Sago palm proves fatal to dogs

Bruce Schultz  |  1/4/2011 1:15:46 AM

News Release Distribured 04/29/10

A popular landscape plant, sago palm, can be fatal to pets, and the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine has seen an unusual number of dogs sickened after eating it.

“We’ve had a high number of cases this month,” said Dr. Dionne Ferguson, a small animal medicine resident at the vet school. “We’re not sure how many have been seen here, but at least nine in a two- to three-week period,” she said.

At least one of those dogs died, and two others that originally were discharged have returned after they became sick again, Ferguson said.

She said the plant contains several chemicals that cause a variety of problems. She said it has a neurotoxin that can cause seizures and difficulty walking, and it contains chemicals that cause long-term problems for humans, including cancer, birth defects and liver damage.

“There are some toxins in the plant that are not even known,” she said.

All parts of the sago palm are poisonous, she said, but the red seeds contain a higher concentration of the chemicals.

The seeds, leaves and roots contain the toxins. After eating the plant, dogs start to vomit, and progression includes lethargy, lack of appetite, diarrhea and jaundice.

There is no antidote, but dogs can be treated by inducing vomiting and with oral doses of charcoal and plasma transfusions, she said.

It’s possible that the unusual number of cases has resulted from people pruning dead growth from the palms after the cold winter, Ferguson said, and dogs are eating the trimmed parts.

Sago palms are sometimes used in bonsai arrangements sold at stores, she said, but they are only identified as a palm tree.

The plant also poses a potential for kidney failure to cats if they eat the plant. “Most other plants cause G.I. upsets and diarrhea,” she said.

Dr. Christine Navarre, LSU AgCenter extension veterinarian, said many ornamental plants, including azaleas and oleander, can be harmful to livestock.

Some wild plants also pose a variety of problems for livestock, Navarre said. The nightshade family and morning glory are toxic to animals.

Buttercup, now found flowering in pastures, is problematic. “That can actually cause irritation and ulcers in their mouth, and really bad diarrhea,” she said.

Bruce Schultz

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