Saturday, April 3, 2010
By Ruthie Bently
Warm weather is returning to the northern hemisphere and those of us who have been suffering from cabin fever are beginning to venture outside again with our canine companions. There is still a lot of moisture left from the recent snows and in shady places that moisture begins to grow fungus, mushrooms in particular. Many mushrooms, like morels and truffles, are prized by mycophiles (someone who hunts wild edible mushrooms); there are also many mushrooms that are toxic to our four-legged family members. Although you will find more mushrooms in shady, damp places like woods and thickets at the base of trees, you can sometimes find them in your backyard.
While some colleges have mycologists on staff, none of them will tell you over the phone that a mushroom you find in nature is safe to eat. You can take a sample in to show them, but you may still not get an answer. So what do you do with a puppy or dog that has their nose constantly to the ground? Dogs are very oral creatures and if something smells interesting to them, they are apt to put it in their mouth to taste it. The best thing to do is try to police your yard and pick up any mushrooms you find before your dog does. This may sound extreme, but mushroom poisoning can cause serious health issues for your dog.
I had a client who had been playing with her Lab puppy in their backyard. She brought him into the store for some new toys and while I was waiting on her the puppy began salivating, shaking his head and trying to vomit. She looked in his mouth, but found no obstruction. I asked what else he had been doing and she mentioned he had eaten a mushroom. I suggested she get him to the vet immediately, which she did. The vet induced vomiting and gave the puppy activated charcoal to absorb the toxins. The puppy had not ingested enough mushrooms to affect his organs or his life, but not all dogs are so lucky. There aren’t many mushrooms that are poisonous, but unless you have studied them extensively, it can be hard to tell the difference.
There are several symptoms of mushroom poisoning, and depending on the type of mushroom and amount ingested the severity can be uncomfortable to deadly. An edible mushroom can even cause problems if the dog has an allergy to them, if they have bacteria on them, or have gone past the edible stage. There are about 6000 known mushrooms and only about 60 are poisonous. It should be noted that there are several hundred more that while not deadly can cause mild to severe physical distress. There are several categories of poisonous mushrooms based on what they do: cause illness when consumed, fatal when consumed, or psychoactive. There are eight different categories based on their toxins and their effects. Some are so dangerous they only have to be touched to be harmful.
The symptoms of mushroom toxicity in a dog can occur within minutes to several hours after ingestion. They include: vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, loss of coordination, seizures, jaundice, anorexia, burning thirst, abdominal pain, nausea, lethargy, blurred vision, drunken gait or inability to walk, failure of liver and kidney function, and coma.
If you suspect your dog has ingested mushrooms and they are experiencing any of these symptoms, get them to the vet as soon as possible. The vet may order a blood test to check kidney and liver enzyme levels as well as levels of potassium and sugar in the blood. Treatment depends on the mushroom eaten (if known) and may include inducing vomiting, administering activated charcoal to counteract the mushroom’s toxins, giving fluids to keep your dog hydrated, treatment for seizures and ongoing treatment for kidney and liver function if they were damaged.
There isn’t a specific test for mushrooms, so if you can bring a sample of what your dog ingested to the vet, that can help them diagnose the mushroom toxicity. Collect it using a trowel and gloves, and put it into a sealed plastic bag. There isn’t a home remedy for mushroom ingestion, and it is best to call your vet if you think your dog may have eaten one. Patrol your yard regularly and remove any mushrooms you find. They will usually appear after several days of dampness and can be found in shady spots, under trees or plants, although they can appear in the lawn too. The best way to prevent mushroom poisoning in dogs: don’t leave your canine companion unattended in your yard, and don’t let them go wandering in your neighborhood unless you are walking them.
Photo courtesy of Australian National Botanic Gardens fungi website.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently