Summertime Poisons

Outdoor toxins include mushrooms and much more.

Summer is high season for outdoor pet poisonings and, if our rainy weather continues, toxic mushrooms may be more of a concern than usual.

My soggy garden has been sprouting a lot of weird-looking fungi this year, none of which I plan to eat, but unfortunately, our poodles don’t know a toxic mycena from a tasty morel any more than I do. Unless you’re a mushroom expert, it’s safest to keep dogs away from them all. Signs of mushroom poisoning vary greatly from vomiting and diarrhea, to disorientation, excessive tear production and salivation.

Sometimes it takes as long as 12 hours for signs of illness to appear. If you think your dog may have eaten poisonous mushrooms, get him to a vet immediately. Early treatment is the key to reducing the risk of kidney or liver failure. If possible, take a sample of the suspected mushroom for identification.

The species responsible for many fatal fungal poisonings, Amanita or “death caps”, are most common in fall, but wild mushrooms should be considered dangerous at any time of year.
A different type of fungus that produces mycotoxins is a fairly common cause of pet poisonings during summertime. Often found in compost piles, even small amounts can produce tremors, drooling, vomiting, hyperthermia and seizures. Signs of mycotoxin poisoning often develop within 30 minutes.

Very similar symptoms can be caused by a garden pesticide called slug bait. Known as “shake and bake” because it causes massive tremors resulting in high body temperatures, slug bait contains a poison called metaldehyde. With early treatment, the prognosis is good. The first time I saw a case of compost poisoning, my initial suspicion was of metaldehyde or strychnine toxicity because all three have similar symptoms. Fortunately, we rarely see strychnine poisoning anymore. It was often fatal.

Blue-green algae is sometimes mistaken for a fungus. Weirdly, it is officially classified as a bacteria. Regardless of its make-up, it is another toxin that poisons pets and farm animals every summer. It accumulates on the surface of lakes and ponds in hot dry weather and causes a wide range of symptoms depending on the species of algae involved. Public health authorities are usually quick to raise alarms about blue-green algae blooms in local waterways. Do not let your dogs drink or swim in affected water.

Salt water can also be a concern if your dog drinks too much of it. Obviously, this is not a problem with Bay of Quinte water, but keep it in mind if you travel with pets. Salt toxicity is occasionally reported in thirsty dogs playing on ocean-front beaches all day long. The newly popular salt-water swimming pools may present a mild hazard, but their sodium levels are generally much lower than seawater.

Early diagnosis and treatment can be vital any time a pet ingests a toxin. Contact your veterinarian immediately. The Pet Poison Hotline (1-800-213-6680) has an excellent website with a searchable database of numerous toxins. Access to the database is free, but there is a fee for case consultations. A similar service is offered by the Animal Poison Control Centre run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton, Ontario
June 2013