting was caused by a ubiquitous Lowcountry plant.

"It was just terrible," the Bluffton man said, adding that his normally playful puppy could not stand up or even lift his head.

Dingus took Stanley to an emergency veterinary clinic in Savannah, where he was told that the dog likely had eaten part of a Sago palm.

Stanley remained at the emergency clinic for three days. He is now fine, but Dingus made sure to get rid of the two Sago palms that were behind his home.

"He was one of the lucky ones that survived," Dingus said. "And they ascribe his successful outcome to the fact that (the seed) was so toxic to him that he threw up so much and he got enough of it out of his system that he could survive."

Coastal Veterinary Clinic owner and veterinarian Ben Parker said the entire plant is toxic, but the seeds tend to be the most concentrated part of the poison. He said the plant can cause liver failure pretty quickly.

Parker sees a handful of dogs each year who have ingested part of a Sago palms. While there is no specific test to confirm that an animal has been poisoned by the plant, Parker said veterinarians can usually figure it out after speaking with the pet owner.

Parker said if someone suspects a dog has eaten part of a Sago, "it's truly worthy of an emergency call and perhaps an emergency visit."

There is no antidote for this type of poisoning, but Parker said if someone cannot get a dog to the vet right away, hydrogen peroxide can be used to induce vomiting. Parker warned it can take a lot of hydrogen peroxide to work.

When a dog is brought in to his office after ingesting part of a Sago, Parker said he starts the animal on IV fluids, gives it drugs to control the vomiting and sometimes pain medications.

Dogs aren't the only animals that could be poisoned by a Sago palms. Parker has seen a couple of cats for this as well. He said up to 50 percent of dogs and cats who ingest the plant will die from it.

Many people would never think their dog would eat part of a tree or shrub, but local dog trainer Abby Bird said certain breeds, such as terriers and labs, are notorious for chewing on anything they can find.

According to an article Bird wrote for this newspaper in 2016, other plants that are toxic for animals include oleander, azalea, rhododendron, tulip, narcissus bulbs and lilies.

But the Sago, she said, is deadly. "If you have this plant and have dogs, take it out," Bird said. "And if you're putting in new landscaping, please don't put it in."

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

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