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5 Common (and Unknown) Foods and Plants Toxic To Dogs

By Olive Thiel

It’s Olive again.  It’s raining outside, so my regular “ball time” is postponed, which means…  life right now is meaningless unless my mom throws me a ball in the house.  Until it becomes worth living again, meaning I either get to play or eat something, I thought I’d write about something serious and important… common, but relatively unknown foods and plants that are toxic to dogs. 

After all there is a time for fun… like when my mom has people over… I do this thing, where I run around the yard with my ball in my mouth.  When the humans aren’t looking at me, or paying attention to me, I run up behind them and hit them in the butt with my ball!  They almost always scream or yelp, sometimes, they even start to chase me around!  It’s so great…. But, while there is time for fun, there is also a time to be serious… so I’d like to share a few foods and plants (that I learned the hard way) are toxic to dogs like me… but most humans don’t even know it.

#1 Black Walnut Tree Wood (Includes sticks, branches, sawdust and shavings)

Well, a lot of people are aware that black walnuts themselves are toxic to dogs, their husks causing vomiting, general stomach sickness, and sometimes neurological episodes… but few people, including very few veterinarians, are aware that the wood itself is just as toxic to dogs, possibly more.  When I was about 9 months old I came back to Chicago from my Aunt’s house in WI, they have a huge yard to pay in.  The night after we got back, I wasn’t feeling great so I went downstairs by myself, and that’s where my mom found me a while later, laying in a puddle of my own pee.  When I tried to lift my head to look at her, it kept swaying back and forth, like I sometimes see in older humans who can no longer get around so well.  When my mom finally got me outside, I could only sit on the sidewalk as a puddle of pee formed underneath me, my body falling to one side, and after I managed to recover, it just fell to the other side instead.  Not surprisingly, my mom freaked!  She took me right to the ER.  But, while they admitted me, they didn’t know what was wrong.  Thankfully, by the next afternoon I was feeling much better, so they released me to go back home.  Still without answers. 

Fast forward about six months, and it had happened two more times.  All three episodes following a visit to my Aunt’s.  The last time though, it was the daytime vet in the ER that finally shed some light on what was happening… after confirming the presence of Black Walnut Trees in my Aunts yard, as well as the fact that I hadn’t ingested any of the nuts or nut husks (my mom kept a close eye on me because she knew those could make me sick) she handed my mom an article to support her final diagnosis:  Wood, including sawdust or shavings from Black Walnut Trees, can cause severe neurological issues in dogs, and even death. 

My Aunt had just cut down a Black Walnut tree in their yard, and there were shavings and sawdust everywhere… and the balls I love so much to chase, would role right through it all, picking up that dust and shavings, and I would put it in my mouth swallowing much of it as I ran around.  It also explained two episodes of my four-legged cousin who lives there… she had temporary paralysis of her hind legs.  Turns out while I loved to chew on the ball that ran through the sawdust, she loved to chew on the sticks.  Bottom line, the wood is just as dangerous or more, than the nuts and husks themselves.

#2 Macadamia Nuts (the grape of the nut world)

So, I found out this one when my youngest two-legged cousin (she is 10) came to visit.  I LOVE it when she comes over!  She has this magical backpack, that has all these amazing smells in it, and whenever I manage to get my head in there… I always find human snacks.  Yes, she zips it up to try to deter me… yes, she tries to shut it in the second bedroom so I can’t get to it… yes, they do all they can to keep me from it… but where there is a will, there is a way.  If I am patient, someone always leaves the bedroom door open eventually, and a zipper has never stopped me before.  So, recently when she was over, I got into it a couple times. 

“Olive! Out of there!” I kept hearing.  Which to me means, SUCCESS!  Pfff, every time I heard that I had found something amazing… a wrapped up bar of oats and sugar, these little square cracker things that taste like cheese, and of course a little bag of mixed nuts.  Well, two days later, I threw up a tummy full of nuts in my mom’s bedroom (she didn’t love that btw), and there they were… two macadamia nuts.  Well… my mom called the vet (again), and confirmed they were toxic.  Luckily though, I’m a lab… which means my stomach is like iron and I can generally puke or poop out anything that my body doesn’t like.  In fact, the day after I threw up those nuts, my mom was picking up my you-know-what in the yard and she yelled, “Seriously!!! There is a granola bar wrapper in here!”  Ha!  Oh, I love when my niece comes to visit.  Thankfully, these nuts are rarely fatal to us dogs, but they are toxic to us possibly causing vomiting, ataxia or weakness, fever, muscle tremors and depression, so do try to avoid them.

#3 Tulips (and other bulb plants)

My first spring I was living with my mom in Chicago.  It was like someone had gone through our west side neighborhood with a magic tulip wand, because there were tulips coming up everywhere.  Well, not many people know this about me because I keep it so low key, but I do love to eat things.  In fact, that same first spring, during our early morning walks on Sunday’s through our young and lively neighborhood, I discovered a few things that I really liked to eat… cigarette butts (amazing if you’ve never tried one), vomit from the drunk humans the night before (my mom HATED when I’d try to eat that off the sidewalk), and of course… tulips.  Well, one day as I was trying to grab the pedals off one passing tulip when a fellow dog walker warned my mom that they were toxic… and that was the end of that.  Apparently, the leaves, stem and flower themselves can cause vomiting, depression, diarrhea, and hypersalivation… but it’s the bulbs that are the most dangerous part of the plant.  When ingested, these can cause an increase in heart rate, changes in respiration, difficulty breathing, and on very rare occasions… death.  Well, I know this Shephard named Joe in Michigan, he’s only a friend you guys… I mean the poor guy doesn’t even have testicles anymore, not to mention I haven’t been interested since I woke up all groggy one morning in the hospital when I was 7 months old… anyway, he loves to dig holes.  Well, my mom told his mom about the tulips, just in case there was a chance he was digging them up in their yard.  So, keep your better halves (that’s us dogs by the way), away from tulips in spring.  Not to mention other bulb plants like: Amaryllis bulb, Daffodil bulb, Narcissus bulb, Hyacinth bulb, Onion bulb, Autumn Crocus, and Crinum bulb.

#4 Azaleas, Rhododendron, and other Common Garden Plants

Ok, so I haven’t had a personal experience with this one (yet), but I’ve heard Azaleas and Rhododendrons are particularly toxic to dogs… as well as cats, horses, and possibly other animals.  So, I thought I would add it to this list.  After all, if I am nothing besides cute, energetic, funny and a loveable troublemaker… as I am responsible when it comes to giving out important information (wink).  Anyway, every part of this plant is toxic to dogs and even a very small amount can result in poisoning.  Signs of poisoning include (but are not limited to) drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, abnormal heart rate, heart arrhythmias, weakness, hypotension, depression, tremors, transient blindness, seizures, and coma.  So please be careful if you have these anywhere in your yard or nearby… some of us dogs just like to grab a mouthful of anything… although I of course wouldn’t know anything about that.  Other common garden plants toxic to dogs include (but are not limited to) hydrangeas, foxgloves, and begonias.

#5 Lilies and Other House Plants

Not all lilies are toxic to dogs, some more so than others, and lilies actually are more toxic to cats than dogs, sometimes so severe they can result in death.  So… I’ll be honest, I don’t know a lot of cats.  The ones I’ve seen, I’ve encountered while walking around the city in Chicago, or on the farm I now live on in Wisconsin.  I do know, they usually crouch down in a tight ball when I see them.  They then make scary growling noises that really freak me out, and in general, they look like they want to kill me.  So… I tend to stay clear of them, although I do find them fascinating… often times I drop to the ground myself to watch them, my mom saying, “Ok let’s go…” while she tries to drag me away on the leash.  Anyway, for me, my only run in was with a peace lily, and luckily my mom caught me trying to bite it and removed the plant from our house immediately… although I likely would have only had some mouth or stomach issues if I had ingested more, because Peace lilies, Calla lilies and Peruvian lilies are not as toxic to dogs as other varieties, usually these result in mouth or esophagus irritation, or stomach issues including digestive upset or even vomiting.  Plus, I’m lucky… my mom seems to kill all the plants in the house she’s tried to keep, so we haven’t accidentally tried some of the more toxic lilies, like those of the True Lily variety, going by names such as Tiger, Day, Asiatic Hybrid, Easter, Japanese Show, Rubrum, Stargazer, Red, Western and Wood lilies, as well as Lily of the Valley.  These can result in more severe heart issues, and even seizures.  Sometimes even death.  Remember though!  Cats are a different story than us dogs.  Apparently, things like just a nibble of an Easter lily or other type of true lily, or even drinking the water in their pot can result in severe, acute kidney failure, and even death.

Other common house plants toxic to dogs include (but are not limited to) Golden Pathos, Jade Plant Cornstalk plant, English/Branching Ivy, Aloe Vera, and of course, the Poinsettia, Holly and Mistletoe over Christmas.

Well, it’s getting nicer out so I am going to go stand by the door and stare at my mom while I scratch at it until she comes over and let’s me out.  Then if she doesn’t come out with me, I will sit and stare at her from outside the picture window until she can’t take it anymore and comes out and throws the ball for me. 

It usually works.

Anyway, I hope this helps you and all your dogs out there.  Also, should you ever be unsure if your dog ingested something toxic to them, feel free to call the ASPCA Poison Control hotline at (888) 426-4435. 

I think my mom has them on speed dial.

Black Walnut Tree Wood is Toxic to Dogs.
Black Walnut Tree: Wood and Nuts Toxic
Macadamia are toxic to dogs
Macadamia nuts: Toxic to Dog
Tulips (and other bulb plants) are toxic to dogs.
Tulips: Toxic to Dogs

Azaleas and Rhododendron are very Toxic to Dogs
Azaleas and Rhododendron: Toxic to Dogs
Easter lilies as well as many other lilies are toxic to dogs, and can kill a cat.
Easter Lily: Toxic to Dogs

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