Toxic Plants: Beautiful But Deadly To Pets
Spring through fall is when a lot of folks are buying ornamental trees, shrubs and plants to improve the landscaping around the old homestead. If you’re among them, and if you’re a pet owner, I have a suggestion for you.
Save the tag that comes attached to the ornamental. It will contain the scientific (or taxonomic) name of the plant, and it can be crucial when dealing with a veterinarian or poison control center if a pet dines on the plant.
That scientific name will consist of difficult or impossible-to-pronounce Latin words, but it will indicate to veterinary and poison control professionals exactly what the dog or cat ate and will save precious time in treating the ingestion.
Here's Where It Get Confusing
The scientific name is especially important in the case of plants because many of them go by nicknames or regional colloquialisms. Also, some plant names are interchangeable.
Exhibit A: Rhododendrons and azaleas. All azaleas are Rhododendrons (note the capital "R"), but not all Rhododendrons are azaleas. Aren’t you glad we cleared that up?
Here’s why the taxonomic name is so important: a capital "R," refers to a plant genus. A lower-case "r," refers to a subset of that genus.
The genus Rhododendron has been broken down into eight sub-categories, composed of numerous species. The azaleas comprise two of these sub-categories.
If your eyes are glazing over like mine did, suffice it to say that the above clearly shows how plant identification can be an inexact science to those of us who are botanically challenged.
It also brings home the point that it’s wise to keep the tag! While it's gibberish to us, veterinarians and poison control personnel will be able to make heads and tails out of it, whether it starts with a capital letter or not.
If you were able to tell the poison control people that your dog ate Rhododendron catawbiense, they would immediately know that the meal consisted of the Catawba rhododendron.
If, however, you said your dog ate a purple flower with kinda glossy green leaves, it would take a while to zero in on the specific plant that was eaten, and time can be of the essence when treating plant poisoning.
On The Refrigerator Is A Good Place To Keep Plant Tags
It’s so easy to put the tags in an envelope and attach it to the side of your refrigerator.
And while you’re at it, here’s some more information you should put in that envelope.
There are a number of things your veterinarian or a poison control center will ask you, and the answers probably won't be at your fingertips...unless, that is, you put them in an envelope and attach it to the refrigerator.
What The Veterinarian or Poison Control Center Will Need To Know
In an emergency, one's thinking isn't always clear. Facts that we know like the back of our hand suddenly evade us.
Keep the following information in the envelope and on the refrigerator with the plant tags:
- Your dog’s breed, age, sex and weight
- the stuff he ate that you’re worried about (that’s where the tag comes in)
- the amount consumed
- the elapsed time since ingestion
- the symptoms your dog is exhibiting.
If you end up calling the ASPCA’s National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at 1-888-426-4435 there will be a charge to your credit card.
Another option is to charge the call to your phone bill by calling the NAPCC at 900-680-0000 (the 4 zeros is not a mistake).
Lovely Garden or Toxic Salad?
As you well know, dogs will eat just about anything, so it’s a good idea to plan your decorative landscaping with your dog in mind so you can choose shrubbery that is safe.
And while you’re at it, forget about using cocoa mulch, which is made from the shells of cocoa beans. It has gained in popularity in recent years, but it contains sufficient levels of the cardiac stimulant, theobromine (the toxic agent in chocolate), to kill if enough is ingested by a pet.
If you’ve moved into a home that has ornamental plantings, it would be a good idea to become familiar with what’s in the yard so that you can take appropriate action, such as replacing toxic plants.
For a listing of dangerous plants, there are plenty of web sites that have them, but for my money there’s no one like that ever reliable ASPCA.
And while you’re attaching that information to your refrigerator, you might also include shot records and other information that may be unique to your pet and that may be important for emergency personnel to know about in a crisis.
© 2012 Bob Bamberg