The story of the two Labradors that were poisoned
On Tuesday evening, a five year old Labrador was brought in to see me because shortly after her evening meal at 6pm, she’d started to stagger, becoming uncoordinated, and she was drooling a lot. I immediately suspected poisoning of some kind, but the dog had just been in the owner’s garden, so it was hard to see how this could have happened. There was no slug bait, rat bait, or any human medications that could have been swallowed. The garden was enclosed so there was no possibility of anyone throwing in a toxic bait for the dog. The owner left her dog with us for treatment, and when she went home, her other dog, a 7 month old Labrador, had now started to show similar signs of poisoning so she brought her in to me as well. This second dog was far more severely affected: she was unable to walk at all, she was howling, barking and snapping at the air around her: it was as if she was having hallucinations.
I treated both dogs in two ways, which is the standard approach for all cases of suspected poisoning.
- First, by giving medication to cause each dog to vomit, so that any residual poison in their stomachs was removed from the body
- Second, by giving sedatives and other drugs to calm them down and to keep them comfortable until the effects of the poison passed
- Additionally, the younger, more severely affected dog was given an intravenous injection of a fat-based chemical designed to mop up the poison from the bloodstream
- In some cases, we also give activated charcoal orally, to absorb toxins from the digestive tract.
Both dogs had to be transferred to the Pet Emergency Hospital in Belfield for overnight care: they had to be monitored continuously by a vet and nurse team sitting up all night with them, topping up their sedatives as needed. Both dogs made a full and complete recovery after 24 hours of treatment.
What caused the poisoning?
The mystery remains about the precise cause of this poisoning: could the dogs have somehow unearthed an illegal stash of drugs? Highly unlikely in an enclosed garden
The owner searched their garden for evidence, and the most likely answer was something that is common in Ireland this warm autumn: poisonous mushrooms.
While most fungi in the garden are unlikely to be eaten by dogs, and even if they are, they’re likely just to cause an upset stomach, some do have a dangerously toxic effect
The mushrooms that were most likely to cause the signs seen in this case are known as “Category D”
What are Category D mushrooms?
- Category D consists of mushrooms in the genera Psilocybe, Panaeolus, Gymnopilus, Conocybe and Stropharia.
- These are the “magic mushrooms” that contain the hallucinogens psilocybin and psilocin.
- Within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion, signs that are seen include vomiting, disorientation, hallucinations, tremors, lethargy and dilated pupils.
- Most animals recover uneventfully within 6 hours as long as they have not taken a fatal dose.
- Dilated pupils, hypertension and drowsiness may last up to 24 hours.
- Treatment is largely symptomatic and supportive, as given to the two Labradors that I saw on Tuesday.
Were the toxic mushrooms definitely identified in this case?
Ink cap mushrooms were found in the garden the following day but these are unlikely to have caused the poisoning. Ink caps contain coprine, a substance which has no effect unless alcohol is consumed, in which case vomiting, facial flushing,confusion and other signs can be seen in humans. In this case, they were unlikely to be the cause of the crisis (both dogs are teetotallers!).
Other mushrooms could not be found immediately but the compost heap was disturbed and it’s possible that the dogs ate the evidence: this seems the most likely answer right now.
Key points for dog owners about the risk of mushroom poisoning
- Mushrooms can be toxic to dogs
- Do not let your dog eat mushrooms when out on walks
- If unsure about mushrooms growing in your garden, pick them and get rid of them
- If a dog ever shows any signs of poisoning, rush them to the vet as soon as possible: it might save their lives
Extra questions from listeners, answered in this week’s podcast
- We have a 4 month old Labrador pup. He never wants to walk.When we bring him out he walks to the edge of the estate and no matter how much we encourage him/bring treats he will pull back on the lead until we turn around to go home. Then he walks home no problem?
- Can you advise on booster shots after a dog is 2 years old. My puppy had her 2 courses of jabs and was back after a year for a booster. Does a house dog need jabs after this? Thanks. Ken in Galway
- My dogs ankles are very pink & he keeps licking them. A friend said it mites & to get a flea treatment. Does this sound right or should I bring him to the vet? John in Drogheda
- My dog rolls in fox poo in the woods on our daily walk really getting fed up and the smell! Anything I can do to stop this ?